Friday, April 11, 2014

What We Owe the New Atheists


Last week I gave a lecture at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, on the theme “What We Owe the New Atheists.”  You can read the text and/or listen to the audio of the lecture at TAC’s website.  The faculty, students, and guests who attended were a wonderful bunch of folks and I thank them for their very kind hospitality. 

488 comments:

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JD Walters said...

Absolutely stunning. This is nothing less than a manifesto for the renewal of natural theology, and by extension all of Christian theology, for the 21st Century. This essay, along with Locke, The Last Superstition, Aquinas and Scholastic Metaphysics, should be required reading for all Christians who worry about the rationality of religious belief.

Scott said...

Very nicely done.

Jeff Culbreath said...

That was terrific. Please apply for a teaching position at a Catholic seminary. And thank you for your greeting, which I received promptly. Hope all is well!

JS said...

Dr. Feser,


I posted the link to this talk on /r/Catholicism (the Catholic subreddit of Reddit), and the response there was very positive.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with Reddit, but there was some interest in the possibility of you doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything), either on /r/Catholicism or on /r/iAmA

Greg said...

Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I want to clone Dr. Feser and spread my Feser army throughout all the universities and governments of the world.

Tom said...

Piggybacking on JS' idea, you could try one on r/atheism too, but it would mostly be an attempt to see just how much (well-earned and completed justified) snark you could produce in one sitting.

Greg said...

I think r/atheism might be something like Jerry Coyne x 1000.

Jonathan Garcia said...

Terrific and inspiring. Thanks Prof. Feser

BenYachov said...

The only down side to the Gnu Atheists is one or two Atheists will get smart and start learning philosophy and might actually make some good philosophical arguments we don't have immediate answers too.

This will throw us for a loop since we are so used to the lame arguments of the Gnus. They can make us soft.

Which is why Atheists who prize philosophy are a God send. They keep us on out toes.

Cheers.

Dante said...

I love this essay!

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that Terry Eagleton is an atheist - on contrary it seems that he is theist, or even Roman Catholic! He is a Marxist in his political ideology (and I dont like his view on zhis matter) but it does not mean that he is non-religious person (even in public debates some writers criticize him saying that he insist on two authorities - Marx and God)

Robert Coble said...

Congratulations to Dr. Feser for acknowledging the debt owed to those who force us to examine and clarify our belief in God. Thank you for providing a link to your talk.

1 Peter 3 (NIV)
[13] Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? [14] But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” [15] But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, [16] keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Proverbs 27 (NIV)
[17] As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

As a Protestant (sect is irrelevant in this context), I was unfamiliar with the extensive body of literature that has been developed (and which continues to be developed) by the great theologians , philosophers and scientists in the Catholic tradition. My introduction to the power of this literature was Dr. Feser's The Last Superstition, followed by his Aquinas. I have his Scholastic Metaphysics on order, hopefully arriving by the end of this month, and am eagerly looking forward to reading it. I highly recommend Dr. Feser's books to anyone searching for an alternative (outstanding) method to "thumping our opponents over the head with the Bible"!

Another outstanding book in the Catholic tradition that I have found to be argumentatively definitive is Dr. Robert J. Spitzer's New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Dr. Spitzer's arguments develop in a very careful (almost tedious, if you are superficially engaged with his arguments) step-by-step manner, with consideration of potential objections before moving from one premise to the next, ultimately arriving at the "reasonable and responsible" conclusion of God's philosophically necessary existence. If I understand his physics and metaphysical arguments correctly (and the physics arguments are complex but still understandable by someone with limited knowledge of contemporary physics), he is definitely arguing in the A-T Scholastic tradition.

For a preview of the book, see the "LOOK INSIDE" at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833

Anonymous said...

Where does Aquinas argue that the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, the Necessary Being, and the Supreme Intellect are identical?

Robert Coble said...

"Where does Aquinas argue that the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, the Necessary Being, and the Supreme Intellect are identical?"

Are you asking if Aquinas explicitly used all of those terms in his arguments (summarized in the Five Ways) as identical descriptions of God, or are you asking if the A-T Scholastic metaphysics considers these terms to be "identical" (not literally but synonymously equivalent)?

Or, perhaps there is another intended meaning for interpreting your question?

I'm not trying to be pedantic; I'm merely trying to understand the question.

Anonymous said...

I know that they are considered to be identical in referent. I am asking where Aquinas shows this.

Robert Coble said...

Thank you for the clarification. At this point, I will bow out. My knowledge of Aquinas is limited and also indirectly obtained from contemporary sources like Dr. Feser.

From the martial arts, I have learned that if one desires to be an expert on a subject like the old masters, one must study what the old masters studied. I commend you in your study of the old master Aquinas.

Brandon said...

It's a necessary consequence of the arguments in ST 1.3-11; the consequence is even more obvious in SCG 1.15-102. If one wanted to, I suppose one could construct a question on precisely that point by combining arguments from the questions on God as eternal, as intelligent, as one, as good itself, as truth itself, and so forth. So for instance, good itself is reached directly by the fourth way, but he also gets to it by starting with the first and second way, and given what 'good itself' is, these have to be the same endpoint. And so on with all the others. That is to say, starting at any one of the five one can get you incommunicable properties that you can get from another the five.

Anonymous said...

Thanks.

Prince Randoms said...

Terry Eagleton is very much not an atheist. He was a writer for the leftist Catholic magazine The Slant (along with another favorite of mine Fr. Herbert McCabe) and has also written a book (or rather published lectures) on the New Atheism Phenomenon . I hope there is no assertions that leftists can't be religious...

monk68 said...

That was fantastic Dr Feser! Never. Never has a truer word been spoken.

Brandon said...

Well, Eagleton is very slippery on the subject; he himself has argued for the potential value of cultural Catholicism for an atheist, and he consistently refuses actually to affirm that God exists (and indeed I think his position is actually that applying 'exists' or 'does not exist' to God is a category mistake). And while he talks a lot of theology, it also is always interpreted entirely in political terms.

rank sophist said...

Very interesting article, and well written, too. I do want to mention something about Prof. Feser's comments on "the aesthetics of Christian truth", though. It's certainly true that some Christian thinkers fall into the problems that Prof. Feser mentions. However, whether or not Prof. Feser intends to implicate Hart, it should be said that The Beauty of the Infinite does not have the aforementioned issues. Hart's thesis rests on a Heidegger-style recovery of ontology as the primary subject of thought, and he defends perennial ontology at length against all of its challengers (including Heidegger himself). He tears apart secular ontologies as self-contradictory powergrabs. His appeals to aesthetics are grounded in a thorough defense of what beauty is and how it is convertible with being. I have no intention of getting into yet another argument on the topic, but I figured that the resident Hart fan should clarify this point.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. A rousing call to arms.

Ann Olivier said...

I haven't taught in years, and I'm curious about the current crop of college kids and young adults.

How interested would you all say they are in questions of apologetics, especially the question of the existence of God? And how much do the current kids value the rationality of proofs of His existence? And what do they think of the neo-atheists, if they think of them at all?

Brandon said...

Ann Olivier,

In my experience college students, both Christian and non, are most likely to assume that proofs of God's existence are impossible because God's existence is not the kind of thing you can prove, one way or another. (Part of that, I think, is that they don't really think in terms of arguments at all, for most things, not just this. The closest thing to proof they usually use is pointing to experience, and the closest things to arguments are rhetorical attempts to show a position in a good or bad light.)

There are, of course, quite a few exceptions; you always get people who like arguments just in and of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Eagleton: He was raised Catholic. As mentioned above, in the 1960s he wrote for and edited Slant, a magazine that welded Catholic theology and Marxism, and wrote for other publications associated with the Catholic left into the 1970s. In 1970 he published a book of theology, The Body as Language (now long out of print). Herbert McCabe has had a major influence on him, and Eagleton is still associated with others McCabe has influenced, such as Brian Davies and Denys Turner.

But by the 1980s Eagleton's engagement with theology vanished until the advent of the new atheism. In both his capacity as a member of the Catholic left and a critic of the new atheism, he has been more interested in the ethical, political, and cultural implications of Christianity (as he understands them) than in the metaphysical claims of Christianity or the doctrines of the Catholic church. For example, in Reason, Faith, and Revolution he says that affirming the existence of God isn't as important to Christian faith as remaining "faithful to the promise of a transformative love" (page 37). So far as I know he hasn't identified as either an atheist or a Christian; certainly not that I can recall in any of his recent books or major essays on theological topics. In true dialectical spirit I think he'd want to resist both labels.

At the very least, I think it's fair to say that Eagleton doesn't count as a Christian by the standards of orthodoxy that Feser recognizes. It was probably fair enough that Feser labeled Eagleton as an atheist if just for the sake of brevity, even though Eagleton has been very critical of atheism and secularism and draws from Catholic theology as one of his intellectual sources.

Ann Olivier said...

Brandon,

Thank you very much. Hmm. The intellectual currents in the general culture these days are so very varied (e.g., Nietzsche, vestiges of Humean skepticism, dying scientism, emotivism permeating rock music) that it's no wonder the young can be described as non-rational. I wonder if it's the particularly strong influence of NIetzsche. He seems to be much more popular among the young today than he was 30 years ago.
.
(Yes, I suspect that kids these days get a lot of their world-view from the lyrics of rock music).

BenYachov said...

At worst Eagleton could be no different then Sir Anthony Kenny who is a self-described Catholic Agnostic who still attends Mass & he justifies this by liking himself to a person on a raft in the middle of the Ocean who cries out for help. It's not unreasonable to do so & who knows a passing submarine or God whose existence you haven't figured out to have a rational certainty of might hear you.

I wouldn't write him out of the Church.

Besides he is funny & religious liberals and lefty critics of the Gnus are beyond entertaining in that they not only pick on them for their bad philosophy but their illiberal attitudes as well.

Love it!!!

Prince Randoms said...

Indeed most of my lefty friends who are atheists despise them for their turning atheism into an evangelical religion and their generally racist attitudes.

Anyways I had just finished Eagletons essay on Nietzsche in Commonwealth and fealt compelled to stick up for him a bit.

Vaal said...

Prof. Feser,

I submit some advice (and comment) from an atheist, take it or leave it of course :-)

I wish to reference this part of your post:

we need to return not only to classical Scholastic philosophy and apologetics but also to systematic or dogmatic theology. For even if the secularist were to admit the rational demonstrability of the existence of God and the broad outlines of natural law — that is to say, of those themes which Christian theology shares in common with the greatest pagan thinkers — it is bound to seem to him that a specifically Christian theology nevertheless constitute a historically contingent hodgepodge or jumble of doctrines that have been arbitrarily tacked on to this philosophical edifice.

I hope you recognize that as the crux of the issue!

If you spend your time on metaphysics alone you are bound to miss the target in the way just about every other critic I've seen of New Atheism misses the Big Target. (I'm going through David Bentley Hart's The Experience Of God and thus far it too is reading as one more big divergence tactic, a big Miss The Point of the New Atheism).

While the New Atheists may sometimes address the God of pure metaphysics, even IF one grants they show weakness at that level, that is clearly NOT the main focus of their critique!
Their critique has continually been the elephant in the room - religion, the dogmas and specific beliefs people derive from revelation, their holy scriptures and the types of subjective experience purported to ratify such beliefs. They DO NOT focus on God-of-the-philosophers, or "ground of being" arguments because those are not the motivating elements of most religious people. It's clearly Revelation itself (and the evidence from "religious experience" which the religious think ratifies claims of their holy text) that plays the central organizing and motivating role in religions like Christianity or Islam.

There's this equivocation continually used by critics that if a New Atheist has not adequately grappled with some metaphysical argument for God then the New Atheist's critique misses the mark - it's just a naive straw man - not dealing with "the actual God we Christians believe in." But this comes off as disingenuous . So long as the Christian does believe in Revelation, then the Christian has entered the realm of a posteriori, evidential reasoning. You don't get God-arriving-as-Jesus in the middle east thousands of years ago, miracle stories, resurrections, the Nicene Creed or any of the other many claims made about this God via a priori deduction. And then, as the New Atheists rightly point out, we have all sorts of rational conventions for adjudicating evidence - science being a gold standard - and insofar as you recognize the validity of these standards in so many other areas, you can't start being inconsistent and lower the rational bar to let your own cherished dogma hop over.

(cont'd…)

Vaal said...

In trying to undermine the appeal to empirical consistency in evaluating miracle claims, a common approach by "sophisticated theists" goes: "If I can show how God is a necessary assumption for empiricism and scientific inquiry itself, then my job is done! They NEED to presume God to even appeal to their standard of evidence, viola, we win!"

But you don't win with that move! Because even IF some necessary-being-God is granted for empiricism, it's not "therefore anything goes, all claims something incredible happened are plausible." We are STILL left looking at human experience and noting we need some rigorous skeptical standards to sort through the miasma of imagination, delusion, bias and error to which we are prone! It is from the most fundamental considerations of knowledge, and explanation, that have given rise to such epistemologically responsible methods as"science." You can't accept the methods of science as epistemologically virtuous on one hand, and then just drop or lower those standards on the other hand in order to let your cherished belief in specific miracles hop over the bar.

Look at the effort that science goes to in trying to be epistemologically responsible, not only in determining modest claims like whether a heart pressure medicine has any discernible effect (years of studies, controlling for bias and variables!) but especially for any claim that pushes at the boundaries of established knowledge. Look at the 40 year effort to establish the like a Higgs Boson. This level of care wasn't due to scientists desiring to spend that much effort: it came from hard-earned lessons concerning what we ought to demand of ourselves before assigning confidence to our having grasped some new aspect of reality.

It would be a gross violation of these standards to accept, on the testimony of 12 guys, that they saw, for instance, a perpetual motion machine. Let alone place that in the context of testimony in a text thousands of years old! And yet, change the claim to "a man appeared in the middle east, performed miracles, rose from the dead and was a manifestation of the Ground Of Being" and then Christians accept such standards as legitimate!

The amount of bar-lowering, special pleading and inconsistency required to accept the SPECIFIC miracle/divine claims that Christians accept in their religion is PRECISELY the target of most New Atheist critiques - that we should not accord such beliefs automatic "respect" simply because they operate under a label "religion."

You briefly allude to the idea that the move from metaphysical God to the specifically Christian beliefs of revelation can be rationally defended, but that "But knowledge of this once standard theology has in recent decades largely disappeared within the Church."

But if that's so, the New Atheists can hardly be dismissed as they are actually criticizing a problem for which Christians are not giving good answers! Saying "well, we've gone the really good arguments hidden back in our dusty archives" won't do. It's time to step up and actually make the case!

Were you to debate someone like Sam Harris, it would be a mistake to think: "I'll show Sam to be shallow and wrong by dragging him into deep philosophical waters concerning metaphysics." I suggest that what would happen instead is that Sam would (rightly in my opinion) keep dragging you back to the actual focus of his critique - your holy text, the actual propositions and dogmas you and your church believe via revelation and the demand you justify these beliefs, in the context of the skepticism needed to winnow extraordinary claims, without obvious special pleading. I've yet to see a Christian come anywhere close to good answers to these problems. So…you have your work cut out for you, I think.

Cheers,

Vaal

Ty said...

Vaal,

Nobody here claims that you can get from God-as-necessary-being to God-as-Jesus. There is indeed an impossible gap between the two, and any claim to revelation *does* need to be subjected to historical rigor, with no bar-lowering.


You seem to underestimate how much the refutation of naturalism changes historical practice with respect to religious history *even with no a priori appeal to revelation*. Metaphysics, by its very nature, underlies every science. Ergo to replace a bad metaphysics with a good metaphysics is to change the way you look at *everything*--historiography included.

Vaal said...

Ty,

"There is indeed an impossible gap between the two, and any claim to revelation *does* need to be subjected to historical rigor, with no bar-lowering."

Not simply "historical rigor" but scientific rigor. You can't uncouple historical rigor from scientific rigor. In other words, a responsible historian constrains his conclusions to within the boundaries of what we know scientifically about the world.
That's why ancient testimony can tentatively establish warrant for certain actions of a historical figure so long as they do not violate what we know about the world now.

Because if you WERE to accept such violations - e.g. accept that a man rose from the dead due to historical testimonies - that would be a special pleading dropping-of-standards that we accept elsewhere for accepting such boundary-pushing claims.

The argument that scientific empiricism must assume a metaphysical God are hardly new and I've seen and debated plenty of them. What tends to come out of this is that the theist has really underestimated what is really going to be entailed in making his belief in particular miracle claims compatible with the justifications for science.

You only have to start putting specific miracle claims on the table to see how these problems quickly accrue.

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

It seems to me that something like a miracle only makes sense against a background regularity (the sort of way that science tells us the world is... really that's assumed in order to do science and science tells us that view has worked pretty well when it comes to predicting future states of the universe).

If we regularly saw people coming back from the dead, there would be no reason to find such a claim remarkable in the first place. I'm not interested in arguing for a miracle claim, just pointing out that your scientific view of the world is exactly the sort of thing that makes the term "miracle" intelligible.

The question of whether or not a miracle has occurred is necessarily historical, frustratingly so. It would be so nice if there were some philosophical or scientific means by which the miraculous could be proven. A miracle, by its nature, is not the sort of thing that can be repeated. As for arguments, we can only say it is possible for God to do such things, not that He actually does do them (beyond the initial creative act).

Tom said...

Even if we were to grant the New Atheists all their criticisms against the accuracy of the Bible and the history of organized religion, we'd still only be left with the "New Philosophical Theists". So it seems they must do some kind of (inherently philosophical) arguing for atheism, and at that, they are spectacularly awful.

Vaal said...

Tom,

In putting Christian claims to the test of epistemological consistency Sam Harris IS making a philosophical argument. As he has pointed this out many times - that science is really just a word we have for our most epistemologically responsible method of investigating
reality, particularly a posteriori claims - and revelation claims fall into such categories.

Christianity does not seem to have good answers to this central critique.

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

If science is just the word for the 'most epistemically responsible means of investigation' what then does 'most epistemically responsible means of investigation' mean? What is this 'means'? Is it experiment? What?

Tom said...

I am granting, for the sake of argument, that all the specific claims of Christianity about Jesus' life and ministry and the Bible and miracles and whatnot are incorrect. But as I said, that only gets you to philosophical theism or deism. In order to argue for atheism, you have to argue against the existence of God, and not just specific organized religions. Until the New Atheists can offer convincing philosophical arguments against the existence of God (and not just the Christian God), they have a serious problem.

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"It's time to step up and actually make the case!"

What an odd thing to say to Ed Feser, who has done exactly that.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I'm a Christian Platonist and generally do not think Christianity, or any other faith, has been established as the exclusive path to God.

However, I struggle to see how that means that all the religious traditions of the world are not just flawed but nonsense and positively pernicious, which is, after all, the basic position of the Gnus.

My perspective is controversial from a Christian point of view because I grant there may be truth in many traditional faiths but I would argue that if one accepts the God of Classical Theism then one would expect he would reveal himself to us in some sense. And from a Platonic perspective you would expect this revelation to be rich in the symbolic and imaginal, the theurgic and sacramental - what is demanded of us is nothing short of sanctification and though dialectic has its place in this process, it can only be a small place. Though it is not the Christian view, there is nothing stopping this revelation, from a Platonic viewpoint, being adapted to different times and places and even sometimes to different individuals (although granting that even most Saints require a revelatory framework that goes beyond their own private inspiration).

It seems to me the Gnu idea of revelation and religion, not just metaphysics and philosophy, is extremely shallow and even parochial in the sense of embodying an rigid modernist liberal perspective on society and culture. By trade I'm a political philosopher (I use the term philosopher because that is what I wish to be, though my qualifications are history and political science) and am traditional conservative and it is not just from a strictly religious and philosophical angle that one can criticise the Gnus; from a traditional conservative perspective their positions tend to rely on the worst sort of liberal assumptions (like atomism and the like).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Indeed, I would go so far as to say I can think of no level of analysis, one questions of pure natural science are left behind, where the Gnu perspective is not shallow and silly, from history to metaphysics. Silliness and shallowness seem in fact to be the defining features of this movement. They are walking, talking strawmen.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Ty writes,

any claim to revelation *does* need to be subjected to historical rigor, with no bar-lowering.

I'm not sure this is true. Myth and symbol may have their own truth and I don't think it necessarily is required that a revelatory episode be completely, or even mostly, historical or literal truth.

I don't think, for example, it matters much if Job or Noah were real people.

I'm not arguing, of course, that many things claimed as revelatory can't have happened because they violate our contemporary notions of the laws of physics or common experience, though.

It is one of the hallmarks of the Gnus that they have nothing but the most shallow conceptions of myth, symbolism, and the creative imagination.

Ty said...

Vaal,

You're collapsing "reason" into "science", the prevention of which is *the entire point of good metaphysics.*

Well, maybe not the entire point. In any case, scientistic approaches to historiography are just as irrational as scientistic approaches to metaphysics, and for exactly the same reasons to boot.

With this in mind, I'll conclude with Scott's rejoinder:

"@Vaal

'It's time to step up and actually make the case!'

What an odd thing to say to Ed Feser, who has done exactly that."

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"I'm not sure this is true. Myth and symbol may have their own truth and I don't think it necessarily is required that a revelatory episode be completely, or even mostly, historical or literal truth."

I took Ty to mean primarily that the fact that revelation has occurred must be subjected to historical rigor, not that the revelation's content must be verified as historical fact—although in the case of the Resurrection these may not be distinct.

Ty said...

@Jeremy Taylor

"I'm not sure this is true. Myth and symbol may have their own truth and I don't think it necessarily is required that a revelatory episode be completely, or even mostly, historical or literal truth."

I didn't mean to suggest that Revelation itself must be strictly historical--to hold to that position as a Catholic is nearly impossible, given the exceedingly abstract nature of some dogma.

What I meant to suggest is that in the case of Christianity, the *grounds* for *knowing* that a Revelation has taken place are purportedly historical. The Revelation can be whatever God feels like telling us, in whatever manner He feels like expressing it.

Ty said...

Hah! Scott beat me to it.

Ann Olivier said...

Vaal==

Do your rigorous assumptions about science (your scientific criteria) allow you to admit even the *possibility* that the generalizations of science might admit of exceptions?

Might there be external to the physical things that science studies there a cause (or causes) of change which are not totally pre-determined and which can alter the course of happenings in the otherwise thoroughly deterministic physical world?

I say there are such causes. I experience a kind of spiritual reality ( called my "will-acts") which regularly change the course of actions or inactivity of purely physical things. For instance, I can choose to lift my hand and place a cup on a top shelf. One would not call such changes "miracles", but like miracles the changes are NOT pre-determined by the natures of the physical things acted upon (in this case, the cup, the hand and the shelf).
My conclusions is that events in the physical world are not completely and *essentially* predetermined by the natures of the physical objects in the world. I know by internal experience that determinism fails, and that failure allows for at least the possibility of miracles. Science should take heed.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I know that most interpretations of Christ's revelation stress the importance of its historicity, but I'm not sure why this must be an objective or extrinsic (ie., extrinsic to the revelation itself) criteria for all revelations or religious traditions, if this is what you mean.

From my perspective, I don't think it matters much if Lao Tzu, Confucious, or the Buddha were real people (or if they were, if they were much like their religion portray them) to whether their religions are providential unveilings of the transcendent.

Is this what you guys mean by the revelation having occured being attested to by historical rigour?

Vaal said...

Well there are plenty of thoughtful replies to my posts that I'd love to interact with.
Unfortunately in this environment, responses are already proliferating beyond my ability to respond in depth.

Matt Sheean,

"epistemologically responsible" - where you take most seriously the problems of human bias, tendency to error, the problem of variables (If A can be caused by either C, D or E, so when you see A and say it was caused by C, how have you ruled out D and E as the cause?), the problem of assigning confidence to various possible explanations (if we have 5 explanations compatible with the observation we are trying to explain, how do we decide in which explanation to place our confidence - hypothesis testing for predictions being one such answer). So yes, in a very simplified characterization, this would involve appeal to methods like observation/hypothesis/hypothesis testing/replication of results, etc. And any claim that is not consonant with the knowledge we have built (scientifically) about how reality seems to operate, would come under the most rigorous scrutiny.

There is nothing about something occurring in the past that makes this *in principle*
outside being able to assign scientific confidence. Hypothesis testing to determine past phenomena, even events that happened only once in the past - e.g. the Big Bang or some specific asteroid hit - can come from sorting through which hypothesis is most predictive of additional evidence you'll find for the phenomena, and/or may be supported by appeal to existing or new experiments that show the event had some plausibility. We determine a mind-bending event like the Big Bang happened because we can extrapolate from reliable knowledge we have on how physics operate NOW. We have no such reliable extrapolation to things like someone doing miracles, resurrecting, etc. It's like the hypothesis that 3 billion years ago Beings from another dimension hovered over earth on vacation. It may well have happened, but absent any strong evidence it occurred, or our ability to establish any plausible mechanism for how we'd expect that to occur, we can't go assigning confidence to such a belief.

