CPBD 017: Matt McCormick – Theism and Double Standards

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 11, 2010 in Podcast

cpbd017

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview atheist philosopher of religion Matt McCormick. Among other things, we discuss:

  • philosophical atheism
  • the New Atheism

mccormickDownload CPBD episode 017 with Matt McCormick. Total time is 35:03.

Matt McCormick links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 247 comments… read them below or add one }

Briang February 11, 2010 at 9:34 am

Matt seems to misunderstand Markan priority and the two-source hypothesis. While it’s true that scholars generally think that Matthew and Luke used material from Mark, they don’t think that they used Mark exclusively. So his conclusion that we only have Mark and John is incorrect. Matthew and Luke are also believed to have used another source, called Q. In addition Matthew and Luke each have special material that is not dependent on either of these sources.

This is basic stuff. This is stuff I was taught in my 100 level theology class.

[rant]
One thing that I’m finding annoying is that I see Christians getting taken to the task for going outside their area of expertise. (e.g. Plantinga’s criticism of evolution). However, atheists do the exact same thing. It’s not just that they don’t understand some technical obscure theory that would be only known to those working in the field, they don’t even know the basic stuff taught in undergraduate classes. In this example, first-year undergraduate material. I’m not just talking about the typical atheist blogger. I’m talking about atheists working at academic institutions, who could easily audit a course from another department or talk to someone in another department.
Of course whenever anyone points this out, they’re told that religion is so silly, why should anyone have to study it?
[/rant]

Of course I’m not saying all atheists do this.

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Haecceitas February 11, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Yeah, and I even found his comments on Plantinga a bit misleading. While Plantinga does say that arguments for theism aren’t needed for warranted belief, he doesn’t say that there aren’t any arguments that would qualify as “good” by the same standards that apply to any other philosophical arguments (indeed, Plantinga thinks that there are at least two dozen or so). So it seems to me that either Matt is misrepresenting Plantinga or he’s employing a double standard (regarding what counts as a good philosophical argument), which would be kind of ironic, given his claim that it’s the Christians who employ a double standard.

Also, he argues against the resurrection almost like he’s totally ignorant of the role of Paul’s writings and the underlying early oral traditions in the case for the resurrection.

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Matt McCormick February 11, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I don’t recall my exact words in the interview, but I’m well aware of the Q source hypothesis, which has been hotly contested btw. A number of scholars insist that there is no single unified source Q that provided the material to M and L. If I said that M and L contain nothing but the material in Mark, I didn’t intend that nor do I believe it. The rant is, as you say, a rant, and isn’t an accurate assessment of my position nor my mistakes.

MM

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Haecceitas February 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Matt, since you are participating on this blog, I’d like to make one more comment/question. On the issue of the incompatible properties arguments, do you see any kind of an analogy between the perceived incompatibility of divine attributes and the apparent incompatibility of relativity theory & quantum mechanics? To what extent can we apply the principles behind your criticism in the former case to the latter?

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Matt McCormick February 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm

It’s always hard to say anything short about Plantinga. He’s changed his view a lot over the decades, and these days when you couch everything he says within the context of a reformed epistemology framework, then the notion of what it means for an argument to “work” has really changed. There are lots of arguments that work, he thinks, within the reformed epistemology context. But then that’s easy, of course, because within that framework, you take the existence of God as a basic belief that doesn’t really need any justification. So it’s not surprising that you’d find some arguments good ones when you already believe the conclusion. If he thinks that there are dozens of sound arguments for the existence of God that should be compelling to someone who doesn’t accept the reformed epist. framework, he’s mistaken. The nice thing about being a reformed epistemologist is that you get to reject all those views that disagree with you, but since your view is basic, you don’t have to justify it. If I had any sense, I would adopt the non-existence of God as a properly basic belief and stop trying to have reasonable arguments with believers.

On incompatibility arguments: Richard Gale takes a position that you might like about the function of disputes over God’s properties. He thinks that the dialogue over the meaning of the properties helps us to develop our conception of God and make it evolve into something more sophisticated. We should do that with some things if it looks productive. But if the fundamental attributions of properties can’t really be worked out and centuries of effort doesn’t hold any promise of giving us a viable account of God, at some point you’ve just got to scrap it like phlogiston or evil demons and move on. We’re way past that with God–if we weren’t why would believers have ever come up with reformed epistemology to barricade God off from objections?