Human testimony, even at the level of the Law, is understood as dubious. We don't just accept written claims from unknown, unavailable authors that someone saw a crime committed. We demand eyewitness be present and they are grilled to see what exactly they claim, and if they stick persuasive to their story under direct questioning (which often, people don't…stories change when you can actually challenge an eyewitness directly). And that's with CONTEMPORARY, living "eyewitness" testimony on everyday matters like murder, not even the miraculous.

Ancient testimony is terribly insufficient to establish something like a Resurrection because we have Tsunamis of evidence for the unreliability of this type of testimony, and for the human tendency to appeal to supernatural explanations which more careful investigation reveal to be in error. If Christianity TODAY offered some sort of reliable evidence for the existence of miraculous powers, then you'd be heading in the right direction. But instead Christianity today only makes the case worse, as it's clear many Christians are routinely gullible concerning miracles (obvious huckster Benny Hinn fills stadiums regularly with people thinking they are seeing miracles) and when we see how Christians "confirm" among each other their divine experiences, the confirmation and selection bias is blatantly obvious to see.
If the miracle claims that suffuse Christians today (not to mention humanity in general) are so dubious, one can hardly extrapolate with any confidence that earlier believers were on to anything more real or reliable thousands of years ago in a pre-scientific era.

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

Firstly, the methods of natural science may be a good way for gaining knowledge, but they are clearly reserved for only certain fields of study - most especially quantifiably measurable aspects of empirical phenomena. I'm not sure can come to larger conclusions about human knowledge and the nature of reality from natural science alone.

Such a position would also seem to be self-defeating, as its truth cannot be established through the methods of self-defeating.

Secondly, I'm not sure how what you said rules out miracles. It be an argument for suspending judgment on miracles, but it doesn't seem much of an argument against the occurence of miracles in general or a particular claim of a miracle. You seem to be smuggling in metaphysical assumptions about the likelihood of miracles occuring, which is what allows you to pour scorn on the gullibility of contemporary Christians.

Vaal said...

Tom,

Yes I take your point and generally agree, though I'd quibble, I'm not going to now.
But whereas you would say the New Atheists have a "serious problem" in certain philosophical areas, my point is that if they are right in the thrust of their main critique about the reliability of revelation, then Christianity has a "major problem" in responding to that critique and the New Atheists can not be brushed off by switching the conversation only to metaphysical questions of God.

Scott, Ty,

I've said that the problem put to Christianity by the New Atheists is how to justify believe in revelation - e.g. taking the Bible seriously as information about God, believing the claims about Jesus etc - in a way that is consistent with also accepting the cannons of skepticism and inquiry exemplified in science.

You say Ed Feser has done exactly that.

Can you tell me where? Link? It's not that I disbelieve he has ever broached that subject - plenty of Christians attempt to make a case for rational belief in the resurrection etc. But I do not see from the descriptions of the books he has written that they dealt specifically with making such a case. Are you referring to previous blog posts? Do you have any links? Thanks!

Jeremy Taylor

That's a fascinating perspective and while I like that you indicate a first step from the metaphysical God to the Christian revelation, I do not see it as promising. I don't even have to get into why the metaphysical God is obviously not predictive of any specific miracle (e.g. manifesting as a Jewish carpenter thousands of years ago in the middle east) - I can just ask to see how you establish such a thing DID OCCUR, while being consistent in accepting the rigorous forms of scrutiny we apply to vetting any other extraordinary claims (and even "ordinary claims" - see all the double-blind testing proven to be necessary in even getting at whether a phenomenon can be divorced from the placebo effect and various human biases).

Ann Olivier

Of course, science - any rational person! - is always ready to admit of exceptions in investigating the world of our experience. Unfortunately, anecdotes, like the one you give about raising your hand, have not proven to be reliable guides. You have merely asserted that your hand movement is outside the causal chain and not pre-determined by the natures of the physical things.

Assertions are not evidence…or even argument to accept such a claim.


Cheers,

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

This critique you are offering is scientism, Vaal. So it is hardly correct to say that Dr. Feser has not responded to it, whether or not the particular angle you are now pushing has engaged much of his time.

You've made the claim that miracles are not scientifically testable, but I don't think you have shown that what is scienticially testable is the only sort of reasonable knowledge man can have. I can think of at least four objections to this scientistic perspective off the top of my head (apart from the self-defeating nature of scientism):

(1) Natural science requires logic, reason, and deduction to define it and to give it meaning and context, to apply its methods (indeed, reason is a central part of its methods), and to come to conclusions. It seems somewhat arbitrary that reason should have this necessary role but otherwise be reduded to natural science's handmaiden.

(2) Natural science has its own problems, such as the problem of induction, which, if not given philosophical counters, seem to weaken its ability to give us meaningful knowledge.

(3) It is hard to see how the limits in human knowledge you talk of do not apply to natural science as well. Yes, we can test and hypothesis in natural science, but the gigantic edifice of contemporary natural science seems to require vast speculations and abstractions. If we are to be so parsimonious in our treatment of human faculties, can we really trust such enterprises.

(4)Again, it is hard to see how history or, indeed, the sorts of knowledge we rely on in everyday life could survive the rigid strictures you would place upon human knowledge. If I haven't scientifically tested where my friend lives can I really be sure he does live there?

Prince Randoms said...

Too be purely curmudgeonly, there is only one miracle that Christians would need to believe in, and it is utterly untestable by science unless you have some spare Jesus DNA lying around. So your left with either textual or historical criticisms, neither of which are scientific.

Vaal said...

Jeremy Taylor,

"The scope of science is limited" response is a common one…but
where's the argument for it? Most people who raise this point are either
unacquainted with the role of imagination and ingenuity in scientific inquiry, or are just refusing to apply it to certain subjects.

People say things like "well, science can't tell me whether my wife loves me or not!" Why not? The only reason any rational person thinks someone else loves him is based on an empirical inference from the evidence. Is this person behaving in a way we'd expect if the hypothesis were correct that she loves me? We have a word for people who assume someone loves them without any evidence: Stalkers. Nut-cases.

Or take art/aesthetics: Who is a better composer, Mozart or Beethoven?
If someone says "such a question is outside the purview of science" I would ask "what IS the purvey in which the question can be answered IF it has an answer?" Can you articulate what you mean by "best" composer? If you can't even do that, then why would someone presume you even know what you are talking about to begin with? But if you can, perhaps we'll get to descriptions like "the composer who arouses the deepest responses or passions in the greatest number of people" or some such thing..and once you start actually getting clear on what you mean, it tends to become amenable to more rigorous empirical inquiry (and human subjectivity is made empirically scrutable in science all the time).

Now there may indeed be subjects or phenomena outside the prevue of rigorous empirical study. But one can not lazily assert any particular subject without defending it as such - and if you say "this isn't amenable to
empirical rigour…but I KNOW it anyway" then you owe an explanation for HOW you know it. Why it ought to count as "knowledge."

The idea that I'd be saying that science is justified by science and hence it's some sort of self-refuting circularity is wrong for the reasons I've already given: science is justified by deeper, underlying epistemological/philosophical concerns which can be (and are) argued for, not simply assumed.

And I have nowhere assumed the impossibility of miracles. Anything (not logically contradictory) is possible in principle. The question is, given humans are so prone to error…what should our method be of dealing with this problem to get at whether any PARTICULAR claim is plausible or not?

Take dowsing: 10 people claim they can detect hidden water via dowsing. You do controlled testing one after the other - controlling variables such as whether they actually know where the water is hidden or not before hand - and find out each has been mistaken - none show any ability to reliably detect hidden water via dowsing.

Now another person shows up claiming they have this dowsing power.
What have you learned from experience? That the fact someone has claimed this, and believes it, is insufficient grounds for believing their power to be real. Right?

It's the same with supernatural claims: they never hold up to scrutiny, and yet humans have a clear tendency to keep appealing to supernatural claims, of all sorts of contradictory character.

If our experience showed us that people never made mistakes, or that miracle claims - or ANY claims about reality - were always reliable or shown to be true, we wouldn't needed to have gone down the road toward the scientific method. But that simply isn't what our experience and reason tells us about people. We need some consistent method of vetting claims about reality.

The problem is you can't make up some separate, privileged method just for certain types of claims, like Christian supernatural claims that don't end up committing the sin of special pleading. It can not be contained within theism.

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

Also, I wasn't primarily talking of miracles when I was talking of revelations.

My point was that if the God of Classical Theism exists, and the Platonic view of Him, man and the cosmos is correct, then we should expect God to reveal him to us. Indeed, we should expect there to be a constant traffic, as it were, between God and man. This is what we do find in the world. We find religion ubiquitous in the world and in human culture.

From the Platonic point of view, what is important, from the individuals perspective, is to move towards God, towards perfection. This means to live virtuously (as a means of existing in harmony with one's place in the cosmos and necessary preparation for the spiritual journey) and to love and to know (noetically) God. This you cannot easily do just by studying discursive philosophy on your own. What you need, so the Platonist believes, is to transform your whole being through immersion in a religious tradition with its symbolism and imaginal world, its dogma and doctrines, its rituals and sacraments, and its community and culture.

Therefore, it is not specific miracles or a specific revelation in exclusion of others that I would defend, but the general possibility of religious revelation, and miracles. If a religion is alive (ie., not like the modern day druids who have resurrected an ancient faith rather dubiously, is not metaphysical absurd (like Mormonism), and is overly rationalistic or suffering some other major defect, the Platonist can see it as a path to God and a revelation of God. This is just what he'd expect, because he feels God wishes to provide a path to all cultures and because it is natural for all healthy cultures to seek God (which can lead to inspiration and the furthering of a spiritual tradition).

Matt Sheean said...

I'm not sure you addressed what I said, Vaal, namely that the notion of a miracle is only really sensible in a world amenable to the scientific perspective you suggest.

Or think of it another way: Suppose you are a scientist and you are studying a subject who has a malignant tumor. The tumor is being closely observed by you, and as you are watching, the otherwise aggressive tumor dies and passes out of the patient's body. Would you say it was a miracle, or would you say,"I guess that happens sometimes."? Suppose the subject then says, "Hallelujah!"

I have another question as well. Do you think that we should only believe what can be scientifically demonstrated, or what can be demonstrated with a level of certainty acceptable to scientific research?

Jeremy Taylor said...

So for many many typos. I need to start proof-reading my posts.

Matt Sheean said...

Also, sorry, one more

Humans are prone to error. "Prone" I take it means that the probability of erroneous beliefs in any given human is at least 50% or thereabouts. If you get a bunch of humans together double checking each other, doing double blind tests and what have you, the probability of error in the whole system doesn't necessarily decrease. Maybe one of the more mathematically inclined folks around here will correct me, but otherwise it seems like you're pleading in a special way.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I think you are being somewhat vague in your definition of science.

Do you include reason and deduction under the term science or are you talking about empiricism alone? If you allow reason a place in knowledge, and I think you have to, it is hard to see why it should be rigorously subordinated to natural science - especially as it seems to me that reason comes before natural science and must at all times undergird it and frame it.

Also, is science all empirical knowledge or only that quantifiably tested and measured? Because there is clearly something quite different in the question of whether one's wife loves him and something subject to scientific testing.

On the same score, historical knowledge may be empirical, but it is not necessarily the same sort of field of knowledge as that which falls under natural science.

Why we must accept such a parsimonious scope for human knowledge as you are suggesting is hard to see. Yes, humans are fallible and baised, but why we cannot carefully and cautiously make use of all kinds of knowledge - rational, scientific, historical, etc. - is hard to see.

Bob said...

@Vaal

I think you pretty much nailed it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I don't actually think Vaal has satisfactorily avoided the claim his position is self-refuting, by the way.

It seems to me, from his response, he has one of two rather unsatisfactory options.

He can assimilate his scientism into old fangled empiricism, although this position itself is self-refuting (famously the proposition that worthwhile knowledge is empirically verifiable is not empirically verifiable). Or he can do what he has seemed to do and take the less onerous position that makes a philosophical case for the superiority of scientific knowledge over all fields of knowledge but this philosophical grounding for scientific knowledge. Apart from being a much weaker position, and falling victim to all the problems commentators here have mentioned, it seems to me this position is quite gratuituous in making use of philosophical or rational knowledge to establish scientism and then completely reducing reason to natural science's handmaiden.

Anonymous said...

'People say things like "well, science can't tell me whether my wife loves me or not!" Why not? The only reason any rational person thinks someone else loves him is based on an empirical inference from the evidence. Is this person behaving in a way we'd expect if the hypothesis were correct that she loves me? We have a word for people who assume someone loves them without any evidence: Stalkers. Nut-cases.'

If this sort of reasoning counts as 'scientific', then much of philosophy, theology, and Christian apologetics are really 'science.' But I don't think you want that, do you?

Bob said...

@Jeremy Taylor

I never understood these objections. It seems to me that the only way one can gain any knowledge at all is through empirical means, though this may be more a question of the meaning of the word knowledge itself.

Georgy Mancz said...

Vaal

I think that when it comes to assessing the reliability of the original Christian testimony one cannot simply argue against it from the supposed gullibility of modern Christians, for we are now living in a culture that is permeated by Christian imagery and Christian concepts, in other words, by the Christian story, including the resurrection of Christ, upon which Christian revelation claims hinge. Modern Christians are receptive towards specific miracle claims because of this background. But this has not always been the case, especially when it comes to the bodily resurrection of Christ. We know that such a claim was made by Christians fairly early and against a background that did not really accomodate such a claim. For we have every reason to believe that the idea of a death of a Messiah (also being the God of Israel, the Lord of Hosts) followed by a personal resurrection in history (not at the end of time) was indeed "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles", that is, quite at odds with the beliefs of Second Temple Jews and Hellenic thought and religion.

The Christian claim about the Resurrection can be seen as a hypothesis (and is therefore probabilistic, historically falsifiable), one that is claimed to do a better job, including explaining the emergence of a peculiarly Christian body of theological doctrine (including the belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ, a central, cardinal belief according to what we know from the earliest Christian writings, the Epistles of Paul) altogether compatible with truths about reality established by natural theology. Now, for the Christian claim to work a lot of facts needs to be established, say, the historical reliability of the Gospels, their somewhat earlier date, etc. But we have to explain certain facts, and simply saying "it happened too long ago, therefore we must remain skeptical" just won't do. If we have reports of supernatural effects knowing at the same time that there's a divine all-good personal cause that is above nature (the “culprit”, to follow the analogy), as a lawyer I don't see any problem with assessing this report and taking it seriously, in context.

Incidentally, skeptics do recognise that need for an alternative explanatory hypothesis, that is why so much criticism used to be based on the supposed existence of a cult of "Jesus deity" prior to the events covered in the Gospels, mythicist appeals to supposed Christian syncretism (all the Horus, Mithras etc. nonsense), incredibly late dating of the Gospels. Rather tellingly, I believe, these hypotheses were almost universally accompanied by prior - mostly empiricist or naively question-begging (like saying that belief in the age of light bulbs is problematic) – metaphysical commitments, or even ethical and ideological ones, political issues with the Church, this approach characteristic of the “Enlightenment” crowd.
And I don't see it getting better. The new atheists mostly appeal to scientism, the problem of evil, supposedly hindering influence religion in general (whatever that means) and the Church has had and still has on civilisation and society (funnily enough, even if we were to concede the latter point, i.e. affirm that (not that I do), say, the Catholic Church is and always has been a monstrous genocidal misogynistic homophobic Nazi-supporting bunch of evil old men, all of this has absolutely no bearing on the truth of the claims of the Church; not to mention the practical contradiction of claiming that religion is a terrible evil while affirming that there's no such thing as objective good or evil). I think it even get's worse, with religion being explained away by means of “memetics”, or basically issuing promissory notes engaging in armchair psychoanalysis, a field seemingly respected nowadays, at least when it comes to religion.

Saying that Prof. Feser picked a wrong approach (and a wrong target) is totally unwarranted.
This charade needs to be exposed for what it is.

Georgy Mancz said...

*continued*


I don't think that the "thrust of their main critique" really does deal with Christian revelation claims, at least that has not been my impression. From the top of my head, the closest thing resembling tackling with these issues that I can think of is Sam Harris trying to construct an analogy between the cases of Christ and Sathya Sai Baba and Dawkins referencing the work of Geza Vermes, while still emphasising metaphysical points (bringing up the subject of petitionary prayer, claiming that the laws of science are violated by Christian dogma etc).

To take the example of the Indian guru, you can study the religious context of India (claims of godhood not surprising anyone due to belief in reincarnation, these types of figures being commonplace), the nature of these miracles (like conjuring up jewelry (not exactly the resurrection after being crucified, I believe), contradictory statements about fact, adherence to beliefs shown false or unwarranted by metaphysics or historical knowledge. Again, even if this analogy is not spurious, as it it prima facie is, an independent case has to be made.

Glenn said...

Judging by his response to Ann Olivier -- "You have merely asserted that your hand movement is outside the causal chain and not pre-determined by the natures of the physical things" -- I think at least this much can be said for Vaal:

a) he, like Aristotle and Aquinas (long) before him, holds to the belief that physical things have natures; and,

b) he, even if unbeknownst to himself, holds to the opinion that such things not acting, behaving or operating in accordance with their natures is unusual, out of order, and/or constitute deviations from a norm.

Vaal said...

Jeremy Taylor,

Yes of course reason and deduction (and under-girding assumptions) play a role in science. The idea is that science is simply a more (the most) rigorous extension of our every day rational, empirical reasoning.

We are regularly engaged in "casual-level" empiricism when we modify our behaviour based on experience and observation. When we are cooking: What caused the recipe to fast too tart? Hypothesis: too much lime juice. Test: cut back on the lime juice next attempt. Result: food wasn't too tart this time. We now attribute the cause of the previous tartness to the over use of lime juice.

We regularly encounter the problem of "variables" in terms of observations and their explanation. Fred has 3 daughters, Jane, Susan, Jill, who are always taking his iPad. He comes home, reaches for his iPad in it's normal place on his desk: it's gone. What's the explanation? Well, he knows of 3 separate causes for his iPad disappearing in the past (each of his daughters has been known to take it). If Fred simply accuses Jane of taking the iPad "because it is missing from my desk" there's a problem. Because it could also have been taken by Susan or Jill, and Fred has not accounted for these variables in his conclusion. If Fred arbitrarily accuses one of them he is not being "epistemologically responsible" .

A better scenario: Fred recognizes that three different hypotheses (Susan, Jane, Susan, Jill taking the iPad) would all explain the same observation (missing iPad). But now Fred realizes his deadlock - he is still in an epistemologically unwarranted situation if he just arbitrarily chooses one explanation over the other. How does Fred select from between these explanations?

Look to each explanation to see what OTHER details they would suggest, and if each explanation suggests different OTHER observations he can go looking for them: in other words, checking predictions, looking for evidence. It can be as simple as looking in the girl's rooms and finding the iPad in Jill's bedroom, which is a stronger implication from the hypothesis that Jill took the iPad than it would be on the hypotheses that the other girls took it. (And we form each hypothesis in the context of likelihoods born of previous experience…)

This is pretty obvious, basic stuff so why the heck would I bother writing it? Because it's the basic, underlying logic and motivation behind so much of our every day reasoning about the world, and because science is born of this basic logic, and is simply our most rigorous application of such reasoning, where all we have learned about human error - and what type of explanations prove more fruitful - is more carefully accounted for in it's methods.

This is why I have been saying that arguments for the metaphysical necessity of a God to even do science, even if successful, just don't end up broaching the problem of making belief in some SPECIFIC MIRACLES
compatible with our everyday empiricism and with science. Because no matter how you start off, in reality you encounter all these problems of "variables" in attributing cause, effect, explanations. The problems of human limitations and the empirical world just don't magically disappear.

The logic behind careful empiricism is either valid or it isn't. If you throw out empirical reasoning, you look like a wacko (and you can't function without it anyway). But presuming you don't throw it out the window, then you can't just start special pleading the logic it uses away in order to let in some specific claims - e.g. resurrecting guy in the middle east.
We have to ask questions like: have you used standards of skepticism and evaluation of such a claim that meet the level we expect for any other boundary-pushing claim about reality? As exemplified in our best science? The short answer, when Christians actually try to make the case for Christian miracles is: No.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Just an addition: As implied by that previous post, it's not a New Atheist position (or any atheist's position that I know) that all our beliefs must be put to our most scientifically rigours tests. For limited beings like us, pragmatism is part of wisdom. We don't have the time or ability to perform lab-level rigour on our every day inferences - such as that my son is still at school, I own a car, wine stained my pants, whatever - so it would be silly to demand it. There's a causual-level empiricism wherein we've all experienced air travel and so it's not controversial to say I flew in a plane from New York to Paris yesterday. The fact others can, and have repeated the same experience is a causal-level version of science's demand for repeatability and verification by a variety of parties. But if one set of people claim to be travelling faster than light between New York and Paris, then we don't just take someone's "account" for it. They are claiming something that 1. We ourselves don't experience and 2. Challenges the picture of reality thus far put together by our most careful empiricism - science. Whereas the first claim does not present such a challenge. Hence for the faster-than-light travel, we demand more rigorous vetting of such a claim.

We all recognize this in our everyday vetting of claims. It's the logic behind "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." It's why we
will accept on face value the claim from our neighbour that he ran a marathon yesterday, but we DON'T accept on face value his claim that he ran faster than light, or that he resurrected from the dead.

In this way we see that we don't, in some impractical sense, burden our EVERY belief by demands that it meet scientific levels of confidence. But the rational person CONSTRAINS his beliefs within the picture of how reality works built on our most careful empiricism.

And this applies to the history/science issue. It's why responsible historians use the Principle Of Analogy To The Present when doing history. The claim that some emperor asked for a tax to be levied on the citizenry is entirely consonant with our experience of the world today. It's empirically plausible, so even though we can't go back in time to observe it, we can provisionally accept an ancient written claim for it having occurred. Whereas if there were additional claims that the Emperor stopped the sun in the sky, or levitated his army away from harm, etc, the historian doesn't just provisionally accept such claims because our current experience and understanding of the world does not suggest any such powers are plausible.

If we didn't think we have a more cogent conception of how reality works now than back then, if we didn't apply this analogy to our current experience, then it's epistemological chaos: we are vulnerable to every wild claim anyone has ever made - X turned into a werewolf, Y was a magical witch, the sun was a flaming chariot being pulled across the sky by an egyptian God - "hey, just because it doesn't look that way today, doesn't mean it wasn't a flaming chariot back then!." And down the rabbit hole we would go.

This is why the idea that one can make a "historical case" for miracles like The Resurrection are bogus. A historian can not work uncoupled from the logic of empiricism and science. They type of testimony that we can provisionally accept when doing history - testimony for events that are plausible given analogy to present knowledge - is nowhere near rigorous enough to establish phenomena that contradicts or challenges our current
knowledge of nature/reality.

It's just a situation we are stuck with.

Vaal

Glenn said...

Vaal,

If we didn't think we have a more cogent conception of how reality works now than back then, if we didn't apply this analogy to our current experience, then it's epistemological chaos: we are vulnerable to every wild claim anyone has ever made - X turned into a werewolf, Y was a magical witch, the sun was a flaming chariot being pulled across the sky by an egyptian God - "hey, just because it doesn't look that way today, doesn't mean it wasn't a flaming chariot back then!." And down the rabbit hole we would go.

Well, thank goodness actual pyramids still exist, otherwise our conception of how reality works, far more cogent now than then (and rigorously bolstered by a superior understanding of the physics of the natural world) would have us proclaiming what balderdash it is to believe those scraps of papyrus ridiculously reporting that such structures had been built -- for who but an insane person, completely out of touch with the reality we sober moderns so clearly recognize, would fall for such claptrap or believe such utter nonsense?

Glenn said...

Also, it isn't the case that Troy wasn't real while (nearly) everyone was busy being content in thinking it admirable fiction. It did not come into existence when, never mind because, Schliemann found it.

(The point isn't that you have no ground to stand on, or that the ground you stand on isn't firm. It is firm -- with respect to certain things. And not quite as firm as you seem to think it is with respect to all things.)

Greg said...

Vaal,

This is why the idea that one can make a "historical case" for miracles like The Resurrection are bogus. A historian can not work uncoupled from the logic of empiricism and science. They type of testimony that we can provisionally accept when doing history - testimony for events that are plausible given analogy to present knowledge - is nowhere near rigorous enough to establish phenomena that contradicts or challenges our current knowledge of nature/reality.

I'm afraid this position is much too strong if you are going to maintain that the the problem of miracles remains even apart from Feser's metaphysical conclusions. To confess a miracle is not to deny "our current knowledge of nature/reality" without begging some important questions with respect to the so-called "laws of nature."

What Feser claims to establish through natural philosophy is that a good, loving, personal God sustains our world in existence and, because omnipotent, can perform miracles. Feser has also given arguments about the nature of human rationality which is (from the philosophical perspective) in "the image of God," which seems to provide adequate grounds for the supposition that God has some interest in mankind. Given those preambles, the question is whether or not God has shown a particular interest in mankind through some sort of revelation.

If you are to dispute any of that, then you are admitting that the metaphysics are relevant. But to concede all of that is to admit that there is not a presumption in favor of a naturalist historical lens (which is needed for miraculous claims to be construed as contradicting or challenging our knowledge of the nature of reality).

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"This is why the idea that one can make a 'historical case' for miracles like The Resurrection are bogus. [...] [The] type of testimony that we can provisionally accept when doing history [...] is nowhere near rigorous enough to establish phenomena that contradicts or challenges our current knowledge of nature/reality."

I'm not sure what it is about the Resurrection that you think "contradicts or challenges our current knowledge of nature/reality" any more than it did that of Jesus's contemporaries. Do you think the alleged witnesses to the Resurrection didn't recognize that such an event must be quite extraordinary, or that they recognized its extraordinariness less (or less justifiably) than we do today? Why did they regard it as a miracle at all, then?

And what is it that you think would be extraordinary about it? Would it violate some sort of natural law? If so, what epistemological status do you think natural laws have, and why?

Edward (not Feser) said...

Vaal,

As you recognise, there are two distinct issues here:

(1) The philosophical: whether the God of Aristotle and of monotheism exists; whether the 'laws of science' (whatever we mean by that) are not the sole determinant of everything; etc

(2) The historical: whether Christ was resurrected from the dead.

Obviously, if (1) is false, (2) is false; and even if (1) is true, it does not follow that (2) is true. Therefore, if one holds to the falsehood (or extreme unlikeliness) of (1) on philosophical grounds, then an impossibly high standard of evidence would have to be attained in order conclude (2).

If, on the other hand, one is convinced of (1) on metaphysical/philosophical grounds, and if one is convinced that God's attributes are everything that Christianity claims them to be, then the standard of evidence to arrive at (2), while still high, will not be impossible to reach.

Now, you recognise the distinction between (1) and (2). And yet you seem to conflate the two, inasmuch as your attack on (2) is largely based on the falsehood, or unlikeliness, of (1). That is to say, your attack on the evidence for the Resurrection is based on your metaphysical committments on the likelihood of such an event.

For example, you say (if I may paraphrase) that we need to judge evidence for particular claims in light of what we already know about reality. This is certainly so. Yet you then invoke question-begging statements that make an acceptable standard of evidence impossible to obtain (a riff on 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence -- and I get to define extraordinary').

For example: "a responsible historian constrains his conclusions to within the boundaries of what we know scientifically about the world." The implication of this, of course, is that the Resurrection goes against 'what we know scientifically', and therefore belief in it is irrational. But this is not an exploration of the evidence presented to us, but a discussion about the philosophy ('constraints') we apply to it. This falls in the realm of (1). You're attempting to close down the historical discussion by classing the very evidence under discussion as scientifically impossible.

And of course, with such a phrase as 'know scientifically', the dice are rigged in advance. What do you mean by it? If you mean 'what we know through studying how nature usually behaves', then this gets you nowhere: I can simply say that we have no reason to believe everything can be known through said methods (and in fact we have excellent reason to believe this is not the case). You of course will disagree, but we would then be arguing in the realm of (1), not about the Resurrection specifically.

Edward (not Feser) said...

(continued -- I'm sorry, but why am I limited to 4k chars? What is this, 1986?)

If, on the other hand, by 'know scientifically' you simply mean 'know through reason as opposed to our emotions/wishful thinking/hysteria', then I quite agree. But to agree on what we mean by this latter statement, we need to discuss (1). You've simply assumed your position on (1).

Other examples of question-begging statements, and conflation of (1) and (2):

"What tends to come out of this is that the theist has really underestimated what is really going to be entailed in making his belief in particular miracle claims compatible with the justifications for science."

Again, the point is whether the claim that every event in history is wholly explicable in scientific terms is reasonable. You've just begged the question here. I don't claim miracles are 'compatible with the justifications for science', but belief in them is not rendered irrational on those grounds. Or if it is, you need to show how. See (1), not (2).

And again:

"[Harris says] that science is really just a word we have for our most epistemologically responsible method of investigating
reality, particularly a posteriori claims - and revelation claims fall into such categories."

This falls into exactly the same trap, and also throws in some very controversial philosophy as a casual assumption.

And again:

"This is why the idea that one can make a "historical case" for miracles like The Resurrection are bogus. [This is indeed the question under discussion, and the question that Prof Feser's books discuss.] A historian can not work uncoupled from the logic of empiricism and science. [But this is question begging, in the same way as above.] They type of testimony that we can provisionally accept when doing history - testimony for events that are plausible given analogy to present knowledge - is nowhere near rigorous enough to establish phenomena that contradicts or challenges our current knowledge of nature/reality. [What this is is a discussion around (1), not (2).]"

You accuse Christians of trying to bat things to the metaphysical questions, and away from the historical ones. I would say quite the opposite: that the Christain approach is the right one: that until we've decided on what reality consists of, we are in no position to discuss the claim of the Resurrection. Our decision on (2) is fundamentally affected by our conclusion on (1). Once we have decided on the metaphysical questions, and not before, can we approach the question of miracles with the right understanding of reality.

Regards,
Edward

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

Your conclusion about the supposed "epistemological chaos" caused by accepting the Christian account is, I believe, unwarranted.
Analogy demands analysis of comparable cases, otherwise it just wouldn't be analogy. The cases have to be sufficiently similar. The similarity you seem to be appealing to is very, very vague: you seem to be putting all the claims about facts that do not normally happen in the same category, and then do the same to reports about these facts. Is this approach really justifiable?

To take a most fortunate example featuring the Egyptian pyramids made by Glenn. If I were to work with the assumption that human beings are basically similar, and nowadays we don't build huge pyramids for no obvious utilitarian purposes, I would find their existence improbable. But if I were to keep the peculiarities of Egyptian civilisation in mind - the mode of agricultural production, the structure of Egyptian society, the way public authorities functioned, Egyptian religious beliefs, the prominent place life after death had in this peculiar religious system etc. - and I had indications (say, historical reports that proved to be generally historically reliable, were written not long after the events) of the pyramids being constructed I don't think I'd be making a leap of faith if I acknowledged the historical fact that they we were in fact built even without the pyramids enduring through the ages .Why? Because my first assumption was rather rash, as it neglected the importance of culture and the fact that the cultures compared are very different.

The claim that an emperor stopped the sun (X turned was a werewolf, Y was a witch) is not similar to a claim that a Jewish carpenter, as you put it, was both Messiah and God, was crucified and then had risen from the dead. And neither is the background of these claims similar, neither are the reports about these potential facts. For example, a court historian (if indeed this is claimed to be an event in history sensu stricto, as is not the case with, say, Egyptian or other myths) employed by the ruling dynasty is not similar to Second Temple Jews proclaiming a resurrection of a carpenter claimed to be both Messiah and God (Him suffering a humiliating penalty, effectively failing as a Messiah according to contemporary expectations, not to mention the idea of the God of Israel killed being most extraordinary) very early on (in quite unfavorable, dangerous circumstances) and in a very strictly monotheistic culture with no belief in personal resurrections or divine incarnations.

Indeed, one has to be very rigorous and careful when making these analogies.


P.S.

Pyramids et al: although there are alternative hypotheses as to their location (some claim it was Nineveh), historians generally do not dispute the existence of the Hanging Gardens of.Babylon, though the structure itself is not extant.

Edward (not Feser) said...

PS You really should read The Last Superstition, if you haven't already. It won't make you a Christian, but it may help you see that theism is rational.

Georgy Mancz said...

Urm, perhaps 'similarity' is not ideal (I think it's a somewhat Russian thing to write), but I hope I've managed to relay the message.

@Edward (not Feser)

Sorry for interrupting.
Didn't mean to. Took me long enough to write the comment. :)

Vaal said...

Glenn,

I do think that we take that "things have natures" (or something like it) as an assumption or organizing principle for our inquiry into reality.
(This is actually also to broach an answer to the purported problem of induction). Along with other assumptions (e.g. "something is as it seems to us, unless we have other reasons to be skeptical," the reasons to be skeptical or not coming from the application of logic/reason to our experience).

I do however find the Aristotelian/Thomistic-Aristotelian notions of "nature" and extrapolations to Teleology, Purpose, Ends, Final Causes, Natural Law versions of morality etc to go off the rails.

But my purpose isn't to get into that as I'm focusing on the question of believing in Christian revelation and whether it is consistent with accepting the validity of our normal cannons of empirical skepticism and inquiry.

If the Christian's metaphysical arguments for God aren't going to suddenly change our demands for evidence, control of variables, hypothesis testing, parsimony etc in science, or change our demands for evidence in the case of deciding criminal trials etc, then those metaphysical arguments are of little matter to the question of consistency the New Atheists are raising. Any claim of SPECIFIC experiences of something extraordinary, miracles or otherwise, will be subject to this test of consistency with the way we vet any other a posteriori/evidence-based claims.

And I think it's not for nothing that almost all the liberal, sophisticated, nuanced Christian opponents in debates with the New Atheists strenuously avoid having to talk about the justification for their beliefs in specific miracle claims. They will always try to drag the subject back to generalities. This avoidance on the part of their opponents became such an issue that the New Atheists, such as Hitchens, felt it necessary to start the debates flagging this for the audience "Please don't let my opponent leave this stage without his stating clearly what he actually believes of his church's dogma and his holy text."

Vaal

Vaal said...

Georgy Mancz,

Concerning the validity of the Christian "Hypothesis," I would wish to contest virtually everything you would argue there. Surprised? :-)

But I have to find some way of sticking to a more manageable point.

You seem to be falling back on the old "surprising quality" of Christian belief against the background from which it arose, as evidence for the truth of it's certain miracle claims.

First of all, the level of "surprisingness" in itself is debatable (as I've seen a number of Biblical and middle east scholars debate the issue, where numerous strands of the Christian story were linked to previous, or surrounding area beliefs already extant).

But even just taking it on face value, it's an amazingly weak argument.
What is more common in religion than Heresy? Every new religion and schism has to start somewhere, and in the beginning any new idea will be set in contrast to the prevailing background beliefs. It can just take someone cogitating on his own, coming to some new conclusions (either from his own reasoning or adopting strands from outside influences) and promulgating these new beliefs to others, with whom those new ideas may resonate. Happens all the time.

There are countless examples of "surprising conversions" given the background someone has come from. You get westerners brought up in a skeptical, atheistic background converting to eastern religions, visa versa, people raised Christian and Muslim converting to atheism and visa versa.
We constantly hear of these turns of belief that seem, on the surface at least, surprising given the background beliefs the person was raised within. As Eddie Tabash mentioned in his debate with William L. Craig (who was trying the line of defence), if tomorrow W.L. Craig shows up as a convert to Hare Krishna, dancing and chanting in your local airport, that wouldn't for a moment ratify the metaphysical beliefs of the Hare Krishnas. They get converts all the time. In fact, it's a regular feature of everything from religions, to new age beliefs, to alternative medicine, to even just selling products to include the element "I was a TOTAL SKEPTIC…but once I saw the evidence I became a believer!"

People converting to new ideas given their background, even radically new ideas, is a commonplace, natural feature in human beings and hence there is no need to appeal to the supernatural when faced with an example of this, like converts to disciples of Christ, etc.

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"I'm focusing on the question of believing in Christian revelation and whether it is consistent with accepting the validity of our normal [canons] of empirical skepticism and inquiry."

And again, what is it precisely that you think might be inconsistent with our normal canons of inquiry? Do you suppose that Jesus's contemporaries regarded resurrection as less extraordinary than we do?

Vaal said...

Georgy Mancz,

You brought up Sathya Sai Baba and he is a very apt example for the problem of "variables" in taking the Jesus story seriously. You seem unacquainted with just how broad the claims are for SSB. He had something like 1 million followers (or more). He was understood to be a God-man, was claimed by followers to be Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent. Truckloads of miracles have been attributed to him, including controlling the weather, raising the dead, bodily appearances in distant locations, etc. You get from his followers all the same gushing and subjective "divine experiences of The Swami" as you get from Christians talking of being moved by God's grace and the Holy Spirit. In fact, his followers are STILL reporting visitations and miracles from him, after his death!

And yet, what do you get when you actually investigate this man? It's just like when you investigate virtually any supernatural claims, like "yogic flying." People claim yogic flying allows them to float around rooms, levitating, but funny enough the only thing ever shown to skeptics or video cameras is a rather non-supernatural flopping on their knees.
Same with Sai Babba - not surprisingly none of the amazing miracles are
caught by any cameras. The only ones we see are the blatant, cheap tricks of a charlatan, as exposed by other magicians viewing tapes of his "conjuring." He's an obvious fake.

What does this tell us? It's just one of countless examples: people can be tricked, can be deluded by appeals to their deep desires, can participate in tales that "grow with the telling," can form part of feed-back loops where
poorly evidenced claims are ratified and amplified. People experience cognitive dissonance - I truly believed he was Lord, I sacrificed a lot of my emotion and time to the idea, and it's got to be true! People regularly disregard contrary evidence they are wrong, on just such a basis. We can see ALL THESE REAL LIFE COGNITIVE PHENOMENA TODAY…and even study them.

Hence we have a true analogy-to-present experience when proposing naturalistic explanations (delusion, cognitive dissonance reduction, rejection of counter evidence, group feedback loops, stories growing in the telling etc) for the Jesus myth, and no such analogies for supernatural explanations (since no supernatural miracles can be shown today, and indeed claims that ARE investigated continually highlight the dubious nature of such claims).

Cheers,

Vaal

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

"The liberal, sophisticated, nuanced Christian opponents"

Who would that be, I wonder, and what why would being "liberal" be treated as a boon, "liberals" generally not really representative of traditional Christian belief. Would people like W.L. Craig, who routinely argue for the historicity of the Resurrection, fall under this category?..
Again, most of the arguments the "new atheists" typically present when arguing about this are either simple arguments from incredulity (the silly comparison to unicorns, say) based on at least dubious analogies (like the one mentioned) or red-herrings (ethical issues), strawmen of Christian doctrine

Vaal said...

Glenn,

"Well, thank goodness actual pyramids still exist,"

Yes, whereas we lack evidence Jesus still exists, as is claimed in Christian dogma.

Regarding the Pyramids, there is nothing about them that violates physics, or the capabilities of the time. So…???

If we only had the Papyrus sketches, we would both look for evidence left of these structures if any, and/or determine whether they were plausible structures given the technology of the time. If we DIDN'T have such evidence or plausible hypotheses, we wouldn't be warranted in assuming the claims of the papyrus were true.

Something may be true, but that doesn't entail we have warrant for believing it without evidence it is true.

X-rays existed before we had ways of empirically establishing their plausibility and reality. But before ever having such warrant, it would not be rational to have simply believed X-rays exist.

But, again, Pyramids exist and we have plausible explanations for how they exist. Unlike the claims for Christianity.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Greg

"To confess a miracle is not to deny "our current knowledge of nature/reality" without begging some important questions with respect to the so-called "laws of nature.""

The problem is whether we are talking of investigating reality - "nature" or whatever - are miracles, the problem is the same. We have to navigate the same territory of human error, epistemic limitations, bias, etc to establish a miracle DID happen in the same way we establish any other evidential claim, e.g. that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, that the Higgs Boson exists, that a medicine is efficacious, etc.

How do we evaluate the claim any PARTICULAR miracle occurred if not also appealing to consistent cannons of skepticism that recognize the problems of human error, bias, of getting ascertaining which of various possible causes might have resulted in the phenomenon we are investigating, of selecting between various hypotheses compatible with the phenomenon? How do you escape being consistent in your empiricism, even WHEN you introduce the possibility of miracles?

"Given those preambles, the question is whether or not God has shown a particular interest in mankind through some sort of revelation."

You mean like how he showed up last night in my room and told me to tell you the Christ story is a myth?

Or how he has revealed himself in Sathya Sai Babba?

Or how he has subjectively revealed Himself to my New Age loving neighbour, telling her ghosts are real, everyone eventually gets to heaven, and
Christianity is false?

Or how he has revealed himself to snake handlers, persuading them via his presence as the Holy Spirit that their view of doctrine is sound, and that they ought to handle deadly snakes…regardless of the carnage?

Or how he has revealed himself to the guy spouting "the end is near" on the street?

Or to my sister, who is (and this is true) convinced my son is the return of Jesus? (Hey, don't blame it on her purported schizophrenia…she claims to be in contact with God).

The list of supernatural claims that have been made, including specific claims of God's intervention, is massive and multifarious and takes place in the context of the human capacity to make up and fall for bullshit.

How do you vet claims of extraordinary occurrences, if not at all appealing to
the cannons of evidential reasoning best exemplified in science?
I see no such reliable method within Christianity.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Georgy Mancz

"The claim that an emperor stopped the sun (X turned was a werewolf, Y was a witch) is not similar to a claim that a Jewish carpenter, as you put it, was both Messiah and God, was crucified and then had risen from the dead."

Of course they are similar types of claims: they both are extraordinary claims of the miraculous that violate the way we comprehend reality to work.

The quibble you are bringing is similar to claiming we shouldn't have an across the board scepticism about the existence of superpowers since "there is a difference in the power of Superman vs that of the Invisible Girl!"

No, they BOTH share the character relevant to the point being made: extraordinary claims for which we would have to demand rigorous evidence.

You also seem to be appealing to the "surprisingness of early Christian belief" which I have addressed in another post.

Cheers,

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I don't think scientific knowledge is the most rigorous kind of knowledge we have. Leaving aside noetic or intellectual knowledge, I think deductive reason is more rigorous than scientific knowledge.

The knowledge from a syllogism seems more certain and rigorous than from the scientific method.

For instance;

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.

Is as rigorous as any scientific form of knowledge. The same goes for mathematical knowledge.

Anyway, it seems to me you have moved away from strict scientism and empiricism to the position that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

However, it seems to me that there is a subtle and implicit question begging at work here. It seems to me that you are relying on the premise that miracles and the paranormal are highly unlikely in any form. This is seemingly what you mean by an extraordinary claim.

If one were to take a neutral approach to miracles and the paranormal then one would seemingly have no more reason to rule out their existence, given the widespread claims of such experiences, than to accept them.

If one takes a philosophical position that in fact sees miracles and the paranormal as quite likely to occur, then, in fact, it seems to me one could easily come to the conclusion that there is a general truth behind the widespread claims of man to have such experiences.

When it comes to specific miracles or the paranormal and whether we accept them, this would presumably, from a neutral or positive approach to the existence of miracles and the paranormal, depend upon investigation of the claim in question.

Perhaps we cannot have certainty about most particular claim, but I don't see why we cannot have some sort of reasonable knowledge. I don't think you have really shown why we must only accept knowledge that conforms to scientific testing. You have basically fudged the distinction between this kind of knowledge and other kinds, like historical knowledge. Why we cannot have cautious and careful access to a variety of different kinds of knowledge, perhaps with different levels of certaint for different varieties, like philosophical, scientific, historical, artistic, common sensical, etc., is hard to see.

I also think you have been misusing the term empirical, as Bob did as well. What you mean is the field of natural science or that which can be subject to quantifiable measuring and testing of external phenomena, and what can be taken from rational and mathematical extrapolation of this measuring and testing. But not only is this not all of reality, it is not all that is covered by the term empirical or, of course, experience. And it would seem questionable whether one can totally reduce everyday experience to the domain of natural science and still think of this as empirical.

In fact, if we start with ordinary human sensual experience then I think that there are several approaches that can equal, or even better, natural science for harmonising with this experience, at least within their own fields of analysis. For example, a common sense philosophical position like Aristotelianism or that of the Scottish school can claim to be based in common experience. Also, a phenomologist approach (whether Husserlian or not) that starts by analysing our subjective experience seems equally empirical to scientific analysis of external phenomena, perhaps more so because of the priority of such subjective experience to all other experience. It is not at all apparent to me why the approach of natural science should be viewed as more empirical than such approaches and certainly not why it should dominate them and reduce their spheres of investigation to its terms and approach (such as reducing subjective experience to neuroscience entirely).

Vaal said...

Scott

"And again, what is it precisely that you think might be inconsistent with our normal canons of inquiry? Do you suppose that Jesus's contemporaries regarded resurrection as less extraordinary than we do?"

What point do you wish to make in that last sentence?

Certainly Jesus' resurrection - or his miraculous nature in general - is depicted as being extraordinary by the apostles.
It's a dime-a-dozen feature of extraordinary claims that "We were skeptics and changed our tune when we saw the miracle!"

What of it? We still need to be sober and rigorous in investigating such claims. Right?
If it's a fact of current life that personal conviction, surprising turn arounds of belief etc seem to be normal features of humanity, and therefore aren't grounds to establish the miraculous or extraordinary, then we have to be consistent in vetting biblical claims by the same standards.


Cheers,

Vaal

Jeremy Taylor said...

I will say that the exclusivist Christian will have a much harder time proving their specific miracles occured (in the sense of making a reasonable combined phiosophical and empirical case), if they make use of a framework that singles Christianity out, because they cannot make use of a general experience (if they do not accept other miracles, like Buddhist ones for example, and make a very clear distinction between Christian miracles and other paranormal experiences).

The Christian cannot, either, appeal to a specifically Christian philosophy, because they are, to a large degree, basing their specifically Christian Theism on the revelation of Christ which his miracles are meant to support. So they are left with the existence of the God of Classical Theism on the one hand and the claimed historicity of only a small number of the human experience of the miraculous and paranormal on the other.

Anonymous said...

Science studies the operations of nature ideally in cases of normal or mundane cases. The existence of God, gods, or anything like that is left out of scientific fields entirely.

Since miracles are cast as willful acts of agents for whom either the limitations of norms do not apply, or who exist and operate either outside of or in dictation of those norms, trying to argue 'science shows miracles don't take place' is ridiculous. It's like playing a game of World of Warcraft, studying what happens in the normal course of the game, and then ruling out based on that knowledge the intervention of a GM because a given GM's acts may violate the ordinary course of the game world.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

I'm not at all surprised.

But that's not what's at issue here, is it?..
If you contest the grounds for making this argument it means that you're actually dealing with the Christian hypothesis (and it is a hypothesis, just like mythicism, no need for scare quotes) rather than altogether dismissing it. If you adhere to a mythicist position, a separate argument is required. That's not what you were doing before, at least, it would seem so to me. Making a strong mythicist case could falsify Christianity, surely. But a mythicist case successfully defended is not an argument from "careful empiricism" per se. It can be motivated by these concerns, but it's different.


Naturally, as I believe you guess, I do not think of it as a prima facie weak argument. It's not the only one, and I picked it for a demonstration of the need to process background information, data on culture etc., instead of appealing to human nature generally, supernatural claims generally. Nor can you justifiably appeal, I believe, to religion in general and heresy in general. It's Second Temple Judaism and the 'resurrection of Christ heresy'. The main point is not "surprising conversions". To “surprisingly convert” one has to convert to something. It's the doctrines that matter, although the issue of conversions is also pertinent, especially in the case of a religion's progenitor. Another point that needs to be made is that simply appealing to “human nature” (and it being prone to heresy) is dangerously close to, sorry to repeat myself, armchair psychoanalysis. Causes need to be identified, and you can actually do that with a lot if heresies: philosophical issues (like nominalism, or gnostic dualism), ethical issues (the claim of being unable to reconcile the moral character of the “Gods of both Testaments), religious nationalism (in cases of schism, or dispute over matters obviously too abstracts), all on the individual basis, all against the cultural, religious and political background.

Georgy Mancz said...