MM

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svenjamin February 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Briang,

Where a theologically minded study of NT sources might conclude that the authors of Matthew and Luke had “different independent sources”, others without prior commitment to considering the gospels historically accurate find ‘artistic liberties.’ Where Matt and Luke are consistent, they tend to agree with Mark. Where the synoptics diverge, it tends to be a difference between Matt and Luke. While there is common material to Matt and Luke that is not found in Mark, its presentation in the later synoptics has been significantly tailored to the respective themes of that particular gospel.

For example, to the best of my knowledge it is the scholarly consensus that Matt. was written with a Jewish-Christian market in mind, i.e. the “Jesus-as-the-new-and-better-Moses motif.” With this in mind, the birth narrative of Jesus in Matt. in which he is rescued from an Evil King (Herod/Pharoah) trying to kill all the male children, and sent into Egypt to take refuge. None of this is mentioned in the other gospels, nor do the baby-killing scenario and tax census have any historical verification (again, to the best of my knowledge). This seems to me to be good evidence that the author of Matt was embellishing his story to fit his rhetorical ends, not evidence for special source material.

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lukeprog February 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm

McCormick,

I’m glad you came by to defend yourself. :)

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Matt McCormick February 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I’m glad that folks have listened to the interview and they are responding to it. It’s pretty disheartening, though, to see that Briang was prepare to almost immediately launch into an attack on my professional qualifications and make sweeping uncharitable generalizations about atheists or “academic atheists” on the basis of my perceived mistakes.

As for being completely ignorant of Paul writings, or the oral tradition business: It’s not that I don’t know anything about it, it’s that I find the gymnastics that folks have gone to in order to squeeze some support for the Gospel resurrection stories to be implausible. Paul adds very little to the history of the manuscripts that should lead us to increase our estimations of the overall fidelity of the transmission of information.

The oral tradition point has been similarly warped in an effort to shore up the Jesus story. The Jewish oral tradition was a special method of communicating a specific body of law elaborations from Rabbi to student. Jesus, you will recall, was a radical with untraditional ideas that were resisted by the bulk of the Jewish community. Suggesting that the Rabbis would have immediately incorporated stories about his resurrection (given their implications) into their communications of the Torah to their students really stretches credibility. Furthermore, it’s well established that in the first few centuries lots of people were talking, as people will do, about this Jesus character and his alleged feats. So all the obvious reservations should apply to our taking what amounts to little more than gossip as Gospel, as it were. But all of those points will provoke some more personal attacks on me, no doubt from your believer audience, Luke. I am completely ignorant and unqualified, of course, and shouldn’t be expressing any doubts about our Lard and Savior.

MM

Briang

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Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth February 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm

As I state, after eons and reams of paper, theists haven’t and never will have support for God, and so we can give God no “patent’ any more than patent officers can give patents for perpetual motion machines, and ,so where there should be mountains of evidence for Him, and none arises, it is no argument from ignorance and in accordance with Charles Moore’s auto-epistemic rule, that here indeed absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Theists ever put old garbage into new cans that we them empty. In fact, the original Carneades, the first ignostic, keel hauled theism eons ago as shown in the article about him in ” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.”
Carneades/ Ignostic Morgan
Google skeptic griggsy for new atheism.

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Just heard the podcast. A couple observations:

(1) As I see it, reformed epistemology tries to put belief in God on a par with belief in an external world. That is, I gather that most philosophers nowadays have stopped arguing that there is a knockdown argument against external-world skepticism and instead think that it’s permissible to accept the existence of an external world as being a given. Some theists like Plantinga think that if it’s okay for the goose, then it’s okay for the gander. The trick is figuring out why, if it’s okay for the external world (is it?), that it should not be okay for God.

(2) I was surprised that McCormick only came up with Craig as an example of a philosopher who tries actually to argue that God exists. I know McCormick doesn’t think Craig is the only one who claims that argument can prove the existence of God, but Swinburne is a much more prominent example, at least among philosophers. I think, though, that there’s a whole tradition of philosophers who follow in Swinburne’s wake, for instance Timothy and Lydia McGrew, Alexander Pruss, Joshua Rasmussen, Trent Dougherty, Brian Davies (and most Catholic philosophers, to be frank), and others.

(3) As for incompatible properties arguments, it’s a good question why theistic philosophers haven’t responded much to them. But it’s also a good question, I think, whether it’s true that theists haven’t come up with responses to them. Plantinga had a famous exchange with Grim over omniscience, Edward Wierenga, Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig, Johsua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz, Tom Morris, and Brian Leftow, among others (I could also mention Paul Helm and Katherin Rogers) have all written books on the compossibility of the divine attributes, and of course Thomas Flint and Alfred J. Freddoso and Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann have written important papers on them. And that’s just off the top of my head.