*continued*

Conversion of a 21st century American Protestant to Hare Krishna is quite different, I reckon. It's not very original (Hare Krishna), but, then again, here the analogy is false, as Dr. Craig's conversion to Krishnaism would not testify to anything given the context, especially to any miraculous facts pertaining to public revelation (it will not be even claimed, I believe), as is the case with the Apostles and the early Church in 1st century Judea

. There are other issues here, such as pantheism being wrong on account of not being classical theism, and that would apply to New Age people and Sathya Sai Baba. From what we know 1st century Judea is not 20st century India (where religious syncretism is manifest, with it's incarnational beliefs and guru culture), nor is it the American South or Equatorial Africa. Again, say, Sathya Sai Baba was manifestly not omniscient (made irreconcilably contradictory statements), made quite a career and gained huge wealth and was not crucified and raised from the dead. If we a to compare him to the founders of religion, a comparison with Muhammad or Joseph Smith would more apt. Again, one would actually have to compare him and his following to the Apostles. This is an extremely imprecise comparison. Here, as an example, one can note a practical application of Thomism by making an argument that reincarnational beliefs are metaphysically unjustifiable. Natural theology is very useful in vetting out supernatural claims.
I also believe that it can be shown that the comparison between the religious experiences of, say, modern Charismatics is comparable to that of early Christians, by showing the difference between the theological frameworks and cultures, etc. You seem to neglect the importance of accumulated religious trends.
The criterion of “extraordinary claims of the miraculous” is imprecise and vague. Specific claims have to be analysed. In the case of the Resurrection you can note that Christians are not claiming that the form of a dead human body has an inherent power to rise from the dead (as in the case of superpowers). Christians state that this was an instance of direct divine causality, not of a human possessing superpowers. The claims we discussed ARE different, and are made in very different contexts. I realise it's a lot of work, but cases that are only generally similar has to be judged on their own merits.

The Christian claim is not that you cannot appeal to naturalistic explanations. It's that given all we know about the religious and cultural context, characteristics of the early Church and Palestine they do not work.
If, for example, the mythicist camp succeeds in presenting evidence that would make Christian belief somewhat ordinary, then they would, I believe, sufficiently weaken the Christian case. But that's it. New data can come up. These judgments are, as all hypotheses, certainly contingent.
But historical argument like this is clearly not what the new atheists are engaging in.

Georgy Mancz said...

A somewhat general point that I believe highlights the importance of natural theology.
The resurrection is a miracle that really does point necessarily to divine intervention. If one posits or claims to have established independently, say, the possibility of aid by spirits/magic, it can be made sense within the Christian framework that does inform us of the existence of demons, not that I insist on it. Now, the Resurrection understood as a rational soul reunited to the body it once informed, it seems to me, does require (in the absence of facts indicating an additional actor) a cause outside of time that specifically creates rational human souls ex nihilo anyway.
Again, I think that one can vet out religions based on natural theology. I entertain the idea that supposed divine positive law contradicting natural law would point to the overall claim being false.
One has to keep in mind that supernatural claims are not in all cases of the “all bets are off metaphysically” type.

Vaal said...

Jeremy Taylor,

You example of deduction highlights the old issue of deduction, particularly as it pertains to it's application to our experience: It's only a truth-preserving structure. The premises almost inevitably must come from observation (and hence some form of induction).

Why else ought anyone accept, or even posit, that "all men are mortal" if this were not an inductive inference from experience already?

So you don't really get around the issue of inductive/empirical reasoning by appeal to deduction.

I'm not question begging at all concerning miracles: I'm noting that there is no in principle difference between the problems of establishing a miracle happened vs that ANYTHING ELSE happened, "natural" or otherwise.

In all cases we are simply investigating the nature of reality (or of our experience, if you want to stay anti-realist). Does light travel the same speed, in straight lines? Wait…it bends in some circumstances? Did a single event, a Big Bang happen? Does the Higgs Bosson exist? They are all pretty astounding concepts.
But to establish warranted belief in any of them, we engage in a rigorous manner of vetting such claims, empirically. If some other force exists that can produce effects in our empirical experience - e.g. a God who intervenes sometimes to cause changes in nature (e.g. turn water into wine, or cause a dead body to live again) then we have learned something new both about nature (it is susceptible to such changes) and about some other cause in reality (God). But of course this opens the can of worms - weather someone is doing science, or new age healing, or some other religion, someone can ALWAYS make the claim a miracle happened. A scientist can't repeat results for independent observers? "Well, it was a miracle the time it happened in my lab." The SAME general issues arise in the case of establishing a miracle claim, vs any
other claim - the same human bullshit has to be accounted for in our methods.

You know this in your everyday life.

After all, you apparently accept that miracles can and have happened. And yet you will still see a stark difference between these two claims:

1. I drove my car to work today.
2. I was transported miraculously, invisibly and instantly to work today.

We both know you will see no reason to be skeptical and reject #1, but you will be immediately skeptical and demand more than my mere say-so for #2, right?

What is, after all, the reason you would do so, if not for the general reasons I have outlined?

Why do you reject the heartfelt miracle claims, and claims of divinity for Sathya Sai Baba, but apparently accept such claims on behalf of Jesus? I do not believe you will be able to do this without special pleading.

Vaal

Prince Randoms said...

Well, I would reject Sathya because he has profited immensely from his claims and also has sexually abused many people. Not quite actions becoming of a capital G God.

Vaal said...

Georgy Mancz

The resurrection is a miracle that really does point necessarily to divine intervention.

Wow. I'd love to see you support that claim.

"necessarily?"

First of all, are you (question-begging) presuming a resurrection actually occurred? How can you absolutely rule out possibilities such as the story was distorted in the telling, or was made up? Even just pointing to probabilities won't do because you used the word "necessarily" entailing diving intervention.

How can you rule out with Absolute Certainty that Jesus didn't actually
die on the cross but, as has happened before, looked dead, was presumed dead, but wasn't dead. And woke up later, causing people to think he died and lived again? (Even within the context of today's advanced medical science, people have been shipped to the morgue only to "wake back up.")

And even if one accepts Jesus did , explain how you can rule out possibilities such as Aliens resurrecting the body with technology unknown to us, etc?

Vaal

(Gawd these CAPTCHA's are killing me)

Matt Sheean said...

why does special pleading have to be involved. The evidence can be examined in both cases. Surely it's possible that the evidence for one could possibly be stronger than the other.

I'll recount an instance of a miracle claim that I find difficult to resolve without concluding that it was indeed a miracle. A missionary that I know was in the field and met a fellow who was was injured badly and left paralyzed. The missionary prayed for this fellow and his ability to move, walk around and such was restored to the way it was before the accident. This missionary had pictures of the man before and after. The missionary told me this story in person, he was rather in shock about it himself, speaking of the event with wide eyes and a very serious tone. Now, as I see it, there are three options here. 1. The missionary was lying, 2. The man had been misdiagnosed and the paralysis was really only temporary, 3. A miracle occurred. Based on my knowledge of the missionary, I would rule out option 1 right away (he was not a liar, and he expressed genuine bewilderment at the event when he described it... in fact he was quite timid in the telling of it). It seems unlikely that 2 is true as well, but it is possible. What about 3, though? Why couldn't it have been a miracle. If I have prior reasons for thinking that God exists and has providentially ordained such events then that would seem to make option 3 at least as likely if not a little more likely that 2.

I wouldn't worry about whether or not I am telling you the truth right now in recounting this story. You don't know me and I could be a liar. My question is why I should not believe, along with my missionary friend, that a miracle occurred.

Vaal said...

Prince Randoms

Well, I would reject Sathya because he has profited immensely from his claims and also has sexually abused many people. Not quite actions becoming of a capital G God.

And that speaks to the very point the example is meant to make.

If you take the claims of adherents, Sathya's powers sound utterly God-like, and you won't see them describing his sexual abuse activities. But the difference with the Sathya Sai Baba's of the world is that we have so much more information about him. We don't have to rely on testimony of his followers: we can look at the actual evidence and (until his death) watch him in action. When we actually have this type of access to miracle claims they always end up looking like Sathya Sai Baba: you uncover all sorts of details conveniently left out or dismissed by his followers, and you can SEE for yourself he produces no more than cheap parlour tricks. That is what you get over and over when you actually have access to the type of information needed to vet miracle claims - they fall apart.

And yet, millions still believed in his divinity and powers!

This is why it is ridiculous to appeal to apostolic claims of divinity or miracles for Jesus…or other religious figures…or other forms of miracles. We simply don't have the type of access we would actually need to the eyewitnesses, to Jesus, to the evidence. And to the extent we can investigate miracle claims today, we see just how little it takes for people to be fooled, or fool themselves. The examples of the Sai Baba's of the world and followers of cults and competing religions show just how unreliable the beliefs of devotees can be.
(And this continued appeal to the "originality" or "surprising quality" of the apostles beliefs against their background beliefs is just so weak.
You can find examples of trained skeptical western scientists who encountered Baba, wanted to debunk him, and was converted. You also get this for other paranormal, new age claims. It's just dime-a-dozen, par for the course for claims of radical turn arounds of belief).

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

by 'both cases' in the second sentence I mean Sathya and Christ

Greg said...

Vaal,

First of all, are you (question-begging) presuming a resurrection actually occurred?

If you read Georgy where you quoted him, it seems like he was not saying that "what we know about the historical incident known as the resurrection necessarily proves the existence of God." He seems to be saying "if a resurrection occurred, then necessarily God intervened." The modal operator is not applied to the occurrence of the purported miracle but to the implications of such a miracle, if it occurred.

Chris said...

Vaal,

I'm curious. What's your personal belief regarding the specific claims of the Christian revelation?

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

“Wow. I'd love to see you support that claim.”

If it did, naturally. I was just trying to make a point that supernatural claims are different on metaphysical analysis. Not much else here. As to the “necessarily” part I believe I covered that.

I do not rule out these possibilities absolutely (!). I just don't think these alternatives are better. You seem to be presenting a couple of alternative theories at the same time.
Now, the claim of the story being distorted is ruled out based on the early date of belief in the resurrection and the early date of the compositions of the Gospels (the time being insufficient for the emergence of the myth without necessary ideas already in the background), their historical reliability (including the infamous empty tomb), witnesses and multiple attestations. All separate points, of course, that can be debated, this point is clear to all, I take it.
Given the mentioned reasons the swoon theory that entails Christ waking up in a closed tomb (with enough oil vapors there to suffocate) after going through scourging, carrying the cross, being crucified and pierced by a spear is, all things considered, absurd.
Proposing that the Christian story was made up faces too many difficulties. Among other things, one needs sufficiently capable culprits with a motive. It entails the Apostles writing a fantasy book (a very accurate fantasy book), betraying an extraordinary literary talent, and then started spreading it throughout the province of Syria and then the Roman Empire, putting their lives to risk and suffering persecution with evidence of them dying in the process (for a fantasy book). Moreover, given that it basically says that they authored a religion, it is somewhat strange (given that we DO have religions whose authors were the ones playing the chief role in their respective cases) that they didn't assume the chief role in their religion, or, say, pursue self-aggrandizement, special worldly privileges (comparable to the wife privilege of Muhammad and Joseph Smith), political power (again, Islam and Mormonism) and the like. In fact, the Gospels do not portray the supposed conspirators in a favorable light, and in the Epistles we can find out that stricter demands were set for the leaders of the early Church (compare the tone of St. Paul to the Muslim claim that Muhammad was the best person ever to live on God's green Earth). Now, some people claimed that it all makes perfect sense in Christianity (a kind of self-deprecation being said to actually boost the import of a Christian personality), but we are talking about men who supposedly invented Christianity, so why would they bother.

All of these theories fail remarkably at explaining the peculiar Christian beliefs: dying on the 'wood', an accursed death; Messiah not of this world, in fact a radically conception of Israel, one that enfranchises us Gentiles (the old Messianic belief dying hard, surviving the destruction of the Temple), personal bodily resurrection in history etc. Again, if one was to prove that these beliefs were not peculiar nor “surprising” against the known background, I concede that it would undermine this point, but this applies to all the mentioned factors, as these are debatable, contingent upon the historical evidence that we happen to have.
The basic point is that if I'm correct in affirming all the mentioned factors, I see no reason for withholding belief in the resurrection.

Georgy Mancz said...

*continued*

Surprisingly enough, I believe the 'alien resurrection hypothesis' is the most interesting of the ones you've mentioned. If we have independently established the existence of aliens capable of staging a resurrection (I'm convinced because of reasons already mentioned that no technology is capable of restoring a subsistent form to matter it used to inform, so it would had been an elaborate illusion, I guess), I would seriously consider that as a preferable hypothesis, though one can argue that we need to establish that they've were capable of that by the time they were on Earth (and if they were on Earth at the time).
But for all of that we have to acquire independent evidence that extraterrestrials do exist, and so far, I believe, we have none, whereas the existence of God resembling that of Christianity is a certainty.
Again, if one was to say that aliens capable of space travel are more parsimonious (rather implausibly, in my opinion), I would dispute that, as the metaphysics of life and immanent causality make abiogenesis (though I do not dispute evolution) absurd and the creation of life requires special divine intervention, as does the creation of rational life, and I don't think that one gets to count the odds of that happening . Asking for a specific reason why God chose to institute life on one planet and not the other simply won't do, I don't know the specific reason why He did it on Earth, His ways are demonstrably not our ways; anyways, we don't have evidence of truly comparable planets, I take it.
All of this considered, Being Itself resurrecting Christ just is much more plausible.

Anonymous said...

With regards to science and philosophy, Feser writes:

"For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle."

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174/

Georgy Mancz said...

P.S.
I have to confess it's a most fascinating topic. Thank you for bringing it up.
Additional problems with the alien hypothesis arise: the motive has to be accounted for. Making guesses about specific designs of Actus Purus apart from final causes manifested in creation (natures) without recourse to revelation is notoriously problematic, but with proposed aliens it has to be somewhat easier in view of what we can induce about rational animals (admittedly, not a very good induction, as we know of the existence of exactly one rational animal species). What possible end would these aliens be pursuing?.. Again, we don't have revelation, and if we are to attribute comparable natures (and final causes) to aliens, suspecting them of malicious intent would violate the presumption of innocence and be an example of bad faith. Additional facts need to be established to override it, such as this civilisation embracing scientism and relativism to such an extent that it led to the collapse of alien morals and the triumph of arbitrary will among them (one wonders if such a race would actually be capable of space travel, but I digress). Or are we talking about immoral outcasts?
Perhaps they'd deceive us for less cynical or even charitable reasons (they wanted to uplift us as a race, say, seeing the beneficial effect Christianity would have), but again, attributing deception to them is just mean. Surely as rational animals they are aware of the precepts of natural law, including the condemnation of lying?!
One wonders, one wonders...

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal


You're not averse, I see, to psychological speculation, so here goes:

A figure like Baba can be said to have an appeal to a person from a Western culture plagued with scientism, say, an atheist so enamoured with positivism he actively endorses the conclusions about the supposed pointlessness of existence, the indifference of the world, taught to despise Christianity and organised religion in school (and it not being fashionable and liberal enough)... And Baba is so radiant, filled with joy, prosperous, popular... India is so fun, ancient, mysterious, relaxed.. Full of esoteric knowledge that leads to inner harmony, without these pesky dogmas telling you what to do at the same time teaching you to hate yourself... And Baba says the REAL Jesus was different... All about warm fuzzy love... My parents and their ancestors were so wrong and mean... And in fact Baba was/is Jesus... And all of these people are being so nice...

You think I'm begging the question here? Could be, that's why this passage doesn't feature as an argument.
What it is is a kind of an exhortation to appreciate the cultural context, the huge differences between the varying revelation claims, the ethos of different religions. Again, I believe there are reasons NOT to believe in a specific supernatural claim stemming from context and, say, metaphysical and theological frameworks against the background of which these supposed miracles are set/ which they are meant to support. And these are some of the issues I have with the proposed comparison between Christ and Baba.
I still don't understand why you believe the argument to be weak in itself. Again, concepts and theological views are of more import, it's not just about “surprising conversions”. And I take it that you believe it to be weak because of your judgment on the relevant factors, but that is obviously a different issues.

P.S.
I never meant the humorous passage in the beginning of the comment to be an expression of what I think of India or traditional Hindu/other Hindustani beliefs (though I clearly believe them to be a false). I, however, contend that it is a somewhat accurate depiction of how some Westerners seem to perceive India and Indian ideas. The obvious silliness of it is to be attributed to them, not India.

Vaal said...

Matt Sheean

Regarding your possible-miracle story:

First let's notice something. Whenever New Atheists ask for evidence for the Christian God, they get "God doesn't just let himself be tested, on demand - he's not like something you experiment on!"

And from the Feser's of the world, when we consider empirical evidence for God, we are admonished that we are so naive and making a category error in asking for evidence - God becomes a mere metaphysical necessity, ("don't look behind the curtain at that Holy Text in which God is depicted providing empirical evidence!")

And yet here we see how Christians actually tend to operate: they regularly put demands on God by praying, and when the think God has answered and intervened then all of a sudden it's "see, evidence for God's power!"

I think New Atheists are quite correct to call out this double-standard.

Anyway, what are some of the problems with attributing the paralyzed man's recover to miraculous intervention? Plenty, but to keep it to a few:

First, it takes the anecdotal form of almost every other miracle claim found in competing religions and supernatural belief systems. There is just a vast storehouse of competing reality claims about how things work, buoyed on evidence exactly like you just supplied. Since there is no reason to think you and your friends are excepted from error, you should start off with skepticism about such claims and demand rigorous evidence to surmount that skepticism.

But beyond that: you wish to portray yourself as having reasons to think 3 (God's intervention) is "more likely" than 2 (misdiagnosis, or some other such natural explanation).

How in the world would you possibly be calculating such probabilities concerning God's intervention? Think about it: there are billions of believers in God, every single day is filled with tragedy - famine, disease, disaster, tragedy - and it's filled with the prayers for God's intervention. You can bet people were praying for a miracle for the lost Malaysian flight, just as people regularly pray for themselves and loved ones to beat tragic circumstances and odds.
And yet, most such prayers go unanswered (judging from the fact there is no statistical correlation of "miraculous-type" events in the ledger of believers vs unbelievers as regards health and fate in general).

How then, are you possibly calculating the odds that a metaphysical God would have decided to answer YOUR friend's prayers, over anyone else's prayers? I can not see any possible manner of assigning such probability, to judge it "more probable" than misdiagnosis.

Cont'd…

Vaal said...

….cont'd….

Matt Sheean

Taking another angle, let's look at the consequences of appealing to miracles. The man's recovery was anomalous, but certainly not unheard of. Statistically, it's an outlier. As we try to understand how nature works, how are we to mix appeals to miraculous intervention with trying to understand the nature of, say, diseases, disabilities, our ability to recover etc? Take cancer - there are various usually fatal cancers, but each has outlier outcomes, rare spontaneous remissions etc. Now, when do we assign "miracle" to these statistical outliers and why? Maybe you'd want to say "Well, when we pray to God and we see an improbable remission of cancer, then we can assume cause and effect - God caused it."

Really? But what about the spontaneous or improbable remissions that aren't prayed for? True story: my father in law experienced just such a thing - he was on deaths door with stomach cancer, the tumour so large he looked pregnant, spread throughout parts of his body. It was statistically very unlikely he'd survive. And he and his entire extended family are atheists, no praying. His cancer receded and he's been healthy and cancer free for 11 years. There is no doubt had we been Christian, we would have been praying and would have attributed God's hand to this scenario.

If statistically unlikely occurrences happen without prayer, then you've got a variable - how do you know if a spontaneous remission occurred
because you prayed and God intervened…or it just occurred naturally?
How have you controlled for this?

Or if you want to say God was behind the un-prayed for unlikely happenings as well, then your prayer example is useless as evidence pointing specifically to God, as you are going to claim it would have happened anyway. (And I don't think you'd go that route).

And what about all the times people pray (including the paralyzed) and nothing miraculous happens? Again, you have the problem of assigning any useful probabilities to God answering YOUR prayers vs the others. And the other is, if you try somehow to dismiss this as counting against the efficacy of prayer, then you are engaging in some pretty blatant and un-compelling selection bias. It's like saying "I have evidence God will cause this coin to land on heads" and then finding some way to ignore all the times it lands on tails "(God didn't want it to land heads that time). This would be special pleading because you'd recognize it as a fallacious form of "evidence" and inference anywhere else.

That's not to even mention the rather convenient character of when God apparently chooses to intervene - it just happens to be with those afflictions which have outlier possibilities of remission. Never, as the infamous example goes, for amputees regrowing limbs and the like.

Vaal said...

Matt Sheean

Finally (sorry for the length…)

There is a deeper problem. In choosing the supernatural, miraculous explanation over the natural (even if improbable) one,
it shares the epistemological trap of Intelligent Design. The problem with Intelligent Design is that, while it could logically be the case that an Intelligent Designer intervened supernatural in any particular case during evolution, there are nonetheless worrying consequences in appealing to such explanations. That is: Once you've decided It Must Have Been Intelligently Designed, you have shut off motivation for seeking a naturalistic explanation for the phenomenon in question.
"We don't have an explanation at this point, so Intelligent Design did it." Unfortunately, virtually everything we now know about nature scientifically once was unknown, and someone had presumed a supernatural explanation. It was always, every time, left to those who wouldn't settle for "God Did It" to soldier on and discover the actual naturalistic explanations.

You have the same problem when you want to attribute statistical outlier or anomalous results to God's intervention. If someone suddenly gets better from a deadly cancer and you think because you prayed God did it supernaturally, you have no reason to go looking further for a naturalistic understanding of how it could happen. If there IS something about, say, a certain cancer or form of paralysis that, in certain conditions will allow for these anomalous behaviours, you won't find it out by throwing up your hands and appealing to God Did It. Every time you appeal to God Did It you cut down this road of inquiry. The way paralysis, or cancer, or terrible diseases act in their outlier examples can be VERY INFORMATIVE about the nature of those afflictions when we actually understand the natural reasons for them. But we WON'T acquire this additional information about the nature of afflictions if we drop our inquiry every time we encounter the anomaly and someone had been praying.

It's just trouble no matter what angle you look at it, special pleading all around.

Cheers,

Vaal

Crude said...

Unfortunately, virtually everything we now know about nature scientifically once was unknown, and someone had presumed a supernatural explanation. It was always, every time, left to those who wouldn't settle for "God Did It" to soldier on and discover the actual naturalistic explanations.

This is a completely inaccurate picture of the history of science.

First, we never have discovered the "actual, naturalistic explanations" for anything in science. We've discovered explanations, but they are not "naturalistic" in the metaphysical sense, since science doesn't deal with metaphysics on that level. We find models, we find examples, we find phenomena and forces and more - each and every one of which is incomplete as science gives them to us. Once we decide whether these operations and models are wholly naturalistic, etc, we're off into the land of metaphysics.

Second, "God did it" is not an explanation - in and of itself - that gets displaced by scientific knowledge. A belief that 'God created humans' is compatible with evolutionary explanations, because evolution is just one more tool for God to 'do' things. Now, far more direct claims - 'God uses lightning to smite the wicked' - could be disproven, by (but not exclusively) scientific models. But those sorts of claims are far, far fewer in number when it comes to the history of science. More common are vague or entirely "natural" explanations or models that were displaced.

The problem with Intelligent Design is that, while it could logically be the case that an Intelligent Designer intervened supernatural in any particular case during evolution, there are nonetheless worrying consequences in appealing to such explanations. That is: Once you've decided It Must Have Been Intelligently Designed, you have shut off motivation for seeking a naturalistic explanation for the phenomenon in question.

And this is flat out wrong about Intelligent Design, since A) nothing about ID inferences are limited to the supernatural. ID proponents expressly point out that they infer to intelligence, period - and this intelligence can be either natural or supernatural.

Likewise, every ID proponent I'm aware of - certainly the major ones like Behe, Dembski, and more - have expressly noted that their inferences are probablistic (and therefore, may well be wrong). The only way ID can 'cut off further inquiry' is by the same way any other inference, even to non-ID can 'cut off further inquiry' - by people just taking the current inferences they have and deciding "The science is settled.", and no more questioning can be brooked. I think you're going to find that kind of attitude prevalent all over the place.

That's not to even mention the rather convenient character of when God apparently chooses to intervene - it just happens to be with those afflictions which have outlier possibilities of remission. Never, as the infamous example goes, for amputees regrowing limbs and the like.

There's historical claims for the regrowing/reattachment of limbs, in the bible and elsewhere. But this is moot - if limbs regrew or reattached, it's not as if naturalistic ideas couldn't be proposed. Heck, there are animals that regrow their limbs, and I recall - perhaps incorrectly - infants can regrow fingers in the womb. People could and would shrug and say, 'Oh well, how odd and amazing, but let's not jump to conclusions' there too.

But really, we're seeing misunderstandings across the board here. You may as well be arguing that if God ever miraculously puts out a fire, no one will ever try to find ways to put fires out with technology - or the fact that God raised the dead, Christians would never find and fund hospitals because 'hey God will do it'. It's wrong top to bottom, as are your assertions about science.

You're going to need better ammo and arguments here if you want to make a point that sticks.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

...I wonder why the new atheists are so enamored with the subject of petitionary prayer.
Though I concede individual religious believers might hinge their entire faith on God fulfilling their wishes I can hardly conceive of a serious religious tradition basing its claims on that. It betrays a very ancient and most pagan, anthropocentric outlook that is, I believe, quite at odds with traditional Christianity (it being really Theocentric) Being a recent atheist convert to Catholicism, I'm of the impression that Christian prayer is presented as a way of conforming to God's will rather than begging God to do something specific all the time, and the texts of basic Catholic prayers bear witness to just that (the “fiat voluntas Tua”, even relegating the choice of the end to be prayed for to the Blessed Virgin, the saints, etc.). There's a place for petitions, surely, but... After all, God really has no obligations towards us, nor is He to become a vending machine. The fact that a lot of people seem to have that idea is, of course, most lamentable. On the other hand, affirming providential happenings in one's life can be probabilistically justified (at least subjectively) if one already knows God exists and Christianity (or other religions, for that matter) most probably is true. I don't see the problem with that if it's not viewed as an argument in itself.

At any rate, I don't believe the case Matt Sheean presented would be enough to justify any specific claims to divine authority conferred by a miracle, nor is Matt claiming to have done so.
It is indicative, I think, that the Church differentiates between public (that ended long ago, features the events of the Gospels, capital “t” Tradition) and private revelation. And it's just here that Catholics engage in vetting out spurious miracle claims not just on the reports themselves, but their conformity with certain truths, both natural and revealed.

Crude said...

I suppose I could ask this:

There is no doubt had we been Christian, we would have been praying and would have attributed God's hand to this scenario.

And no one prayed for your father?

You're trying to determine whether God is active in the world by way of statistical analysis - but considering God is A) explicitly outside of nature, B) not limited to showy miracles, C) not duty-bound to respond to prayers and D) not limited in power, the entire attempt is bound to fail from the start.

Let me repeat that: you can't marshal 'statistical analysis' to determine the presence or lack of God's intervention in nature, since you have no way to discern this in either direction. God (to say nothing of others) can in principal be responsible - directing, or guiding, ultimately - even the most mundane, happens-every-day events. God can intervene in a situation with no prayer being uttered, fail to intervene in a case where a prayer was uttered, and otherwise.

Now, that locks you - when it comes to science alone - into saying 'I have really no idea if God intervened here' for any example you can think of. That's going to be one heck of a bullet to bite, far worse than the theist since the theist won't be trying to gain that ground to begin with.

All the same - a lot of your concerns here seem to ultimately come down to A) but there are a lot of other competing miracle claims in the world! and B) the way you decide how to believe one or another miracle claim gives you no guarantee that you're not wrong!

Regarding A), I think this is a false claim - we can, and some of us do, just evaluate competing miracle claims as we come across the evidence or seek them out. The idea that every miracle claim has the exact same amount and quality of evidence is laughable on its surface - some corroborating evidence for various historical acts and figures (say, Zeus) are close to non-existent compared to others.

Regarding B), the presence of subjectivity and the mere possibility of being wrong doesn't seem terribly persuasive. Particularly with the Cult of Gnu, a group of people who not only make very strong statements about their religious beliefs, but often dismiss the very idea of even investigating philosophical and metaphysical arguments and reasoning, to say nothing of religious claims themselves. It's hard to chastize people who investigate reasoning and claims for that which they believe in over the people who don't even do that beyond the level of grade school barbs.

Crude said...

And some more comments.

First let's notice something. Whenever New Atheists ask for evidence for the Christian God, they get "God doesn't just let himself be tested, on demand - he's not like something you experiment on!"

And from the Feser's of the world, when we consider empirical evidence for God, we are admonished that we are so naive and making a category error in asking for evidence - God becomes a mere metaphysical necessity, ("don't look behind the curtain at that Holy Text in which God is depicted providing empirical evidence!")

And yet here we see how Christians actually tend to operate: they regularly put demands on God by praying, and when the think God has answered and intervened then all of a sudden it's "see, evidence for God's power!"


This is just muddled.

Feser is arguing that 'empirical evidence', specifically 'scientific evidence', is absolutely the wrong kind of evidence to look for with regards to God's existence. He offers up metaphysical reasoning and argument, and he also makes it expressly clear that the God established by such reasoning and argument is a more general God than the God of revelation. (And, if we're talking about Double Standards, this is also where a number of atheists seem to be willing to go 'pff, fine, maybe THAT God exists, but what about THIS God..?' without realizing that any God's existence is sufficient to gut atheism on the spot.)

And who are these Christians who say 'see, evidence for God's power!'? I do not doubt they exist - but who are they that regard supposedly answered prayer as THE only, or even the main, evidence for God's existence, or power? More than that, is it really surprising that when the Cult of Gnu repeatedly goes, 'We want miracles! We want miracles! We want miracles!' to have some Christian or Jew or someone else standing up and saying, 'Well, here's a miracle I witnessed.'?

There's the other double-standard: on the one hand the atheist demands miracles, but when miracles are provided, the existence of an alternative explanation can always save the day. Hence you have guys like PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, and (ultimately) Richard Dawkins saying, well, no evidence they can think of could ever convince them, and any evidence they encountered they'd explain away.

Which makes, by the way, all that initial talk about the lack of evidence on the part of atheist at large get exposed as a crock. It was never about evidence to begin with - it was only asked for to be, for many, shot down on a whim, no matter how far one has to reach to shoot it down. (For Shermer, any miracle would just get explained as 'Aliens'. Same for Myers, etc. Dawkins hasn't said that much, but he's finally admitted he can't even think of what evidence would matter for him.)

Anonymous said...

Vaal --

Sorry, I misread you yesterday. I thought you were claiming more for scientific conclusions than science can deliver.

Matt Sheean said...

Georgy,

Your correct, I wasn't presenting the anecdote as a reason to believe something about prayer. I should have made that more clear. I'm disinclined to believe that prayer is efficacious in the moment except in promoting godliness in the person praying (as you say, to bring the will in line with God's). Most folks I know who get really exercised over praying for this or that seem to end up deficient in the virtue department, not least in the intellectual virtues.

The question, put more clinically, is why I should assign a higher prior probability to the event being coincidental, or why I should take a default attitude of skepticism toward such things being providential. It was not an attempt to argue for the efficacy of prayers in producing miracles. Why should I believe one or the other. It seems to me that if I already believe in a God, I needn't blush at the more dramatic displays of His mercy. I also don't need to be bothered a wit by the idea that this was just a spontaneous physical process... But of course none of those happen without God concurring anyways.

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: It's just trouble no matter what angle you look at it, special pleading all around.


This obsession with special pleading smacks of projection. For in fact, given your own criteria, you yourself have little to no "scientific" justification for anything you believe; and yet you continually resort to purported naturalistic explanations, which are assumed to trump any alternative. To be consistent with your own demand, you'd have to be vastly more agnostic across a whole range of issues... for instance:

my father in law [...] cancer[...] And he and his entire extended family are atheists, no praying.

The conclusion that nobody prayed for him is completely unjustified. The only support you offer is that your family are atheists, which leaves out the entire rest of the world (some of whom were assuredly praying for him). Furthermore, you give absolutely no support to the implied claim that "[supposed] atheists never pray". How do you know someone in your family did not pray, and simply didn't admit it? And so on.

There is a deeper problem. In choosing the supernatural, miraculous explanation over the natural (even if improbable) one

This shows you don't understand metaphysics.

The problem with Intelligent Design is that, while it could logically be the case that an Intelligent Designer intervened supernatural[ly] in any particular case during evolution

This shows you don't understand Intelligent Design.

virtually everything we now know about nature scientifically once was unknown, and someone had presumed a supernatural explanation. It was always, every time, left to those who wouldn't settle for "God Did It" to soldier on and discover the actual naturalistic explanations.

This shows you don't understand history.

I see Crude has already replied to these problems. The facts clearly contradict the bizarre claim underlying these statements — perhaps you personally, if you were to think that "because you prayed God did it supernaturally, you have no reason to go looking further for a naturalistic understanding"... but to take but a single counterexample, Newton believed that God did everything, yet that hardly prevented him from making outstanding progress in furthering our understanding of nature. (Although again, by your standards, nothing Newton did would count as scientific knowledge, so perhaps you are trying to be consistent and discount it!)

BenYachov said...

“Vaal”? As in the Computer “god” from Classic Star Trek?

http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Vaal

Dude we don’t do Theistic Personalism here.

We are all about the Classic Theism and quite frankly Positivism is just the Atheist version of Young Earth Creationism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vaal,

I'm not a logician, but I don't think your comments on deduction are correct. Firstly, although it is true that deduction requires input drawn from induction, this does not mean long chains of deduction, removed from initial sensual experience, cannot be made. Now it may be, and probably is, your position that we should put little trust in such extensive deduction that cannot be referred to scientific testing and sensual observation. This is certainly the perspective of empiricists and naturalists to the traditional deductive proofs of God - that whatever their internal logical consistency, we simply cannot trust human reason divorced from sense experience. However, this is a position that needs to be argued for and, I think, it also raises questions about whether such a distrust of reason shouldn't have radical consequences that might endanger natural science itself.

Secondly, and again I'm no logician (and my knowledge of modern and symbolic logic is especially limited), but deduction though it originates in induction from sense experience, actually relies on abstraction from this sense experience to get at the universal nature or essence of things. These natures, the abstract concepts that deduction makes use of, are not empirical objects. Triangularity, for example, as an abstract concept is not distinct from any and all corporeal triangles and yet we have knowledge of it. Now, of course, you can reject the reality of these abstract concepts and accept nominalism, but this, as I understand, is problematic for deduction (and even induction). That is, deduction (and induction) fall victim to Mills's criticism that the syllogism (and the point can be made against all propositions) is either a tautology or a non sequitur if the knowledge gained is not a genuine abstraction and understanding of the essence of a thing. And if deduction and induction fall then so do natural science and empiricism.

Your explanation of the superiority of the scientific method just repeats your earlier points, but I do not see that you respond to my point about why we cannot carefully and cautiously make use of all kinds of methods of knowledge, in their respective fields: philosophical, scientific, historic, artistic, common experience, and so on.

These different kinds of knowledge may well have different levels of certainty. There is nothing in my position that suggests we must treat all claims as equal. It is perfectly acceptable that claims of miracles be subjected to more investigation and suspicion than more everyday claims. However, you most certainly haven't given a non-question begging argument why claims of miracles should be generally rejected prior to any investigation. Yes, we may have to investigate them well before coming to conclusion. We may often only come to a provisional conclusion. But why they should be rejected wholesale - if one doesn't hold a metaphysics that makes them unlikely or impossible, I'm not sure.

I don't think you really deal with accusation that you are fudging the all empirical knowledge and specifically scientific knowledge. Nor with the extreme limitations on knowledge that your scientism would have, as others have continued to point out.

I must confess I don't know who Sathya Sai Baba is. But, remember, I'm the Platonist and not making exclusivist Christian claims.

Anonymous said...

Ed,

What are your thoughts about the rise of Identitarian Religion in Europe?

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/a-new-trend-identitarian-religion/

It seems that many in the West are getting fed up with Christian Cultural Marxism.

Vaal said...

Crude

It should be obvious that by "natural explanations" I'm referencing the evidence-based models we use that identify that X has happened and the process by which X occurs, which do not reference the intention or intervention of a God/designer in those models. "Nature" or "natural" is a typical short hand term for this, and Christians use it as well - you yourself said God is "outside nature" so you know the type of distinction that I'm referencing. It's the difference between discovering/modelling the process by which rabies causes it's symptoms in a person, vs for instance "evil spirits or God caused the symptoms (with no process elucidated)."

Supernatural explanations are notorious stand ins for ignorance as they skip this elucidation of any process and simply posit "an entity that has the power to do the thing observed…by a process we do not know." They are explanatorily useless, and yet have been appealed to constantly throughout history. "God intervened/performed a miracle," of the type referenced by Matt is just such an "explanation."

After all, in Matt Sheean's miracle example of God causing the healing of the paralyzed man, WHAT PROCESS has been elucidated there? HOW exactly did God cure the man's condition?
Pointing to the effect will not be the answer. If it was something that would not have happened "on it's own" but needed the addition of some other causal process (the one that God used) then what is this explanation?

You are left with simply "God did it via his power. How? Well, it's just a power He has, you see." Exactly as empty an explanation as any other appeal to the supernatural - e.g. that an Angry God or Spirit caused an earthquake or a storm. Because…you know…they just "have" that power and it "happens." (BTW, it is of no help to appeal to metaphysics that would establish God to be omnipotent by necessity, because "God Being Omnipotent" is no elucidation of the process being asked for).

You could of course show me wrong by positing an explanation for the process God would use in healing the paralyzed man (or curing a cancer or whatever). But that won't be forthcoming, will it?

Vaal

Vaal said...

Crude

Re: Intelligent Design:

This explanatory impotence is at the heart of Intelligent Design as well. Let's not be coy that those leading the movement and most who fall for it aren't thinking "God" as the designer. Even Dembski and Behe have admitted this. They try to make it less obviously metaphysical by making the case: "it could always have been some material designer, like advanced Aliens" but this does not for a moment save Intelligent Design from the core problem that it is explanatorily empty as concerns any particular phenomenon to which it is applied.

This problem was played out explicitly in the Dover trials with Behe. Behe's favourite example of irreducible complexity, the bacterial flagellum, was "put on trial."
It was Behe's contention that it was a structure that we could not explain via evolution, and so we ought to conclude INSTEAD that it was somehow, by some unknown process, Intelligently Designed.

Now…if it were the case that the flagellum DID evolve, that there WAS going to be an evolutionary explanation, who is going to find out? It's not going to be someone like Behe, because he has declared there to be no "natural evolutionary" explanation possible which is WHY he says we should conclude instead that the flagellum must have been designed via intervention - Intelligent Designed. So IF there's an explanation for the flagellum, Behe is no longer your guy to forge on toward the answer.

And indeed, it was left to others who had not cut off that avenue of inquiry to uncover the possible evolutionary route of the flagellum. While Behe was on the stand during the Dover trial, he was presented a stack of scientific research detailing plausible evolutionary pathways, and he was clueless about them.

Afterword, the Intelligent Design crowd said essentially "We'll show you this is a worthy scientific program!
We're going to set up a lab and institute and do our own studies!"

The results thus far: sound of crickets.

For virtually every bedevilling observation people have made over history, someone group of people have appealed to the supernatural as being behind it, God(s) spirits, etc. have been appealed to as causes for earthquakes, the weather, famine, disease, disaster, misfortune, the seasons, how crops grow…you name it.
And they take the form of simply positing an entity with the power to do the thing observed, but without any actual posited mechanism that we could understand for "how" it caused the phenomenon. Matt's miracle example, and any such examples that make mere attribution without elucidating a process or mechanism we can understand, falls right in line with this thinking.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Ok we have to remember the question I was addressing
Matt's question about the surprising recovery of an (apparently) paralyzed man. Here it is again:

"My question is why I should not believe, along with my missionary friend, that a miracle occurred."

My answer for why this is a dubious route to take has been, essentially:


To attribute the cause to God you will end up engaging in sloppy
forms of inference and effect/cause attribution, that you should recognize as bad form anywhere else.
Hence you'll just be special pleading to allow yourself this type of sloppy inference-making just in the case for empirical evidence for God's power, and not in other empirical matters.

When Matt said he felt he had reasons to think that God's intervention in this man's condition was MORE PROBABLE than that it was misdiagnosed, I pointed out he has presented no such method for thinking this. I've been saying that introducing God introduces so many unknown variables that it will be deeply problematic where you want to attribute an outcome to God or not. Hence trying to make the POSITIVE ATTRIBUTION TO GOD that Matt wants to make is rife with problems. The amazing thing Crude is that you repeated exactly
my position, as if it were a problem for MY position!

"You're trying to determine whether God is active in the world by way of statistical analysis - but considering God is A) explicitly outside of nature, B) not limited to showy miracles, C) not duty-bound to respond to prayers and D) not limited in power, the entire attempt is bound to fail from the start.

Let me repeat that: you can't marshal 'statistical analysis' to determine the presence or lack of God's intervention in nature, since you have no way to discern this in either direction. God (to say nothing of others) can in principal be responsible - directing, or guiding, ultimately - even the most mundane, happens-every-day events. God can intervene in a situation with no prayer being uttered, fail to intervene in a case where a prayer was uttered, and otherwise."


Yes! My point exactly! This is the problem when you bring Miracles and God's intervention into your explanations, for instance for remarkable medical recoveries. Not only do you introduce variables that virtually defy any non-sloppy
conclusion (and hence allowing yourself sloppy inferences where you understand that is bad form anywhere else empirically - special pleading), but you also
introduce problems with when to place confidence in your scientific models or understanding of a phenomena. Did this disease go into remission because it was something we can understand about the nature of that disease that would predict such a remission? Or was it God intervening and without God's intervention the disease would not have gone into remission? If you introduce God as a serious variable here - and the type of miracle attribution Matt is making does this - then
deep problems for our inferences arise, and your own statements show this to be the case.

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

Vaal,

I'm working with a theologically naive notion of miracle here.

An example from another thread might help. Say that I get indigestion after eating some pizza, and I notice that this happens every time I eat pizza. I'm not a gastroenterologist, so I have no idea what the process is whereby pizza causes indigestion. In fact, I only use indigestion because I understand that this is how it is used from hearing other, more knowledgeable folks use it this way (my understanding of indigestion is very naive). Now, should I refrain from attributing these indigestion like feelings to the pizza because I do not know the process by which my body has reacted to the pizza?

Vaal said...

Anyway…this could go on forever and there are now too many comments/arguments for me to address.

I came here to remind Prof Feser (and whoever else is listening) about the focus of the New Atheists on the evidential claims of religious revelation, how they are putting religious people and their beliefs in Biblical miracles to the test of consistency with the empirical logic we accept everywhere else in vetting empirical/evidential claims.

No such thing can be settled in a comments column. But from my view, insofar as the discussion moved into the evidential realm, tall signs are pointing toward the validity of the New Atheist critique, in terms of the special pleading/epistemological inconsistency that raises it's head in trying to justify belief in revelation and miracles.

Naturally, folks here will disagree, so I leave you to dine on the carcass of my comments ;-)

Thanks for having me in your den for a while.

Cheers,

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

Oh, so this was just about proving something to yourself then.

Glenn said...

Vaal,

"Well, thank goodness actual pyramids still exist,"... Yes, whereas we lack evidence Jesus still exists, as is claimed in Christian dogma.

Christian dogma does not claim that the human body of Jesus as man physically exists.

And, given your previously announced belief in the existence of non-physical things (e.g., assumptions and organizing principles), however much you may disagree that Jesus does exist, you cannot, while being rationally consistent, base such a disagreement on the claim that non-physical things do not exist.

Regarding the Pyramids

I was mocking, via parody, an attitude (thus the inclusion in my comment of emotive words such as “balderdash”, “ridiculously”, “insane”, “claptrap”, and “nonsense”), and, as Georgy noticed, obliquely calling attention to the fact that credibility is not necessarily either wholly or solely a function of what may be empirically verified to physical exist.

But, again, Pyramids exist and we have plausible explanations for how they exist. Unlike the claims for Christianity.

The claims for Christianity do exist, as do plausible explanations for how they exist.

(But perhaps what you meant to say is that you find certain claims of Christianity not to be plausible when you view said claims through a particular lens.)

Something may be true, but that doesn't entail we have warrant for believing it without evidence it is true.

This is, quite possibly, the most rational of all the many statements you have made.

However, no one who has expressed disagreement with something you have said has based their disagreement on a denial that there ought to be existent evidence warranting the belief that something may be true, is likely to be true, or is indeed true.

BenYachov said...

Well from the perspective of philosophy, metaphysics and ideology Vaal has just given us the warmed
over Positivism and pseudo-Humean thinking that unconciously & uncritically moves pretty much every Gnu who has done a drive bye at this blog. He has offered no argument to these hidden presupositions he hold but merely assumes them uncritically. That is his problem. BUT....... we must at least acknowledge he was polite about it so more like him in the future please.

BenYachov said...

I almost forgot about the Jesus Mytherism they are the flat Earther's of Atheism.

Vaal said...

Matt Sheean

Sorry, I just saw your post right after my last one, and so I'll just add this final bit because you are asking about a valid distinction.

It's not my contention that science, or just standard empirical reasoning is only concerned with elucidating
processes. It's not. In general, we use empiricism for establishing two things:

A. The existence of X

B. The explanation for X.

Usually we are aware of the existence of an X before we get to a good explanation for how it occurred (or occurs).
For example: humans had strong empirical experience of earthquakes before we ever came up with explanations for how they occur.

But when there is a question about whether a phenomenon even exists, whether it's actually occurring at all, we use empirical rigour to first establish that, before asking for an explanation.

Mount Rushmore could turn into cheese tomorrow. This could be astonishing, yet be completely empirically verifiable via composition tests. So we'd have established the existence of the phenomena in an empirical manner. But then when we ask for an explanation for how this occurred, say someone
says "a miracle happened." Or "it was supernatural forces" or "God turned it into cheese." Those may actually be true. But we are not left any wiser about an explanation for "how" it happened. It seems there would be no answer if the supernatural cause was accepted as an "explanation."

The problem is that once you start accepting such divine/supernatural explanations, how do you go about making sure you are not misattributing them? What is your cut off point? If you don't have some good method for being confident when the supernatural is the explanation and when there might be a natural explanation, then who knows how many natural explanations you will miss by mistakenly positing the supernatural? And, in fact, this
very problem has played out through history (and continues today, in the form of the Intelligent Design movement, and other forms of miracle-attribution made by religious people).

In the case of the miracle attribution you wanted to make about the paralyzed man, you have the problem of even establishing THAT X OCCURRED. That is, even establishing that God was the cause of the man's recovery. This is due to all the wild variables you introduce (does God intervene only when you pray? When someone else is praying when you don't know about it? Even when people don't pray? How do you know when God is intervening in the natural order and when He is not if you don't have rigorous answers to these questions?)

I hope that untangles the question you were getting at, regarding my arguments.

I'm out,

Cheers,

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

Thanks,

I agree that there are a great deal of unknowns in any circumstance, and as for my own explicit commitments in the case of the claim I mentioned, I have none. I am also not a fan of Intelligent Design.

In fact, earlier in this thread I gave an example quite a bit like your Rushmore-Cheese example (in my case it was observing a malignant tumor spontaneously die).

However, it seems to me that you paper over certain matters of evidence in your desire to promote naturalistic explanations. The Cheese Rushmore story would be analogous to the paralyzed man if, say, an individual had mysteriously predicted the mountain turning into cheese before it happened. The features of the paralyzed man story that are uncanny are the fact that it was supposedly a permanent condition (he was quite damaged) and that his recovery coincided with the prayer. I want to reiterate what I said earlier, as well, that I am not attributing any efficacy to the prayer (I am not saying that the prayer caused the recovery, that God heard the prayer then and just decided, "oh, I'll answer that one.")

RD Miksa said...

Good Day to All:

Vaal said:

“Mount Rushmore could turn into cheese tomorrow. This could be astonishing, yet be completely empirically verifiable via composition tests. So we'd have established the existence of the phenomena in an empirical manner. But then when we ask for an explanation for how this occurred, say someone
says "a miracle happened." Or "it was supernatural forces" or "God turned it into cheese." Those may actually be true. But we are not left any wiser about an explanation for "how" it happened. It seems there would be no answer if the supernatural cause was accepted as an "explanation."

The problem is that once you start accepting such divine/supernatural explanations, how do you go about making sure you are not misattributing them? What is your cut off point? If you don't have some good method for being confident when the supernatural is the explanation and when there might be a natural explanation, then who knows how many natural explanations you will miss by mistakenly positing the supernatural? And, in fact, this very problem has played out through history (and continues today, in the form of the Intelligent Design movement, and other forms of miracle-attribution made by religious people).


Just jumping in here, but it seems fairly clear that Vaal’s main issue with both those individuals that propose supernatural explanation for certain phenomena and with Intelligent Design (ID) proponents is that they do not explain “how” the thing in question came about or was designed, and thus, since said supernatural/ID proponents do not provide the mechanism for how something was caused/designed, then Vaal claims that they are not really providing an explanation at all…let alone providing a “best” explanation. But I contend that this objection is confused on a number of levels.

First, it must be clearly understood that a “best” explanation is a relative thing. An explanation is only “best” in comparison to the rival explanations against it. What this therefore means is that an explanation can be the "best" explanation of a particular group while still itself being a poor explanation overall (or while being an explanation that is lacking some desirable feature, like the explanation of the mechanism used).