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lukeprog February 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Matt,

Looks like you’ve hit some nerves! :)

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Oh, I forgot to add: I think the claim that Kant’s criticism is the one that refuted the ontological argument is overstated. There are a fair number of philosophers who think, even if existence isn’t a property, that necessary existence is. Moreover, if we accept Kripke’s argument for the necessary non-existence of Santa Claus, then it seems like the way is open for existence, or at least necessary existence, being a property. After all, if it’s a property of Santa that he’s necessarily nonexistent, why couldn’t it be a property of God that he’s necessarily existent?

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Lorkas February 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Robert Gressis: The trick is figuring out why, if it’s okay for the external world (is it?), that it should not be okay for God.

Well, it seems to me that we need to accept the existence of the external world for practical reasons. We can’t even have a conversation if the external world doesn’t exist, but that’s not true for the existence of God as far as I can tell.

This doesn’t mean that we actually have to hold the existence of the external world to be established–only that we should carry on as if it does, because everything stops if we believe that the external world doesn’t actually exist.

The second problem with this is that even if we grant that it can be reasonable to assume that there is a conscious creator and ground-of-all-being, that doesn’t imply in the least that it’s reasonable to believe anything specific about that deity like whether or not he has a “son” or whether or not he wrote a book for human beings to read and base their lives on. It doesn’t even imply that he knows we exist. Most of the philosophers making these arguments are trying to piggy-back entirely unfounded assertions on this maybe-plausible argument for deism.

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Hi Lorkas,

It could be that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God is needed for practical purposes–this, anyway, is what Kant thought. But regardless, it’s not clear to me that you need to assume a mind-independent external world even for practical purposes. You could be a solipsist and think everyone you talk to is an interesting figment of your imagination; or you could believe that they all result from the evil demon; or you could be an idealist and assume that all that is needed are perceptions and perceivers and desires and desirers. I don’t see why you *need*, for practical purposes, to assume that there is a world that is stable, that has certain features regardless of what anyone thinks of them, and that would continue to have those features even if no perceivers continued to exist, or ever existed in the first place.

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Matt McCormick February 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Again, thanks all for listening and devoting some thought to my discussion with Luke. I seem to be being faulted for several things, one of which is not giving due credit to a long list of favored theistic philosophers. I’ll remind everyone that it was a brief phone interview–you don’t really want to listen to the hours and hours of discussion it would take to adequately address my thoughts on all of these philosophers and their views. There are nearly 200 essays over on my blog, however, where many of these issues do get addressed. Swinburne’s arguments, while very popular among Christians, are patently bad ones, but it’s hard to say which are worse–his or Craig’s. Kant and the ontological argument are being misrepresented here, but that’s a long and tedious topic. And honestly, I doubt that any but a tiny minority of philosophical theists would claim that they believe because some carefully crafted post-Kripkean version of the ontological argument works. I take Plantinga’s admission in the 70s that his own best effort to give the ontological argument doesn’t prove the existence of God to someone who doesn’t already believe to be quite revealing.

Notice that atheists are being asked to respond to two very different and mutually exclusive challenges. On the reformed epist. view, believers help themselves to a God belief because, evidently, if our belief in the external world is not adequately justified, then the doors are open to adopt whatever ideas we like. It would be a mistake to think that defending the claim that God belief is unreasonable requires proving the reasonableness of an external world belief. There is a very long list of reasons why we should be very suspicious of any putative supernatural belief claim, not to mention the particularly bizarre Christian or Calvinist one that is so popular among philosophical theists. Second, it is demanded that we respond to all of the allegedly sound arguments for the existence of God too, never mind that many of the same folks making that challenge have also insisted that God belief requires no justification or proof because it is properly basic. So which is it? If you’re going to take the reformed epistemology route and just annex the God belief and barricade it off entirely from rational analysis, you’ve signaled that you’re just not going to entertain the possibility that believing is mistaken. You’ve declared your intention to belief no matter what. Once you’ve done that, I don’t see why any of the rest of us who want to figure out what’s reasonable to believe should engage.

“I am going to take a belief in God as axiomatic, and since my belief requires no justification, there are no objections or critical analyses that could possibly undermine it. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep talking to you and arguing that you are wrong about what’s reasonable and pressing you to accept the arguments for the existence of God.”