Second—and in light of the above fact—it is absolutely clear that a hypothesis can serve as a best explanation for a particular event even though we do not know the mechanism used to cause that event to come about. And furthermore, even though the mechanism is unknown (and may remain unknown forever), this will not negate the explanation still counting as an actual explanation. Indeed, an explanation that does not articulate a specific mechanism does not suddenly become a non-explanation, it simply becomes not as good of an explanation as one that would specify the mechanism.

To see why this is the case, consider the following example (and since I am a police officer, be prepared for a strange example).

Continued…

RD Miksa said...

Example: You are a Detective. Now, you have a suspect for a certain crime. This suspect is a quadriplegic who lives in an apartment that you have under complete and total surveillance. You know with absolute certainty—for the sake of argument—that no one has been in or out of the apartment. Suddenly, however, you are advised by your surveillance team that they have not seen the suspect in some time. Bursting into the apartment, you find your quadriplegic suspect dead on the floor with over two dozen stab wounds to his body. Now, based on your uniform and repeated experience as a Detective, you immediately infer that the best explanation for this situation is that your quadriplegic suspect killed himself. Why do you infer this? Because your experience tells you that there is no natural way that a knife can just naturally happen to accidently stab a person that many times; in fact, all your experience tells you that someone being stabbed over two dozen times only happens when someone either stabs themselves or when someone else stabs them. But knowing that absolutely no one else was in the apartment, the “best” explanation is thus that the quadriplegic suspect found a way to stab himself.

Now here is the key part: note that even if you were never able to figure out how your quadriplegic suspect had devised a way to stab himself, the fact that he did stab himself would still be a better explanation than the explanation that the stabbing was just a freak natural accident. Furthermore, even though you might never discover “how” the quadriplegic suspect found a way to stab himself, this would not make the claim that he did stab himself a non-explanation. Granted, an explanation that excludes the mechanism may not be as good of an explanation as one that specifies the mechanism, but this does not suddenly mean that the weaker explanation is suddenly a non-explanation. Indeed, consider that in this case, if my superior asked me: “How did the quadriplegic suspect die?”, I most certainly would be providing an explanation by answering “He killed himself.” Perhaps this explanation would not be as good as answering “He killed himself and this is how he did it…” but it is nevertheless still an explanation to simply say “He killed himself.” Thus, while the explanation that the quadriplegic suspect stabbed himself may be a weak explanation given the lack of a mechanism for how he did it, it would still be an explanation. And even as a weaker explanation, it would still be a better explanation than the claim that the whole situation was just a freak accident of nature. And so, the “design” explanation in this case would still be the “best” explanation regardless of the lack of an explanatory mechanism and regardless of the fact that it is not a strong explanation.

Notice how this example also demonstrates that even though we may have absolutely no prior experience or knowledge with quadriplegics finding ways to stab themselves over two dozen times, the “design” explanation would still be better than the “natural” explanation even in such a case. In this way, this example address the issue of why the explanation “God, through his omnipotence, caused/designed X” could still be a “best” explanation for something even though we have no experience (for the sake of argument) of how God designs. And yet, the above example analogically shows why accepting the design explanation as best would still be rational even if we had no experience of the way in which a being designed whatever it is that he designed.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Finally, notice also how this example, at least partially, deals with the issue of whether or not the past history of the success of naturalistic explanations versus the success of design explanations should factor into our thinking or not. After all, freak accidents have happened in the past, and they are certainly more frequent than quadriplegics stabbing themselves. Yet no one in their right mind would consider that to be a factor which would serve to override the clear claim that in this case, the design explanation is the best explanation of the evidence. So if even “freak accident” explanations have been successful in the past, this gives very little reason to doubt the design explanation in this particular case.

Anyway, the above example gets my point across, which is that Vaal’s objection that supernatural / ID explanations lack a mechanism for “how” they occurred is no reason to discount them as valid explanations, nor is it a reason to claim that they cannot be the best explanation of the evidence at hand.

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

RD Miksa said...

Dear Vaal,

One last point.

You said:

The problem is that once you start accepting such divine/supernatural explanations, how do you go about making sure you are not misattributing them? What is your cut off point? If you don't have some good method for being confident when the supernatural is the explanation and when there might be a natural explanation, then who knows how many natural explanations you will miss by mistakenly positing the supernatural? And, in fact, this very problem has played out through history (and continues today, in the form of the Intelligent Design movement, and other forms of miracle-attribution made by religious people).

You do realize that this cuts both ways, right? After all—and to paraphrase you—the problem is that once you start accepting that a naturalist explanation is always possible, how do you go about making sure you are not misattributing natural explanations to phenomenon that, in reality, have no natural explanation. After all, who knows how many true supernatural explanations you will miss by mistakenly positing a false natural explanation of such phenomenon? And, in fact, this very problem has played out throughout history, with many naturalists and materialists willing to: 1) extrapolate well beyond the evidence in order to support their metaphysical commitments; 2) happily believe “just-so” stories no matter how shaky they are; 3) redefine naturalism so that, as a worldview, it becomes vague and ambiguous enough to absorb almost any evidence; 4) adopt evidentiary double-standards where they are hyper-critical and skeptical of religious claims in a way that they are not with other aspects of their life; and 5) readily admit that they will always believe a naturalistic explanation over a supernatural one no matter how absurd or insane the naturalistic explanation might be.

The fact is that naturalists have rigged the debate in a way that allows them to always avoid a supernatural explanation if they wish to do so. In essence, they demand empirical evidence of the supernatural, but then when such evidence is provided, they immediately counter with a note of never-ending promissory naturalism (ie – Well, this phenomenon may seem naturally inexplicable now, but we will surely find a naturalistic explanation for this event someday, so no need to believe in a supernatural explanation for it). And the naturalist can, if desired, employ this tactic in an endlessly repeating cycle whenever he is confronted with an event that seems inexplicable on naturalism. For the naturalist, this tactic is like a perpetual “out”; he can use it to always get out of having to accept empirical evidence of the supernatural. Anyway, I write more about this here: www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.ca/2014/03/quick-thought-atheism-perpetual-out.html.

Take care,

RD Miksa
www.idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.com

Mr. Green said...

Vaal: It was Behe's contention that it was a structure that we could not explain via evolution, and so we ought to conclude INSTEAD that it was somehow, by some unknown process, Intelligently Designed.

This is so wrong it's embarrassing. What you have described is pretty much the opposite of what intelligent design claims.

And they take the form of simply positing an entity with the power to do the thing observed, but without any actual posited mechanism that we could understand for "how" it caused the phenomenon.

Again, this is bad philosophy and bad psychology and bad history. Your whole scheme is filled with unjustified — and unjustifiable — assumptions; and when questioned on these assumptions, and others, in this thread, you have not defended them, only repeated them.

Anyway…this could go on forever and there are now too many comments/arguments for me to address.

Fair enough, but really most of the comments are circling around the same issues.

how they are putting religious people and their beliefs in Biblical miracles to the test of consistency with the empirical logic we accept everywhere else in vetting empirical/evidential claims. [...] all signs are pointing toward the validity of the New Atheist critique

Um, all the signs of your being unable to answer the criticisms levelled against you and of gross inconsistency in your own position (did you notice my previous comment pointing out how your own standards invalidate virtually all scientific knowledge)?

And that shows the problem with your original claims that the critics' bad philosophy doesn't matter because they're picking on religion for other reasons: first, that they continue to engage in poor philosophy undermines their credibility; and second, that the religious arguments are just as poorly grounded (and in no small part because those arguments are themselves based in flawed metaphysics). This isn't a matter simply of failing to convince your opponents, but of actually reaffirming their opposition by undermining your own position.

In other words, one who delves into the subject matter seriously cannot take the "New Atheist" complaints seriously — which of course comes back to Prof. Feser's whole point in the first place.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: (For Shermer, any miracle would just get explained as 'Aliens'. Same for Myers, etc. Dawkins hasn't said that much, but he's finally admitted he can't even think of what evidence would matter for him.)

Well, didn't Ben Stein "trick" Dawkins (by, y'know, asking him the question) into admitting he'd resort to aliens rather than God? At any rate, as Georgy noted, the "aliens did it" excuse is better than the medically untenable "swoon theory" or the psychologically untenable "mass hallucination theory". Of course "extraterrestrials we don't know about pulled off a resurrection-hoax with technology which we don't know how it works for purposes we know not what" is pretty hand-wavy, but at least it doesn't explicitly go against known science the way the other proposals do. But then an ordinary person would simply laugh at the response, "Saying God did it would be too outrageous so I'm going to go with the Twilight Zone idea instead." And the ordinary person would be right.


RD Miksa: You do realize that this cuts both ways, right?

Actually, I honestly don't think he does. I appreciate his politeness and all, but when everyone pointed out that his natural explanations were part of the same tree as the supernatural explanations, in order to forestall such conclusions, he basically cut off the branch he was sitting on.
Of course the two-dimensional caricature of "faith" vs. "science" is widespread — including people on both sides, which again underscores Ed's point that theists need to know and understand their own intellectual heritage. I don't think I've seen an opponent acknowledge the blatantly obvious requirement to ground science in faith. They just saw away at their branches, and then sit there in mid-air, expecting not to fall as smugly as any coyote.

Scott said...

@Vaal:

"While the New Atheists may sometimes address the God of pure metaphysics, even IF one grants they show weakness at that level, that is clearly NOT the main focus of their critique! [...] They DO NOT focus on God-of-the-philosophers, or 'ground of being' arguments[.]"

Which is too bad for them, because that's where their focus should be. The claims about revelation and miracle depend on getting the metaphysics right, and that's pretty much been the point all along.

Your own posts in this thread have illustrated the problem wonderfully. There simply isn't any evidence you could possibly be offered that would induce you to believe that a miracle had (or even might have) occurred, because you think you already know something that makes them unlikely-to-impossible—though I'm not sure what that something is, since you didn't answer me when I asked you.

Mr. Green said...

BenYachov: “Vaal”? As in the Computer “god” from Classic Star Trek?

Ha, well-spotted! (Though if he got his metaphysics from Star Trek, that would explain a few things....)

We are all about the Classic Theism and quite frankly Positivism is just the Atheist version of Young Earth Creationism.

Oh, I dunno... (some) YECs at least stick to a consistent metaphysics.

I almost forgot about the Jesus Mytherism they are the flat Earther's of Atheism.

OK, now that I am compelled to agree with 100%.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"Ha, well-spotted!"

Heh. Perhaps because I'm an old Trek fan*, I didn't even realize there was any question about the origin of the name until BenYachov remarked on it.

----

* Of the show, that is, not of its metaphysics.

Prince Randoms said...

I suppose it's nice to know that New Atheism has nothing to say to me; as someone who cares more about whether God exists than if one particular religion is true. That's a whole lot of "literature" I can cross off my reading list.

Matt Sheean said...

I'm still trying to understand what would would count as evidence for something supernatural by Vaal's standards (well... not really, I understand that absolutely nothing would count insofar as I understand the tacit metaphysics he is operating with). But, to the point, even if prayers were regularly accompanied by fulfillments by the great Amazon Prime mover, that wouldn't prove that he existed. This could just be absorbed into the old Humean scheme and the connection between prayers and healings and such would be another brute fact. People would sure pray a lot more, though (wicked and perverse generations the lot of them).

Jeremy Taylor said...

As far as I can see, Vaal's argument that acceptance of a miracle would block further investigation of phenomena is either patently false or question begging.

If he means that someone miraculously being cured of cancer would block all research into cancer, then this is false. The point of a miracle is that it is unusual. I see no reason why accepting such a miracle would prevent us trying to learn more about cancer in general. Or in other words, one can accept miracles (and other paranormal or supernatural phenomena and still generally acknowledge there are orderly and regular laws of nature).

If he means that the acceptance of such a cure would prevent further investigation in the particular case of the one cured, then he is begging the question. He is implying that acceptance of a miracle is preventing us from trying to find the real , naturalistic explanation.

Besides, I don't see the accepting of a curative miracle cannot be proceeded by investigation to see if there were other causes.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I agree with Ben that this sort of scientism or positivism is what New Atheists and similar folks often fall back on when they meet competent philosophical resistance.

I also agree that Vaal has been polite and will say he has given a better defense of his scientism than most Gnus end up doing. He didn't rely on snide comments about the absurdity of coming to knowledge through armchair philosophy or anything like that - which I have often encountered from Gnus and the like.

BenYachov said...

>I suppose it's nice to know that New Atheism has nothing to say to me; as someone who cares more about whether God exists than if one particular religion is true. That's a whole lot of "literature" I can cross off my reading list.

Well conversely if you will to subject them to polemics because you are a Theist out to refute them or a thoughtful Atheist who wants them to shut up and stop ruining it for the rest of the Atheists then you are honor bound to learn their arguments however bad.

An Evolutionist who wishes to defend Evolution has too read YEC literature if only to answer them.

Vaal said...


Aaagh! I haaad to look, didn't I? I tried to find
a place to leave because I'm busy. But having noted some very nicely argued posts (by RD Miksa especially), I might have to drag my butt back
in here.

I appreciate that some caught my cheeky screen name ;-)
(My two sons are now Original Series Star Trek fans - it's amazing the perennial appeal of that series).

I'll try to drop in tomorrow to reply to some of the posts.

Cheerio,

Vaal

Vaal said...

Sorry, one more thing for the moment:

A word on assumptions: Christianity is quite varied in it's doctrines, theology, apologetics, etc. I'm trying to pay people here the compliment of not simply lumping you in with other versions of Christianity. I'm aware that classical theism/Thomism etc will proffer some different arguments than, say, protestant evangelicals or fundamentalists. (And I have debated those arguments before).

By the same token, please be cautious about jumping to conclusions concerning what I will argue. I already see some incorrect reading-into my arguments to assumptions that aren't there. (And unfortunately in my experience theists-with-some-philosophy will tend to automatically fit any atheist into "Logical Positivism" or "Empiricist" "Materialist" "Naturalist" or some similar stance, and usually the most naive, straw-man versions of those philosophies to boot. You will roll your eyes should someone come in here arguing against a protestant, William L. Craig version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and I'll roll my eyes when people presume I've just lazily assumed some Positivist or Empiricist position and haven't bothered to examine my assumptions, or competing philosophical viewpoints. This "ain't my first rodeo," honest).

Vaal.

Jeremy Taylor said...

No offense Vaal, but it isn't like your positivism or scientism was very nuanced. You changed your position slightly, and were somewhat vague, but you literally argued at one point that the scientific method is what should define human knowledge.

You largely avoided responding to the objections that if it were universally applied it would severely reduce human knowledge - like the knowledge of everyday experience - and why there cannot be different kinds of knowledge (untaken with proper care and circumspection), for different areas of study, perhaps with different levels of certainty.

Matt Sheean said...

Jeremy,

I just want to chime in with some agreement here. The fact that we might think an incident of cancer suddenly going into remission is odd or worthy of being called a miracle would only be as a result of our already believing the bulk of our experience regarding what cancer is normally like. Furthermore, if we were to observe a "miracle" as it was occurring, there would be nothing to keep us from cataloguing the attendant material behavior.
The only reason we would have for saying that no other evidence would indicate divine action (in my example: the low probability of misdiagnosis, the lower probability of recovery, the honest nature of the witnesses and the rapid recovery coinciding with the prayer) would be an a priori strong skepticism of such claims across the board. Where would this skepticism come from? I think Vaal is right to say that he is not being a positivist. His concerns have been pragmatic - that the admission of a divine agent would halt a more naturalistic investigation of the phenomena in question. I think he is right about this with respect to the general population (not exactly full of Newtons), that more often than not when people are happy with an explanation they stop concerning themselves with the explanandum. This is a purely practical/historical concern, however, not a logical one. There is no logical reason that the invocation of a divine agent where evidence permits should also preclude investigating the various efficient and material causes that attended the thing to be explained.

Georgy Mancz said...

I've thought about it for some time, and I believe there are more problems with "alien resurrection circus" theory. An atheist friend of mine once tried to go a slightly different route, and proposed that demons could have tricked the apostles and disciples into thinking Christ rose from the dead (including talking to them, emptying the tomb, etc.) or something like that. I think it's basically the same theory as the aliens: one posits intelligent entities capable of mass deception via unknown means for unknown motives without concrete pointers to their involvement (not to mention their existence).And if that's the case, it the same problem one should have with positing “an evil genius as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me”.

Demons are not really that much different, although I guess aliens are slightly better because ex hypothesi aliens are corporeal creatures with minds like us rather than spirits, and we know that corporeal creatures with mind exist. But this unknown technology stuff is not any clearer than a way demons get to cause change in material things, not that it's not really relevant, as the capacity and motive to deceive and nothing indicating that to have happened/be happening is what's essential.

Any thoughts? :)

Glenn said...

Georgy,
An atheist friend of mine once tried to go a slightly different route, and proposed that [malicious] demons could have tricked the apostles and disciples into thinking Christ rose from the dead (including talking to them, emptying the tomb, etc.) or something like that.

I suppose that that is possible.

But if that is possible, wouldn’t it also be possible that demons had tricked your atheist friend into proposing it?

Glenn said...

(s/b "...that [mishcievous] demons had...")

Georgy Mancz said...

@Glenn

That's what I thought :)
Sorry if that's obvious, but I also meant to say that unknown aliens with unknown technologies acting for unknown reasons are quite similar to these silly demons, and therefore any hypothesis that offers these aliens acting as explanations (without independent data of their existence, them possessing technologies like this, reaching Earth in I century AD, and at least some reasonable guess about their motive etc.) is not in fact explanatory at all and leads to intellectual ruin, being totally unjustified and eventually self-refuting.
These aliens and Descartes' evil genius are kin, it seems to me.

Scott said...

@Vaal:

Since you're back, I'll repeat/rephrase my earlier question.

"This is why the idea that one can make a 'historical case' for miracles like The Resurrection are bogus. [...] [The] type of testimony that we can provisionally accept when doing history [...] is nowhere near rigorous enough to establish phenomena that contradicts or challenges our current knowledge of nature/reality."

What is it about our "current knowledge of nature/reality" that you think makes the Resurrection more problematic now than it was then?

Matt Sheean said...

Georgy and Glenn,

To play the demons advocate...

I think, if Vaal were clearer, he would be posing aliens, etc as an analogy. That's to say, the issue being pressed is the attribution of powers to some thing by definition. Aliens, aliens who can raise a body from the dead, did it or a god, being the sort of thing that can do x, did x.

The problem here is the idea that the Christian, desiring to explain the resurrection, invents something that is sufficient to explain the resurrection by definition. That is certainly not how the apostles and church fathers worked, though. At least Paul and John had a working knowledge of Neo-Platonic thought on the matter (as far as I gather from reading their letters). They were simply telling everyone what a God had done (from their perspective), not inventing a god that could do it.

This seems to me to show that the problem really is metaphysical, not evidential, and Vaal's insistence on accounts of the mechanism by which the unmoved mover moves shows as much.

Glenn said...

Matt,

This seems to me to show that the problem really is metaphysical, not evidential, and Vaal's insistence on accounts of the mechanism by which the unmoved mover moves shows as much.

I’ll agree.

- - - - -

Some general, undeveloped, and possibly controversial thoughts (at least one of them is definitely controversial):

One interesting thing about hypotheses is that they can be generated more quickly than they can be tested. And in the time it takes to adequately test a given hypothesis, assuming it can be adequately tested, additional hypotheses can be and often are advanced.

What happens, then, is that while the scientific method is being employed in the testing of one hypothesis, other hypotheses are lining up behind the one being tested.

If the tested hypothesis gets the thumbs down, no problem -- there are several more eagerly awaiting the chance to be the one that gets the thumbs up.

But if the tested hypothesis gets the thumbs up, then there is a problem -- for either there are several more chomping at the bit for the opportunity to unseat the one that got the thumbs up, or people are busy thinking up new hypotheses to pose as a challenge to the one that did get the thumbs up.

The scientific method is like a factory where orders (hypotheses) come in faster than they can be processed. And there almost always is a backlog of hypotheses, any one of which may eventually be accepted as providing a better, more accurate account of some particular phenomenon. How, then, can the scientific method bring us closer to truth which is certain and genuine? It cannot. The best it can do is lead to 'natural world' truths which are provisional.

The duration of these provisional truths may be such that it seems as if they are certain and genuine, but if the history of science teaches anything, it is that the truths it arrives at are not unlikely to be unseated, supplanted, overturned or replaced at some future date, i.e., that the truths it arrives at are provisional.

In contrast, the unmoved mover has yet to be budged.

(To paraphrase Omar Khayyám: "The unmoved mover moves, and, having moved, remains unmoved.")

Glenn said...

(Actually, "To paraphrase..." s/b "With apologies to...")

Timotheos said...

@ Georgy Mancz

You know that’s a good point I haven’t thought of and it makes a lot of sense. If you read how the early critics accounted for Christ’s miracles, they usually attributed them to demons working in collusion with him, and not question the testimony that they happened. It seems that the modern alien theory is just a riff on that, and not even as powerful of an explanation, since we have even less evidence for aliens (especially intelligent ones) than demons, and the aliens would be limited by spatiotemporal constraints, unlike demons.

So in short, Descartes' evil genius is looking like the alien theory's older, wiser uncle.

dguller said...

I think that with regards to the Resurrection, there are two main questions that must be answered.

First, did the event in question actually occur? Suppose that someone claims to have observed a miraculous event. One possibility is that they accurately perceived such an event, and are accurately communicating what they perceived. Other possibilities are that they misperceived, misinterpreted, or misremembered the event, and thus their testimony is unreliable. These alternative explanations would be operative whether you are talking about the witness themselves trying to understand what they observed, or whether you are someone else assessing the witness’s testimony.

Second, if the event did actually occur, then what is the explanation for it? Even here, there are a number of possibilities, including divine intervention, an unexplained natural event, or intervention from a non-divine source, such as demons or aliens, or some other powerful entity.

So, how would one go about answering these questions with respect to the Resurrection?

Georgy Mancz said...


@dguller

This subject might require a book of its own, I guess, but a brief reply, would be something like this:

To “unpack” what is meant by the “event that is claimed to have occurred”: a certain Jesus was crucified, then buried, His tomb found empty, then He repeatedly appeared to numerous disciples in the flesh (and stayed with them). Shortly after His disciples start proclaiming that and a couple of other things, affirming that the aforementioned Jesus was Messiah and also His divinity, at considerable risk to their lives.

Reports of this event (crucified, buried, tomb empty, appearing to disciples) are very early, made before the writing of the Gospels (all the relevant “sub-events” already in Paul's Epistles, relaying the received tradition about these events, as well as Paul's connection to the original apostles), the things reported rather radical when viewed against the religious and cultural background of 1st century Palestine (the resurrection viewed as an end-time event involving all the people, the idea of a Messiah dying rather than achieving a visible triumph over Israel's enemies fairly radical; also, He's said to be God). Again, all these points affirmed as history in the Gospels, which are generally historically reliable, people reporting concerned with eye-witness testimony and advancing the claim well within the generation said to have witnessed the event (St. John being sort of late, but there's the other three Gospels).
The earliness of the claim speaks strongly against the event being misremembered, as does the number of people involved. The fact of the empty tomb and appearances, also that of the radical nature of the claims – against the event being misperceived or misinterpreted, as, for example, one could easily check whether Jesus was still buried (in fact, the religious opponents of Christianity could easily falsify it), and misinterpretation would involve a sort of a malfunction of an existing interpretive paradigm, of which personal historical resurrections cannot be plausibly held to be part of. Then again, how do you (and your friends) misinterpret a man (crucified and buried before that) talking to you, giving you fishing advice, eating with you etc. for a rather long time? One can claim that reports of the latter “sub-event” were made up or were caused by hallucinations, but – barring accusations of conspiracy – the first option is implausible if we keep all the mentioned factors in mind. As for hallucinations, from what we know hallucinations simply do not work that way (and these would be oddly innovative delusions with new theological content).

Georgy Mancz said...

*continued*

It's actually here, I believe, where demons and aliens come in. It appears (I believe Prof. Feser argued that point) that reuniting a subsistent form to a body it once informed is not an act something other than God is capable of, so aliens/demons would have to deceive the disciples. But this assertion is problematic without anything indicating alien/demonic activity. If one was to argue that the miracle report itself is indicative of such activity, that would be circular, I believe, unless we possessed independent knowledge of: 1) existence o f both proposed culprits; 2) their ability to deceive (including the means/technologies employed in the situation); 3) the motive. The reason one has to present something here is because, as discussed above, without doing that it either is just an arbitrary assertion or potentially disastrous: as Glenn said, these same aliens/demons can be deceiving us even now. In order to escape self-refutation one has to find a way to differentiate between instances of their involvement with us men. I can think of a way to support the demon thesis: proving the truth of a different (rival?) theology that does feature demons capable/in habit of deceiving groups of people into believing things like the Resurrection, but that, as far as I can tell, remains to be accomplished. Unknown natural process simply is no explanation (one that reunites subsistent souls to matter?), and if you except the conclusions of natural theology God certainly exists, so we'd be linking a supernatural effect (that we do know of) to a supernatural cause (that we do know of).

I could have missed something (it's late here, besides, I have a graduate thesis to write), it's a sketch, really.
The argument I'm making requires A-T/the conclusions of natural theology to be true, as well as me being right about natural and historical facts. I share Prof. Feser assessment of proving the truth of the Resurrection without recourse to metaphysics and natural theology because I think one ends up doing both anyway.

Fake Herzog said...

Great discussion so far.

For a wonderful article on the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus, Tim and Lydia McGrew make the case in Blackwell’s Companion to Natural Theology:

http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

Tim and Lydia echo many of the comments you have made to Vaal, but also uses Bayesian probability theory on top of the typical evidential case. The paper is quite good and I hope Vaal takes the time to have a look.

Vaal said...

Apologies, no time today. Will get back tomorrow.

Vaal

(These CAPTCHAs are killing me - I guess my screen name is coming back to haunt me)

Glenn said...

For a wonderful article on the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus, Tim and Lydia McGrew make the case in Blackwell’s Companion to Natural Theology:

http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

Tim and Lydia echo many of the comments you have made to Vaal...


Tim and Lydia's contribution to Blackwell's Companion to Natural Theology was both written and published prior to the posting of the above comments.

If there is any echoing, then, it is by the above comments, and of the McGrews.

('tis a minor point, true. But conventions do apply when time lines are involved, and echoes, typically, are subsequent to that which is echoed.)

Robert Coble said...

dguller said...

I think that with regards to the Resurrection, there are two main questions that must be answered.

First, did the event in question actually occur?

A "Holy Book" answer is given:

1 Corinthians 15
New International Version (NIV)
15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. 12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.


Why would any rational person (and certainly Paul was a very rational philosopher of theology; see the reference below to Dr. Antony Flew's assessment of Christianity, Jesus, and Paul) falsely assert that a particular event had occurred and then refer to living witnesses to that event, witnesses who simultaneously observed the event, who could be questioned by any skeptic?

"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep."

Dr. Antony Flew, There IS a God, states "As I have stated more than once, no other religion [besides Christianity] enjoys anything like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. If you're wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!"

Second, if the event did actually occur, then what is the explanation for it?

The answer is given: "we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead."

That certainly will not satisfy anyone who asserts the absolute necessity for a material explanation AND/OR the non-existence of God as a material Being. In order to get to "God did it," one first has to get to "God exists as a non-material Being." And that brings us full circle back to A-T metaphysics.

Welcome to the Metaphysical Circle of Life! Round and round it goes, and where (if ever) it stops, no philosopher knows!

Glenn said...

In order to get to "God did it," one first has to get to "God exists as a non-material Being." And that brings us full circle back to A-T metaphysics...

...and, perhaps not incoindentally, to Edward (not Feser)'s (1) above.

Vaal said...

I'm back.

Glenn,

Obviously I didn't claim that Christianity holds that Jesus still exists in bodily form. Christianity holds that Jesus still exists, in "spiritual" (or submit whatever term you want) form, right? And while we have evidence the pyramids exist, we don't' have anything like it for Jesus still existing, in any form.
Keep in mind any argument for Jesus can not resort to metaphysical, a priori argument, since you do not get "Jesus Christ" from a priori arguments. Jesus was in the form of an empirical claim of manifestation/revelation. If Jesus/God could have done it then, there is no reason He can't manifest similarly now, and yet…nothing.

As the saying Goes, doubting Thomas purportedly see and touch the risen Jesus. Thousands of years later, we get claims from an old book of unknown authors and a long line of "take my word for it." ;-)

Vaal

Vaal said...

Mr Green,

Dismissive retorts like "you just don't understand it" might feel yummy to write, but they aren't arguments showing how I don't understand something. :-)

As for Intelligent Design, I'm quite aware of what it's all about, having followed all the arguments in "real time" between Dembski, Behe, other IDers, and professional biologists and philosophers (and having gotten into the trenches myself with IDers).

Of course Behe and Dembski WANTED to avoid a God-Of-The-Gaps argument. They certainly ATTEMPTED to come up with a positive argument - one that would allow us to positively identify and attribute design rather than just a default "We can't explain it therefore God did it." But ultimately they failed.

Each HAD to make the case first that "We can't explain X via evolution" BEFORE being able to make the positive case for a designer. Because if a function could be explained by evolution, then we don't need to appeal to a designer! Hence while Dembski posited a "positive case" for identifying design - "Specified Complexity" he had to first make the negative case - "Couldn't have been done by evolutionary process."
That is why there is the "low probability of occurrence" portion of his Specified Complexity case.

That is also WHY Dembski came up with mathematical arguments for how certain molecules and DNA "couldn't have been formed via evolution." That is WHY Behe looked for "Irreducibly Complex" structures to say "we can't explain these via evolution theory, therefore we have to appeal to Design." They knew very well if they don't start with "We can't explain this via evolution" their case for a Designer doesn't even get off the ground.

And it's why biologists pointed out all the errors in their assumptions about evolution - e.g. how Demski's ignorance of evolution was causing him to input the wrong type of limitations in his "design space" arguments, and how Behe's examples of irreducible complexity were no such thing, and research supported viable evolutionary pathways.

For Intelligent Design as propounded by it's founders, "We can't explain it via evolution" and "It was Intelligently Designed" are unavoidably conjoined propositions.

And this plays out just the way I depicted in terms of being a "inquiry-stopping" move. Because "can't have happened by evolution" and "was intelligent designed" are conjoined in ID theory, once you have stopped at "It Was Designed" you have NO MOTIVATION left to look for a natural or evolutionary answer.

Also, both Dembski and Behe have said the obvious: that the nature of the Designer (including it's methods) can not be inferred from their approach. (And that is the fact that so many scientists harped on - why it made ID impotent and far too vague as a hypothesis to do any work).

Intelligent Design gets off the ground by throwing in the towel in on evolutionary explanations for the phenomenon under question, and replaces the search with: "Was Designed by an unknown designer by unknown processes." The MORE people who would begin to take this approach when faced with a mystery in biology, the more consigned to mystery we would be. It's a knowledge stopper, as currently formulated.

Feel free to refute any of the above with actual facts or argument :-)

Cheers,

Vaal

Vaal said...

(Sorry, multiple parts here….)

To all:

Contrary to the conclusion some seem to be jumping to, I do not have some metaphysical commitment that rules out the possibility of, or belief in,
entities normally described as "supernatural" (e.g. God, or ghosts, spirits for that matter). So long as the proposition is coherent, it could be true. So long as it can in someway interact with the world of our experience, there is the potential for evidence.

The problem is the one I keep raising, particularly concerning the empirical realm: how do we proportion our confidence in one proposition over another - what justifies our beliefs?

I've been arguing that even IF the Christian and atheist start with different metaphysics, or even if we just grant classical theism metaphysics, once we are into the a posteriori, empirical realm of reasoning from experience, we end up converging on the same strategies, the same epistemological virtues, because they just make sense. I don't hold the same metaphysics about God, and yet I can stand with the Christian and say "sure, a miracle could have happened." But what evidence ought we demand for any such claim?

And that so long as we are talking about anything in the empirical realm reason demands consistency with these principles, whether it be vetting the claim an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, or a miracle happened or a man rose from the grave, was a manifestation of God, etc.

Building the epistemic system from the ground up would take too much writing in a comment section, so I'll have to move to examples to highlight some essential principles. But any epistemology in order to be cogent will have built into it an acknowledgement of our limitations, and hence practical, pragmatic concerns will underly our epistemic principles.

Take our everyday casual reasoning about our experience. You find water dribbling from the ceiling of your bathroom (as we did recently). How do you decide what caused it? The informed, rational person understands it could have multiple causes, hence you can't just arbitrarily believe "a leaking pipe" caused it if "a hole in the roof letting rain in" could also be the cause. You investigate and control the variables before saying "this caused it." Without a way of
accounting for more than one cause and having a strategy for raising confidence in one explanation over the other, you are not being "epistemologically responsible" in your conclusions.

Science is essentially our most rigorous response to this basic problem of variable causes/explanations, where we are most rigorous in dealing with the variables, showing the most care in where we proportion our confidence.

The Christians here, like most people in the world, reason just this way in navigating everyday life, and despite your different metaphysics you embrace the methods of science BECAUSE it takes these very real, inescapable issues of our experience so seriously, and has produced such remarkable knowledge.

cont'd...

Vaal said...

Another example for how our normal empirical skepticism leads us to reject certain types of claims:

Let's say I make the claim I'm channeling a spirit who can ensure that my coin flips heads every time. Obviously you don't just accept this claim, you say show me the evidence. I flip the coin 50 times and it flips heads and tails consistent with the probabilities of random chance. I would have failed to make the case for belief in my claim. What if I say something like "I don't count when it lands tails." Well then we all know this isn't convincing: it's blatantly ignoring every time my hypothesis has failed to predict an outcome. What if I say "Ok, I do count the tails flips, but the spirit caused those as well!" What's the problem there? Obviously it's that now all I have is a proposition that is compatible with the observations. But then random chance is compatible as well, and I have offered no reason to prefer my spirit cause explanation over random chance.
We are not "epistemologically motivated" to apportion our belief to my spirit explanation. (Where we have plenty of experience of similar results from random chance).

The spirit explanation is logically possible, but the conceptual space of the merely "logically possible" is so vast that we would be paralyzed by taking every logically possible entity or explanation seriously, hence we inescapably REQUIRE epistemic strategies like "parsimony,"
demanding evidence, testing hypotheses, accounting/controlling for variables, repeatability of results, etc.

What if I start adding consequences to my claim? "If you don't believe it's true that my spirit controlled the coin flips, then the spirit will turn into a dragon next week and breath fire on your family!" What's the problem with that? We all know this does NOTHING more to warrant the belief in the coin-flipping spirit. Even though IF TRUE it would be a significant consequence we would like to know to be true so we could avoid it.

This highlights the central issue: I will have added a significant consequence (if true) to my claim about the spirit if you don't believe. But if you examine why this doesn't move you, you can see that it's because you intuitively understand that believing my claim has BAD CONSEQUENCES FOR YOUR VERY EPISTEMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES. That is, to just believe in the coin-flipping spirit and the dragon threat, you have to violate those life-raft, fundamental epistemic strategies of parsimony, demanding evidence, plausibility, testability, repeatability, etc. Hence those principles are more fundamental than any particular belief.
(Which of course makes perfect sense, since you need the epistemic criteria first, before you accept any particular belief). So I could pile on as many additional threatening consequences as I want, but you would shrug them all off as it would be stupid to just believe them without better reasons.


And that's the take-away that gets to the heart of answers to all these questions I'm being asked.
Whenever we confront a "what if THIS is true?" proposition, we have to look at it as to whether we can proportion some confident belief to via our epistemic principles (parsimony, evidence, hypothesis testing…every possible way of affording confidence), or whether the consequence of believing threatens inconsistency of our principles.

Vaal said...

...cont'd...

A lot of the propositions about God are of this sort. They could be "true" but can only be believed via inconsistency - violating our normal epistemic rigor and demands, which is a very bad consequence.

If we take the "naive" version of Matt's original question about the paralyzed man, we can see how this plays out. In a nutshell, the God hypothesis in the miracle claim is so vague, and so malleable it does not really predict any specific outcome. There is just no normal, empirical way for us to apportion more confidence in that hypothesis, vs the non-God hypothesis for which we DO have some statistical support (e.g. we know misdiagnosis and temporary paralysis occur, and since they can explain the recovery we don't need a God explanation which we can't test).
And his example case of recovery after prayer is a sample of "1," and we know such samples are not a sound basis for establishing causation.

The Christian may attempt to raise the "probability" of God intervening by some appeal to "God
is compassionate and sometimes intervene in such cases." But…what does that actually predict? Nothing in terms of any *specific* case. And you have to count all the tragic cases where there appears no intervention as undermining the hypothesis. Otherwise you commit the epistemic sin of "coating only the hits." And if you say "Well, how do we know God isn't intervening without prayer" then you make the hypothesis so vague you can't test it in order to gain any confidence it's true! God MAY be intervening, but if he's intervening in a manner essentially disguised as chance, or hidden in variables we can't untangle, then it's not our fault he's doing so in a way that can't warrant our belief!

And this is the same problem one has for ANY miracles or purported revelations, such as the claims about Jesus. How does one move from the metaphysical God argument to "it's PROBABLE from this that God would arrive as a Jew in an ancient desert tribe and be crucified" etc? There are just countless other possibilities for miracles and revelations that are compatible with the metaphysical God - it does not predict a Jesus in any near specific enough way to be useful in raising probabilities of The Resurrection.
I mean, why not reveal Himself thousands of years before, or somewhere else like China, or today in a more scientifically literate world, or any place or time in between? Nothing about the "metaphysical God" raises the probabilities of God appearing specifically in the way depicted by Christianity. Every attempt I've seen is so ad hoc no one but a committed Christian could fail to notice it.

Vaal said...

So now RD Miksa seems to raise a challenge for the consistency of my view:

"You do realize that this cuts both ways, right?" "After all, who knows how many true supernatural explanations you will miss by mistakenly positing a false natural explanation of such phenomenon?"

That question is anticipated in everything I've been writing. I've been consistent all along: When it comes to our EMPIRICAL REASONING it's about epistemology: method, method, method…not ontological commitments per se. We always have to weigh whether we have to start abandoning our pragmatic epistemic strategies in order to believe a certain proposition.

We don't even have to appeal to divisions of "natural" and "supernatural." We can simply consider all of it within the range of our experience, whatever it comprises - spiritual, material, whatever. And if from our experiences arise the problem of multiple causes/explanations, and it does, then we need these obvious, widely adopted empirical principles I've been outlining. If multiple angels could create a similar cause, you'd need just these strategies to sort that out, so "what it's made of" isn't of consequence, it's "what do we experience?'

Hence, on these epistemological grounds, from my point of view, the ontological distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" is basically a red-herring. All of it could exist, we could be in a fully spiritual realm (whatever that would mean) or fully material, or a mix. But so long as our experience is as it seems to be - multiple entities coming at us with multiple possible explanations - then the strategies of empirical
reasoning apply.

The "natural" explanations referred to by science are simply the ones that have survived these empirical strategies of inquiry. "Supernatural" explanations are the ones that tend to NOT survive such inquiry, because they tend to be too vague and uncontrolled as hypotheses.

In other words, (adopting for convenience "natural/supernatural" since the question had been couched that way to me) we would appeal to a "natural" explanation that cancer went into remission vs a miracle, because the hypothesis that this is within the nature of cancer has testable, statistical consequences, which allow us to put our confidence in that explanation. Through the same methods, we also test hypotheses for how/why this sometimes happens with cancer in the human body. Typically, "God intervened and caused a miracle" hypotheses simply fail to meet these standards. They are like the coin-flipping analogy I gave earlier - too imprecise, variables unaccounted for and uncontrolled, etc, to allow us to apportion confidence to any conclusion. Intelligent Design fails also, for just such reasons.

I doubt anyone here can show I've been inconsistent, and I'm waiting for any cogent explication of how the Christian is being consistent when he evaluates empirical claims about God. Tentative examples raised so far of miracle recoveries, and metaphysics raising probabilities of resurrections have only served to prove my point.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Finally,

Does this mean there can be no evidence for God or the supernatural? No, that is not entailed. UNLESS by "supernatural" you mean a proposition that, by nature, can not produce "evidence." Then of course there couldn't be evidence. But an Almighty Being could, by definition, manifest empirically, and produce empirical miracle evidence, and indeed it's part of Christian belief that He has done just that!
Unfortunately the purported "revelation" is in the form of an event that we can not rigorously, empirically validate. We can't even talk to the purported eyewitnesses to see if their storey remains consistent under examination, let alone access the empirical evidence for the miracle. And it occurs within the context of far too much "noise" in terms of variables, other possible explanations, etc - the world being riddled with unreliable eyewitnesses, false religions, etc.

If an All Powerful God existed, certainly he could manifest in a more empirically persistent, verifiable manner, and it's conceivable He could provide information and demonstrations of power and knowledge in support of His being our Creator and the Creator of the universe, etc. Hell, we now believe the ENTIRE UNIVERSE expanded from a fraction of the size of an atom! That's INSANE! No less incredible than if some Being caused it. Except we have good, persistent, empirical reasons to believe that proposition. There'd be nothing stopping an All Powerful God from providing evidence He was the cause and I'd be ready to accept evidence for it.

Often this is, in my experience, greeted by Christians as being some sort of outrageous demand. Christians have been so conditioned in accepting the bad evidence for Christianity, and rationalizing it as the likely evidence one would expect from an All Powerful God, that they seem to think that asking for better evidence is somehow hubristic, absurd or "selfishly demanding too much!"

And yet it is simply being consistent with our demands in every other empirical context!
The demands we put on ourself simply to accept the existence of a particle - Higgs Bosson - that was already a strong hypothesis, lead to 40 years of work to establish warrant for belief.

And we are going to get lax with claims that someone rose from the dead and was a manifestation of the Creator Of The Universe? When should our empirical demands EVER GET HIGHER?

Cheers,

Vaal

Vaal said...

Oh, I meant to weigh in on one more issue:

It has been mentioned in this thread that some atheists, e.g. PZ Myers, are starting to take the stance of "I can not think of any evidence that would convince me God exists." This is usually argued with examples like "A being showing up wielding apparent miracles could always be an Alien with sufficiently advanced technology," and the other approach being "The God concept is too incoherent, and you can't have evidence for an incoherent concept."

I have argued vociferously against this (on PZ Myers blog, and elsewhere). I believe the appeal to "it could always be aliens" is inconsistent, special pleading just in the case of God.
In science, as elsewhere, you go with what the evidence points toward. If a God showed up and
revealed all sorts of knowledge about our origins that we could test, displayed powers consistent with his being able to create worlds and a universe, etc, what possible motivation could there be to say "could be aliens?" Sure, it "could be aliens"…but then every OTHER observation we make "could be aliens screwing with us" as well. But if the evidence doesn't SUGGEST aliens, and it all points to some other conclusion, then positing aliens is gratuitous and unmotivated.

If you are thinking like a scientist, as the New Atheists propound, then when it comes to a question like "Can there be empirical evidence for an Intelligent Creator of the Universe" then you treat it like any other hypothesis, demanding evidence that would support THAT type of conclusion. Obviously a mere resurrection in of itself wouldn't support the conclusion, as
some being could have the power to resurrect a body, yet that would not necessarily entail it has the power to, or did, create the universe. (It could look to the ancients like we have the power to raise the dead, but we can't and did not create the universe).

If the proposition is "I am the creator of the universe" you'd have to ask "Ok, show me evidence in support of the proposition you created the universe." (If that sounds outrageous it's not: after all if a scientist tells you that ALL OF THIS, this gigantic universe, was once in the size of a particle you couldn't even see, he can give you the evidence).

And when it comes to the "God is too incoherent" form of the argument, there is some justification insofar as perhaps some conceptions of God aren't coherent enough. But then when presented with a coherent God concept, it is rejected as "not being God." So it smacks to me of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Dawkins' is toying with this possible rejection of evidence for a God - a pretty massive reversal of his position - and if he adopts it he will deserve smack down on it as well, IMO.

Vaal

Matt Sheean said...

I still think you're spinning what I've been saying, and, as I said before, papering over certain considerations in the case I mentioned (keep in mind, it's not really important, for our uses, whether or not the event really even happened... It's just an useful story).

I'll drop that, tho, and move onto two of your other claims:

1. If God manifested his power in, as you say, "a more empirically persistent, verifiable manner", what would that look like (and give me a model for predicting God-like persistence that is a straight-forward pragmatic epistemic strategy).

2. Why would we have to abandon our pragmatic epistemic strategy in order to believe a certain proposition? For example, I am an astrophysicist that has independent and compelling reasons to believe that the universe exists only in some absolute present frame of time, but understand as well that models that treat it as a manifold of space and time are more efficacious for research. The space-time models are more simple mathematically and more "fecund". I don't need to abandon my pragmatic strategies, nor do I need to abandon my particular beliefs about time. (This is a fictional story... I'm no astrophysicist or philosopher of time).

Also, with all respect, could you be more concise in your responses? You bring up interesting issues, but I think what you say could be trimmed down to something more manageable for everyone else (perhaps I am alone in this desire, tho).

BenYachov said...

>If an All Powerful God existed, certainly he could manifest in a more empirically persistent, verifiable manner.....

I'm sorry but this still seems to assume Positivism.

The only God we believe in here is proved by Philosophical argument and demonstration not empiricism & verification-ism.

If you could prove something you call "god" to exist by empiricism then what you came up with could not by definition be God in the Classic Sense. Thus I wouldn't waste my time on it.

Either the Classic View of God is true or there is no God.

So far your objections are non-starters for most of us & seem to presuppose a philosophy AG Flew at the height of his Atheism rejected as hopelessly incoherent.

Cheers guy.

Matt Sheean said...

Also... I'd like to see you engage with Scott's question.

Anonymous said...

If the 5th way is sound, then isnt God technically "doing" everything? In other words, maintaining the tendencies of all forms of matter.

Vaal said...

Matt,

Yes I'll try to trim down the verbiage. It tends to run that way because I'm aware of the various responses that will arise and wish to anticipate them in the arguments. The thing is it's easy for you guys to just ask a question, it can be done in a sentence. But if I'm to supply the answer and the reasons to accept the answer, that takes more writing.
Though, yes, gotta cut it down, thanks.


I'd taken the "naive" version of your first miracle question because as you say it is a "useful story" to illustrate the principles I'm talking about. Your later qualifications started to dissolve into incoherence (at least from my end, once you start saying "why shouldn't I think a miracle happened INSTEAD of a natural recovery, when God was prayed to…but I'm not saying prayer had anything to do with it or…even implicating God? I just couldn't understand what I was supposed to account for in your question after those caveats).

Vaal said...

Matt,

On to your questions for me:

1. God, if he is all powerful, could show us He exists in an empirically persistent, verifiable manner. This is hardly asking much, since the can of coke on my desk seems to manage this, so does my wife when I've forgotten to take out the garbage. You do not find controversy throughout the world over whether Obama exists, or the ocean, cars, the moon.

I can not "predict" specifically how God would show evidence because, as I have been saying, the God of metaphysics does not predict any particular form of manifestation. Which is why you can't predict God would show up and get himself crucified. (Though I do think we can draw on evidence against God's Omni-properties from life, e.g. Problem Of Suffering, and this is not inconsistent as I could explain, but let's not go there yet).

Rather, I can talk about EXAMPLES of the type of evidence that would for me support belief in a Creator God.

So the first thing God could do is manifest in a way we can reliably experience Him. He could, for instance, manifest in a material form, but perhaps with some appearance that definitely differentiates him from a human being (e.g. 30 feet tall, whatever..though not a requirement). In this way we could empirically verify his existence just the way we do for any other empirical entity, like other human beings

If He claimed to be God, Our Creator, He could explain how he created us, giving us predictive information that we would not otherwise have (e.g. "look here in your DNA and you'll find these signs or tweaks I did, look in this place and you'll find X type of fossil, etc.). Depending on how He claimed to create life, he could do it in front of us, or even create humans in front of us. There are all sorts of conceivable ways he could support with evidence the proposition He had the Power to create life (demonstrations) and Did create life (shows us evidence in the record we would not otherwise have known).

If He further claimed to create the universe, then we'd want evidence for THAT proposition too. He could demonstrate the type of knowledge and power to do so. He tells us how he created the universe, gives us new knowledge of physics (try this experiment, you'll discover these new particles/forces) and demonstrates power like adding another moon to earth, or creating a planet, or new galaxy, or whatever. All these things would be evidence in support of the claim he could have, and did do these things.

Does this sound demanding? Well, to claim to have been our Creator and the Creator of the universe (or of All Things) is a mighty big claim, and would require extraordinary levels of evidence in it's favour.

Resurrecting wouldn't do it. That's not enough evidence pointing in the direction of specific claims like "Created Humankind and Creator Of All Things."

2. I don't see any problem, or inconsistency in Astrophysicists entertaining different models. If a new model is plausibly derived from what we do know and starts to explain more and is "fecund" in it's predictions, then that falls right in line with how we want to operate, empirically.

Vaal

Vaal said...