I am prepared to accept that the evidence or the arguments could give us substantial grounds for believing that God is real. My atheism is defeasible. (And I think it would be laughable for an atheist to pull the same reformed move: “My belief that there is no God is properly basic, and therefore it requires no justification and cannot be undermined by any rational considerations.)

So it seems to me that we are not playing by the same rules, and nobody likes playing with a cheater, or with someone who simply changes the rules so that they win no matter what.

MM

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lukeprog February 11, 2010 at 9:12 pm

“So it seems to me that we are not playing by the same rules, and nobody likes playing with a cheater.”

Exactly.

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Briang February 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Matt,

I listened to what you said again, and it did sound like you said that Matthew and Luke got all their information from Mark, and so we only have Mark and John. Thank you for coming back to clarify your position. I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions.

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Matt McCormick February 11, 2010 at 9:38 pm

If I said that, Briang, I was probably thinking specifically about the resurrection story. And the claim is true about that part alone. The Q material, if there is a single Q source, is a collections of sayings and other material. It appears to be widely accepted that Matthew and Luke got the resurrection story from Mark. And it’s interesting to note that the whole ending of Mark that includes the info about Jesus’ return and discussions with the apostles was added another 200 years later or so.

I take quibbling about these details to be unimportant in the big picture, however. Even if we were to grant contrary to fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul all were eyewitnesses themselves and we took their writings in that light, the case for the resurrection of Jesus would still be grossly underdetermined. The fidelity of the transmission process that got their writings to us is too low, and too many epistemological and psychological factors undermine their reliability as witnesses.

MM

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Briang February 11, 2010 at 10:13 pm

svenjamin: Briang, Where a theologically minded study of NT sources might conclude that the authors of Matthew and Luke had “different independent sources”, others without prior commitment to considering the gospels historically accurate find ‘artistic liberties.’ Where Matt and Luke are consistent, they tend to agree with Mark. Where the synoptics diverge, it tends to be a difference between Matt and Luke. While there is common material to Matt and Luke that is not found in Mark, its presentation in the later synoptics has been significantly tailored to the respective themes of that particular gospel.
For example, to the best of my knowledge it is the scholarly consensus that Matt. was written with a Jewish-Christian market in mind, i.e. the “Jesus-as-the-new-and-better-Moses motif.” With this in mind, the birth narrative of Jesus in Matt. in which he is rescued from an Evil King (Herod/Pharoah) trying to kill all the male children, and sent into Egypt to take refuge. None of this is mentioned in the other gospels, nor do the baby-killing scenario and tax census have any historical verification (again, to the best of my knowledge). This seems to me to be good evidence that the author of Matt was embellishing his story to fit his rhetorical ends, not evidence for special source material.  

I think that Matthew did arrange his material to show Jesus as a new Moses, but I think this is consistent with the view that he also had additional source(s). This becomes the most apparent when you see passages going against the redactional tendencies of the author. One example is in Matthew’s story of the guard at the tomb. Matthew is the only Gospel that says anything about a guard at the tomb. The reason the Pharisees wanted the guard was Jesus’ prediction that he would rise after “three days”. But Matthew’s redactional preference was “the third day” for Jesus’ prediction. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus predicted his resurrection three times and in each instance Matthew changed Mark’s “three days” to “third day.” This shows that Matthew had a preference for the “third day” making it unlikely that the passage was his invention. There are several other reasons that point in the same general direction. See Dale Alison’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Matthew (I think the list reasons may be in a footnote.)

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 10:19 pm

“I seem to be being faulted for several things, one of which is not giving due credit to a long list of favored theistic philosophers. I’ll remind everyone that it was a brief phone interview–you don’t really want to listen to the hours and hours of discussion it would take to adequately address my thoughts on all of these philosophers and their views.”

I was responding to is your claim, which I thought (perhaps wrongly) I heard, that very few theists rely on natural theology for their belief in theism. In my experience, that’s not true–many theists do, but many don’t, and I’m not sure which is more numerous. I gave Swinburne, the McGrews, Pruss, etc., as examples of theists who depend on natural theology for their theism to support my own assertion that there is a whole tradition, active to this day, of such theists. I did not mean to imply that, since you didn’t talk about them, that you have no response to them.

“I take Plantinga’s admission in the 70s that his own best effort to give the ontological argument doesn’t prove the existence of God to someone who doesn’t already believe to be quite revealing.”