Scott,

What is it about our "current knowledge of nature/reality" that you think makes the Resurrection more problematic now than it was then?

Obviously someone resurrecting from the dead would be surprising to the knowledge of that time, otherwise it would not have been depicted as being miraculous.

If someone BACK THEN witnessed an actual resurrection, then they got the type of evidence we do not get. Even put in contemporary terms: Imagine I walk into a party and claim "Hey everyone, Vishnu just revealed Himself to me in the parking lot! Aren't you amazed to be given this revelation!" Do we take that as "revelation" to us? No - it's just a claim that Vishnu revealed Himself to someone else - we were afforded no such evidence, just someone's word for it. We'd need Vishnu to reveal Himself to us, or some other strong evidence rather than someone's word for it, as claims are a dime a dozen.

When it comes to the problem of the resurrection, I'm talking about the analogy to the present and the problem in affording such a historical claim of a miracle any confidence.

With historical claims we are stuck evaluating the plausibility based on our present knowledge of how things seem to operate. Without this principles, as I said before, we'd be at the mercy of every single wild historical claim anyone ever made.

Vaal

(Even our most incredible theories of what has happened in the past, evolution, the formation of stars and planets, the universe, even events and processes that only ever happened once in history, are extrapolations from how we understand things work now - e.g. implications of the physics as we understand it, and of the evidence we can examine today. It is in principle possible to posit an event in the past that is based on no currently known process, but it would have to have very strong predictive power, in terms of predicting evidence that only fit that theory).

Vaal said...

BenYachov,

You'll have to help me here with some more argument on your side, because I do not see how your claims are coherent.

First, even if you say you have used on method to prove God - "proved by Philosophical argument and demonstration" - it does not follow that God can only be known by that manner. Especially if the God you have discovered metaphysically has the properties of being All Powerful, All Knowing, or "All Mighty" etc.

Do you believe God is All Powerful and All Knowing or not? (Perhaps you don't). But if you do, then it follows that such a God would have the power to manipulate the material world as He desired, and manifest in some physically representative way, if He Desired.

If God can not interact with the physical…how did he Create (or sustain) the universe?
If he can not manipulate the physical, which even a little child can do, how in the world would God rate the description "All Powerful?" And if he can manipulate the physical, it follows he can manipulate empirical evidence for Himself.

And this is just what most of Christianity, including the Catholic church, affirm in their own dogma. Do you or do you not hold to the Nicene Creed? Much of it is a list of the empirical claims of God's revelation. Do you not consider Jesus was some physical manifestation of the divine?

If you do, then it is incoherent of you to say you don't believe God could manifest empirical evidence while believing just that in Jesus Christ.

Vaal

Anonymous said...

I think the Thomist argues that God is actively maintaining all matter. For example, the God is the ultimate metaphysical explanation for why electrons tend to be attracted to substances with opposite charges. According to the arguments, the universe doesn't "behave" at all without God.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal


Employing A-T metaphysics and natural theology gets you a couple of things, thing's I've mentioned: 1) it already establishes the existence of God who is personal, all-powerful, all-good and with an interest in human beings; 2) shows that certain supernatural events cannot be ascribed to any other cause other than God, such as the Resurrection. Again, the existence of other supernatural causes have to be proved independently and their causality precisely established (demons and aliens). Again, you seem to be working with an imprecise and yes, ultimately empiricist (as opposed to empirical) definition of “supernatural events”(the language you use, I believe, betrays a “regularities of events” approach rather than that of substances and powers, apologies if I'm wrong, perhaps I misinterpret the subtleties), refusing to distinguish between specific claims and specific events, their respective circumstances.

Not all events described as “supernatural” (whether they are in fact supernatural or not) have the same “power”, i.e. the Resurrection does point necessarily to God, inexplicable healings, say, in my opinion do not necessarily do so. In other words, if the Resurrection did happen, God caused it, not something else, and that would give a divine mandate to Christian teachings, as it is indicative of God's divine approval. We don't have to invent God to explain the Resurrection, we just connect an established effect to a known cause: in this case the Resurrection just is what Christians have always claimed it is. And ultimately it is because of the Resurrection Christians believe everything Christ said, including His claims of divinity (prior to His death and Resurrection). So you're conflating the claim made about the event said to be historically proved. Pardon for quoting myself, but the event is something like this: a certain Jesus was crucified, then buried, His tomb found empty, then He repeatedly appeared to numerous disciples in the flesh (and stayed with them). Shortly after His disciples start proclaiming that and a couple of other things, affirming that the aforementioned Jesus was Messiah and also His divinity, at considerable risk to their lives.  And of course we use analogies to establish it all, basic general facts about human nature, for example, but always in context.

Now compare that with the Vishnu in the parking lot example. Would you really claim these are truly comparable under any definition more precise than “in both cases supernatural events are reported”? Again, the claim about Vishnu, if the one reporting this encounter really does mean Vishnu the Hindu deity, is problematic because it's connected to a theology that can be shown to be wrong (because it's pantheistic rather than theistic in the classic sense).

I understand you hold the case for the Resurrection to be not compelling enough. If you believe the Christian case is factually wrong, then you can, of course, be right, but you also can be wrong. Here we have different conclusions about the available evidence, and it is a different argument. The Resurrection, and thus Christianity, is falsifiable, because affirming the truth of the Resurrection is dependent on what we know. The Christian claim, again, is that other proposed explanations are simply worse, given everything we know.

Georgy Mancz said...

*continued*

Trouble is, the problem you seem to be having is basically “it happened too long ago, therefore we can't say anything”, as I take it, because the eye-witnesses are no longer available.
Given that appeals were made to legal procedures: courts are in some cases bound to accept legal facts established by other courts, including rulings on established legal facts and evidence, even if these decisions date back a long time, the witnesses are no longer available etc. It's not just facts established by other courts before (“praejudicialis” in Continental). Varying procedural solutions of different jurisdictions aside, you can think of quite a lot of cases where courts establish facts based on reports made long ago, legal documents confirming relevant facts, signifying given testimony etc.: land and property, inheritance disputes, for example, but also criminal cases. So direct availability of eye-witnesses is not as paramount as some seem to believe.
Christians basically argue that the relevant factors already mentioned (repeatedly) sufficienty establish the veracity of the testimony in question.
Please note the emphasis on the necessity of addressing the context and careful (instead of vague) analogies.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Vaal

“I mean, why not reveal Himself thousands of years before, or somewhere else like China, or today in a more scientifically literate world, or any place or time in between? Nothing about the "metaphysical God" raises the probabilities of God appearing specifically in the way depicted by Christianity. Every attempt I've seen is so ad hoc no one but a committed Christian could fail to notice it.”

I wonder why people characterised your demands as displaying a sort of hubris. Because it seems that demands like this are in fact question begging. Have you perhaps considered that the reason Christians find this demand to be so (begging the question, if not “outrageous”) is not that they have been so conditioned in accepting the bad evidence for Christianity, and rationalizing it as the likely evidence one would expect from an All Powerful God”, but because they do not share your appraisal of the evidence for Christianity? The word you use - “bad” - is key here. What's more, it's likely that God doesn't share your view of the standard required. What can cause outrage here is that what you're doing does amount to accusing God of not knowing what kind of evidence to present, not being charitable to us. Would that accusation be fair?.. Classical theism is based on the idea that the existence of God can be established via metaphysics: necessary first principles (like the principle of identity) and undeniable facts (like change). If Thomistic metaphysics is correct, God has given us enough to know He exists as Actus Purus, Subsistent Being , etc. The Christian claim is that an instance of direct and necessarily divine intervention occurred, serving as proof for the claims of Jesus Christ. If that did happen, God gave us enough to know it. God doesn't have ANY obligations towards us, apart from, say, directly contradicting Himself, like deceiving us though He moves us to know the truth. Saying that He didn't do enough because He's “not of an opinion” that we're all morally (including intellectually) bound to be empiricists (and that's how it still looks to me) is plainly unjustified.

Again, here: “Resurrecting wouldn't do it. That's not enough evidence pointing in the direction of specific claims like "Created Humankind and Creator Of All Things."

Why, exactly, is that “not enough”? We have an instance of necessarily divine causality. God's immediate causality that preserves creation in existence is mysterious, that's true, but that doesn't preclude us from reaching the conclusion that He does Exist and causes creation.

P.S.

I believe that appeals to aliens (and demons) have already been addressed.

dguller said...

Georgy:

To “unpack” what is meant by the “event that is claimed to have occurred”: a certain Jesus was crucified, then buried, His tomb found empty, then He repeatedly appeared to numerous disciples in the flesh (and stayed with them). Shortly after His disciples start proclaiming that and a couple of other things, affirming that the aforementioned Jesus was Messiah and also His divinity, at considerable risk to their lives.

Okay. Let’s use that account as the baseline for our analysis.

Reports of this event (crucified, buried, tomb empty, appearing to disciples) are very early, made before the writing of the Gospels (all the relevant “sub-events” already in Paul's Epistles, relaying the received tradition about these events, as well as Paul's connection to the original apostles), the things reported rather radical when viewed against the religious and cultural background of 1st century Palestine (the resurrection viewed as an end-time event involving all the people, the idea of a Messiah dying rather than achieving a visible triumph over Israel's enemies fairly radical; also, He's said to be God).

So, if an account is made about an event, and that account is both made soon after the event and the account is incommensurate with the religious and cultural background of those saying and hearing it, then … that account is likely to be true? For example, if someone claimed to see Jesus Christ present himself and state that Christianity is false, and this claim is made a mere hours after the event, then would you say that this person must be telling the truth?

Again, all these points affirmed as history in the Gospels, which are generally historically reliable, people reporting concerned with eye-witness testimony and advancing the claim well within the generation said to have witnessed the event (St. John being sort of late, but there's the other three Gospels).

Who says that the Gospels are “generally historically reliable”?

First, what is the chain of transmission from the apostles to the gospel writers? Did anyone analyze the links in the chain of transmission to determine (a) whether the communication was historically possible (i.e. the people involved were present in the same place and time), and (b) whether the individuals involved were trustworthy and upright individuals?

Fake Herzog said...

Vaal,

A couple of points.

You say,

"And this is the same problem one has for ANY miracles or purported revelations, such as the claims about Jesus. How does one move from the metaphysical God argument to "it's PROBABLE from this that God would arrive as a Jew in an ancient desert tribe and be crucified" etc? There are just countless other possibilities for miracles and revelations that are compatible with the metaphysical God - it does not predict a Jesus in any near specific enough way to be useful in raising probabilities of The Resurrection.
I mean, why not reveal Himself thousands of years before, or somewhere else like China, or today in a more scientifically literate world, or any place or time in between? Nothing about the "metaphysical God" raises the probabilities of God appearing specifically in the way depicted by Christianity. Every attempt I've seen is so ad hoc no one but a committed Christian could fail to notice it."

Wrong. If you check out the McGrews paper I linked to, you'll see that the probability of the resurrection is quite high. In fact, as a historical event, weighed against other historical events, we have more evidence of the resurrection than we do of the existence of Alexander the Great, Hannibal's adventures in Italy, etc.

2) Ancient history is full of stories that are 'just so' and based on limited evidence. The only difference is that your prior commitment to metaphysical naturalism forces you to reject the clear testimony and witness of many smart people about the death and resurrection of our Lord.

3) Instead, you seek ever more absurd forms of evidence such as:

"So the first thing God could do is manifest in a way we can reliably experience Him. He could, for instance, manifest in a material form, but perhaps with some appearance that definitely differentiates him from a human being...demonstrates power like adding another moon to earth, or creating a planet, or new galaxy, or whatever. All these things would be evidence in support of the claim he could have, and did do these things."

But who is to say this will satisfy someone like Dawkins or Myers? Other folks on this thread have already pointed out that this could be an alien who is trying to trick us into believing it is god. Or it could be a powerful demon trying to do the same...without some sort of metaphysical framework for evaluating the evidence presented (i.e. would the God of theism present himself in such a manner to us -- when we already know that he gave us free will and the power to freely chose to love Him as part of the gift of His loving creation)?

4) Georgy Mancz is one of my new comment heroes on this blog. Much love to all the rest of the regulars who have answered Vaal -- and a Happy Good Friday to all as we await the celebration of the glorious Resurrection. Here are some additional Good Friday thoughts (Ed's were excellent) from my friend Lydia McGrew:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/04/good_friday_2014.html

dguller said...

Second, they describe events that no other historical sources attest to, such as the crucifixion darkness, an earthquake, the tearing of the Jewish temple curtain in two, and the raising of the dead from the tombs. I’m pretty sure that if that sequence of events occurred within the span of a day, then someone would have recorded it somewhere.

Third, what about the contradictions between the Gospels (e.g. different genealogies for Jesus)? If they contradict one another, then some Gospels must contain historical falsehoods.

The earliness of the claim speaks strongly against the event being misremembered, as does the number of people involved.

And yet the earliest Gospel was written by Mark about 30-40 years after Jesus’ death. That seems like plenty of time to misremember and embellish a story.

for example, one could easily check whether Jesus was still buried (in fact, the religious opponents of Christianity could easily falsify it),

What is more likely? That someone removed the body, or that God himself in human form rose from the death and ascended to heaven?

misinterpretation would involve a sort of a malfunction of an existing interpretive paradigm, of which personal historical resurrections cannot be plausibly held to be part of.

What I meant was that they confused hallucinatory experiences with veridical experiences, and thus misinterpreted what they experienced as corresponding to reality when it could have been a misperception.

how do you (and your friends) misinterpret a man (crucified and buried before that) talking to you, giving you fishing advice, eating with you etc. for a rather long time?

In the process of grieving the loss of a loved one, people often have hallucinations of them in their homes and talking to them. Are you saying that all these people are really speaking to ghosts, or would it be more likely that their minds are deceiving them with hallucinations? Also, there is the possibility of a shared psychotic disorder.

As for hallucinations, from what we know hallucinations simply do not work that way (and these would be oddly innovative delusions with new theological content).

Yes, hallucinations never have a religious content.

dguller said...

Georgy:

Why, exactly, is that “not enough”? We have an instance of necessarily divine causality. God's immediate causality that preserves creation in existence is mysterious, that's true, but that doesn't preclude us from reaching the conclusion that He does Exist and causes creation.

Why is resurrection “necessarily divine causality”? Why couldn’t a sufficiently sophisticated alien technology bring someone back from the dead? Why couldn’t someone be thought to be dead, but actually still be alive, and then recover naturally? Again, all of these are more plausible to me – well, maybe other than the aliens – than God himself became a man, allowed himself to be killed, and then brought himself back to life in order to save mankind. Unlike the latter, the former has been documented to occur, and thus on the basis of sheer frequency, would be more likely than the latter.

Anonymous said...

If Jesus was really crucified, then he went through some serious physical trauma, no? The human body can't handle extreme blood loss because vital organs stop receiving sufficient amounts of O2 and nutrients.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ Glenn and Fake Herzog

Of course I'm not being at all original in what I write here, and I'm glad I'm not. :)
I am in fact indebted and enormously grateful to McGrews for all the wonderful work they've done.

BenYachov said...

@Vaal

>First, even if you say you have used on method to prove God - "proved by Philosophical argument and demonstration" - it does not follow that God can only be known by that manner.

It’s the Theme of THE LAST SUPERSTITION? Didn't you read it yet? Positivism is simply an irrational self contradictory belief even if no God Concept is true IMHO. It’s a non-starter. The logic seems solid and I have no rational reason to believe in Positivism anymore then I have for becoming a Young Earth Creationist.

Here is your reading list for the Problems of Positivism.
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/scientism-roundup.html

>Do you believe God is All Powerful and All Knowing or not? (Perhaps you don't).

Do you mean “All Powerful” as defined by Descartes? Or do you mean “All Powerful” as defined by Aquinas? You do
know the difference don’t you?(Perhaps you don’t ;-) ). Short Answer I hold too Aquinas.

> But if you do, then it follows that such a God would have the power to manipulate the material world as He desired, and manifest in some physically representative way, if He Desired. If God can not interact with the physical…how did he Create (or sustain) the universe?

Did you read Feser’s latest Post?
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/04/gods-wounds.html

You keep insisting on treating God as a Theistic Personalist scientifically verifiable instance of a kind. I am a Strong Atheist when it comes to believing in that so called “god”. I am a Classic Theist. You have to argue with the God I believe in not the one you wish I believed in. If God supernaturally sets a tree on fire vs me pouring Gas on another and lighting a match I don’t see how science can show anything other then both trees are now burned. God is proven by philosophy alone.

>If he can not manipulate the physical, which even a little child can do, how in the world would God rate the description "All Powerful?" And if he can manipulate the physical, it follows he can manipulate empirical evidence for Himself.

How can science show what has been set on fire by God vs a little child? It’s can’t just as I can’t measure the atomic weight of natural selection. But belief in Natural Selection with the science of biology is valid. Just as belief in a Classic view of God via Philosophy is valid.

>And this is just what most of Christianity, including the Catholic church, affirm in their own dogma. Do you or do you not hold to the Nicene Creed? Much of it is a list of the empirical claims of God's revelation. Do you not consider Jesus was some physical manifestation of the divine?

I am Catholic and a Thomist. But I don’t believe scientific empiricism is the exhaustive basis of all knowledge. That concept itself cannot be proven Empirically & Scientifically. At best you would attempt some rational philosophical argument for it’s alleged truth but if you accept it as truth you do so on the basis of Philosophy. Thus undermining it. So why not save a step and simply concede reality and being are ultimately the providence of Philosophy?

To get me too Atheist you must walk the road of philosophy.

>If you do, then it is incoherent of you to say you don't believe God could manifest empirical evidence while believing just that in Jesus Christ.

I don’t recall saying God who is Pure Act can’t actualize any potency he wants directly. I just don’t think you can know scientifically it was he who did it. I would have to rely on eyewitnesses or other evidence but not empirical.

That is a category mistake.

BenYachov said...

Obviously there is a difference between Empiricism vs the empirical.

I defer to Mr. Mancz.

Matt Sheean said...

"I'd taken the "naive" version of your first miracle question because as you say it is a "useful story" to illustrate the principles I'm talking about. Your later qualifications started to dissolve into incoherence (at least from my end, once you start saying "why shouldn't I think a miracle happened INSTEAD of a natural recovery, when God was prayed to…but I'm not saying prayer had anything to do with it or…even implicating God? I just couldn't understand what I was supposed to account for in your question after those caveats)."

Ok, I think I see where the misunderstanding is occurring. The caveats I introduced were more to say that I did not know how God might heal the man, that is, they were theological. Think of it this way, though... Put yourself in my shoes. I already believe in God, at the bare minimum I believe he made the world, and furthermore I am a Christian, for reasons having absolutely NOTHING to do with the ostensible miracle in question (probably because I was raised Christian, I'm just more prone to find it plausible). Why should I not believe that God healed the man, using "healed" in a pretty general way, apart from more rigorous theological conceptions of divine action, etc. (so as to avoid superstitious appeals to "the power of prayer" and such). So, I have a recovery from paralysis coinciding with a prayer, and I already believe that God exists and is able to do this sort of thing. I also know that the nature of the paralysis was such that it was unlikely to be misdiagnosed and unlikely to borderline impossible to recover from.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ dguller

My original intention was to provide a general sketch of how an argument for the Resurrection would look like. Addressing all the objections you've made will take some time, so allow me to start with metaphysical and epistemological points.

“Why is resurrection “necessarily divine causality”? Why couldn’t a sufficiently sophisticated alien technology bring someone back from the dead? Why couldn’t someone be thought to be dead, but actually still be alive, and then recover naturally? Again, all of these are more plausible to me – well, maybe other than the aliens – than God himself became a man, allowed himself to be killed, and then brought himself back to life in order to save mankind. Unlike the latter, the former has been documented to occur, and thus on the basis of sheer frequency, would be more likely than the latter. ”?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the reunification of a soul to matter it once informed require a cause that
imparts subsistent souls anyway, that is, according to A-T? After the separation of that form from respective matter it would require to exist somehow, and forms do not reunite themselves to matter. The claim I'm making is that if what I describe here is what has happened (soul informing it's matter once again), that would require God, wouldn't it? I once had a weird thought: what if it wasn't Jesus' form that now informed His matter, but apart from it being implausible (that same body, after all, the One who has risen still recognised as Christ) it would still necessitate God making it do so.

I don't think even “sufficiently sophisticated alien technology” could do so (subsistent souls being immaterial and all), besides, what exactly is this technology? God's causality is mysterious, but we do know of it. Positing unknown technologies possessed by unknown aliens within creation is a different thing. That is why I discuss 'the alien hypothesis” along with it's close relative “the demons hypothesis” in relation to the possibility of the disciples being deceived by them. Sorry to address you to the earlier comments to this post, but I believe these issues (along with counting probabilities about aliens) were already discussed and I'm a bit tired of these aliens :) The basic thought is that positing these deceptive villains without some independent indication of their involvement at the time of the Resurrection would make explaining why they aren't deceiving us all even now impossible: one needs to differentiate, and in this situation I believe it's at least very problematic, as the aliens/demons are indistinguishable from the “deus deceptor”.

P.S.
Sorry if I'm being slow with my replies, I have to go to church, write a graduate thesis and occasionally get some sleep :)
Not that I'm complaining.

BenYachov said...

It's my Anniversary. I met my wife(who is Catholic like me) at a Messianic Jewish Passover Seder. So every year I go to that Seder & Kibbitz with my Boychiks there. Tomorrow we are going to the Seder which is how I celebrate Easter.

Go figure?

As of tomorrow I would have known my wife a total of 24 years.

Matt Sheean said...

As for your responses to the questions (thank you for trimming the verbiage, btw)

1. Why should I expect that your model of "empirical persistence" is better than the sort of reasons I and others here deduce from nature? This seems like a case of "one mans trash is another's treasure" to me. It seems to me that you prioritize your senses over reason!

2. I think you don't understand what I'm saying here. Put another way... I'm a neuroscientist and a Thomist, I believe it is a demonstration of pure reason that certain human actions are primarily immaterial, but having physical correlates (formal thinking, for instance, such as maths, deduction and such). What would prevent me from being just as proficient as the next neuroscientist at adopting the pragmatic strategies requisite to good neuroscience? Why couldn't I believe that what I deduced rationally, that abstract thinking is immaterial, and that a certain part of the brain is involved in abstract thinking are both true?

Matt Sheean said...

"What is more likely? That someone removed the body, or that God himself in human form rose from the death and ascended to heaven?"

I hope this wasn't rhetorical. Neither is more likely put this way

Step2 said...

Why couldn’t a sufficiently sophisticated alien technology bring someone back from the dead?

Since this is occasionally a comics fanblog, Phil Coulson in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was resurrected precisely this way. Would anyone question the veracity of the Great Author Stan Lee? That’s my appeal to authority and I’m sticking to it :)

And Happy Anniversary to BenYachov.

Georgy Mancz said...

@dguller

Sorry if I'm being a bit unsystematic.

The approach is not to claim that “swoon theory”/the hallucination theory/Christ's body being stolen/conspiracy of the disciples (discussed here earlier, I believe) are impossible or improbable per se, but per accidens, in context of what we know. For example, Christ surviving scourging, carrying the cross, being crucified, then sealed off in a tomb, clothed there – all of this would preclude His survival. Context and what it allow for is what's paramount, not some vague Humean generalities.

“Yes, hallucinations never have a religious content.”

I get the joke, but that's not what I said, is it? The innovativeness and novelty of concepts is what's important here.




“So, if an account is made about an event, and that account is both made soon after the event and the account is incommensurate with the religious and cultural background of those saying and hearing it, then … that account is likely to be true? For example, if someone claimed to see Jesus Christ present himself and state that Christianity is false, and this claim is made a mere hours after the event, then would you say that this person must be telling the truth? “

That wasn't my claim at all. The main reason I mention the fact that the report was made rather early (again, before the writing of the Gospels, as evident in St. Paul's First Epistle to Corinthians (ch. 15), where he relays the account received from the Apostles shortly after his conversion and communication with the Apostles) is that it speaks very strongly against it being a myth, report being made soon after the event. The religious and cultural background is mentioned as factor precluding the disciples simply inventing something that novel and radical for no apparent reason (no material present). If a miracle occurred/report is made in a situation comparable to that of the Resurrection (all the factors speaking against other hypotheses, conspiracy, lying etc.) where Jesus proclaims that Christianity is false and all the other revealed bits are compatible with metaphysics and natural theology I'd probably consider it genuine, yes. “Probably” is inserted here as the other indication of divine approval of revelation is prophecy, as St. Thomas notes, and as a Christian I've been warned against this. But I can't tell at this point, all the things being vague and thinking of analogous miracles and circumstances is, as I'm sure you understand, somewhat difficult.

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