I guess I don’t take it as to be as revealing as you. From what I recall, Plantinga thought that the success of the modal OA depended on whether or not one thought it was possible that a concrete being could exist necessarily. He had the intuition that such a being could, but if you didn’t have the intuition, he didn’t know how to argue for it. In other words, what I took Plantinga to be doing was encouraging his fellow Christian philosophers to be giving up the claim that there are any knock-down arguments for the existence of God that depend on premises that are uncontroversial.

“Notice that atheists are being asked to respond to two very different and mutually exclusive challenges. On the reformed epist. view, believers help themselves to a God belief because, evidently, if our belief in the external world is not adequately justified, then the doors are open to adopt whatever ideas we like. … Second, it is demanded that we respond to all of the allegedly sound arguments for the existence of God too, never mind that many of the same folks making that challenge have also insisted that God belief requires no justification or proof because it is properly basic. So which is it?”

This part confuses me a bit, because in my experience (which I admit, could be quite misleading and limited), most of the philosophers who are reformed epistemologists don’t care much for natural theology and most of the philosophers who believe in God on the basis of natural theology don’t accept reformed epistemology. That said, I don’t see how giving arguments for the existence of God while also accepting reformed epistemology is at odds with itself. For instance, as I interpret him, Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism seems to run like this: reliabilism provides the best account of knowledge; if you accept reliabilism and evolutionary theory, then you ought to accept theism; therefore, you ought to accept theism. Obviously, if you’re not moved by reliabilism, then this argument will be a non-starter for you. But if you are, then it has application.

“Kant and the ontological argument are being misrepresented here, but that’s a long and tedious topic.”

My AOS is Kant’s philosophy of religion, so if you have any papers on this, I’d be very interested in them.

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Briang February 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Matt,

By “resurrection story” do you mean the empty tomb narrative?

The longer ending of Mark is quoted by Irenaeus in 180 AD and he gives no indication that it is in doubt. So it couldn’t have been added 200 years after Mark, that would date the ending at 270 AD.

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 11:01 pm

The more I think about it, the more I think my bringing up the notion of the lack of proof for a mind-independent external world was misleading. I think a better parallel for the basicality of belief in God comes from discussions in the epistemology literature of the problem of the criterion. I don’t know that literature particularly well, but I was reading Earnest Sosa’s “The Raft and the Pyramid”, and I think some of the God-as-a-basic-belief stuff can be seen as spinning off of what Sosa calls “particularism”, the view that there are certain bits of knowledge that we know, and that any epistemological theory according to which we don’t know those things, because our knowing those things isn’t a deliverance of a proper method for arriving at true beliefs, is one we can reject. Obviously, it’s easy for people to be dogmatic about beliefs if they accept particularism, but while there’s that worry, it doesn’t seem to me to spell doom for particularism.

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lukeprog February 11, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Briang,

Holy crap, you think the long ending of Mark is original to Mark? I didn’t realize anybody still thought that…

Robert Gressis,

I agree with you that natural theology is alive and well. Also, Matt did say in this interview that “Matthew and Luke take all their material from Mark,” which is obviously a flub. Nobody thinks that Matthew and Luke take all their material from Mark.

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Robert Gressis February 11, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I certainly don’t want to hold Matt to every word in that phone call, and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I thought the phone call represented his final word on the subject. That said, sentiments can be picked up from what he said that don’t appear to be flubs, and I took his claim that few philosophers of religion do natural theology to be a remark that didn’t have the indicia of being a flub (if he had said no philosopher of religion does it, then I wouldn’t have took him to have been making anything more than a generalization; but if he had said relatively few do, that wouldn’t sound to me like the kind of thing that’s a flub. But maybe I misheard him? Or maybe he’s right that few theists do NT relative to the ones who take a properly basic approach).

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Briang February 11, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Luke,

I didn’t mean to imply that. All I’m saying is that it’s significantly earlier then Matt suggested. I’m haven’t done much research on the dating of the passage, so I didn’t put down a specific number, but from what I’ve heard it’s dated to the 2nd century.
I’m not aware of any scholar who argues that it’s original. Although there are scholars who think that Mark had a different longer ending that is now lost.

My reason for saying that “he gives no indication that it is in doubt” is something like this. Assuming that Irenaeus didn’t add the passage himself, there must have been a time for it to have been added circulated and read by Irenaeus, such that he didn’t suspect there to be a problem. So I’d guess it was written significantly earlier then Irenaeus’s writing. How much earlier? I don’t think I can put a number to it without more study.

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Kyle February 12, 2010 at 12:59 am

it is demanded that we respond to all of the allegedly sound arguments for the existence of God too, never mind that many of the same folks making that challenge have also insisted that God belief requires no justification or proof because it is properly basic. So which is it? If you’re going to take the reformed epistemology route and just annex the God belief and barricade it off entirely from rational analysis, you’ve signaled that you’re just not going to entertain the possibility that believing is mistaken. You’ve declared your intention to belief no matter what. Once you’ve done that, I don’t see why any of the rest of us who want to figure out what’s reasonable to believe should engage.

I think you need to reread Plantinga. Plantinga argues that it is possible to provide defeaters for basic beliefs. He has engaged with many of these defeaters against belief in God and believes that they are all lacking in some way, but he does not claim that belief in God is immune to rational analysis.

Its just like belief in the external world. I don’t really think I need an argument to believe that it exists, but that doesn’t stop me considering arguments for and against it.

Also, why shouldn’t Plantinga offer arguments for God’s existence? It’s not being dishonest. Suppose you have three basic beliefs: a, b and c. One day you notice that there is an argument from b and c to a, so you start working on this argument. What’s the problem? Just because he already accepts a doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real argument there, and it may be convincing to some who accepts b and c, but previously did not accept a.

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Haecceitas February 12, 2010 at 1:36 am

Matt,

How would you substantiate the claim that reformed epistemology is something that the believers came up with to barricade God off from objections? Plantinga for example seems to be quite willing to deal with every objection to theism that he thinks has any epistemic force. Aren’t you conflating the issue of need for positive arguments and the need to deal with defeaters for a properly basic belief?

“Paul adds very little to the history of the manuscripts that should lead us to increase our estimations of the overall fidelity of the transmission of information.”

The transmission of the NT texts isn’t even in question to the extent that it would make any significant difference to the historicity of the resurrection. The point about Paul isn’t about the transmission of the text. It’s about the fact that it’s Paul rather than the Gospels who is our earliest written source about the resurrection. And it’s my understanding that it’s widely accepted position among the NT scholars (not some special pleading by Christian apologists!) that the formula in 1. Corinthians 15 goes back to the early Jerusalem community, only years from the event at most.

“The oral tradition point has been similarly warped in an effort to shore up the Jesus story. The Jewish oral tradition was a special method of communicating a specific body of law elaborations from Rabbi to student. Jesus, you will recall, was a radical with untraditional ideas that were resisted by the bulk of the Jewish community. Suggesting that the Rabbis would have immediately incorporated stories about his resurrection (given their implications) into their communications of the Torah to their students really stretches credibility”

I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was referring to Jewish oral traditions. The point I wanted to make was about the early oral traditions within Christian communities that have made their way to Paul’s writings. This can be inferred from the presence of aramaism, non-pauline vocabulary, technical terms for the transmission of oral tradition (as in 1. Cor. 15), etc. And we know from Paul’s own writings that he was in touch with the leading figures of the early Jerusalem church.

“It appears to be widely accepted that Matthew and Luke got the resurrection story from Mark.”

But clearly the resurrection narratives in both Matthew and Luke contain material that isn’t in Mark. One would need some pretty convincing arguments to show that these originate completely from the authors’ creative imagination.

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ayer February 12, 2010 at 6:00 am

Kyle: I think you need to reread Plantinga. Plantinga argues that it is possible to provide defeaters for basic beliefs. He has engaged with many of these defeaters against belief in God and believes that they are all lacking in some way, but he does not claim that belief in God is immune to rational analysis.
Its just like belief in the external world. I don’t really think I need an argument to believe that it exists, but that doesn’t stop me considering arguments for and against it.

Exactly. There is no contradiction between holding a properly basic belief and also offering rational arguments for that belief. Both paths to knowledge could independently result in the same conclusion, namely, “God exists.” (Or see Plantinga’s analogy of the innocent man accused of a crime–he knows he is innocent whether the external evidence is stacked against him or not, even to the point of having an “intrinsic defeater-defeater” for the accusation against him; but if he points to any evidence that is in his favor to make his case to others, he is perfectly consistent with believing in his innocence on noninferential, nonevidential grounds).

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lukeprog February 12, 2010 at 7:32 am

Briang,

Ah, thanks for clarifying.

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Justfinethanks February 12, 2010 at 7:59 am

(Or see Plantinga’s analogy of the innocent man accused of a crime–he knows he is innocent whether the external evidence is stacked against him or not, even to the point of having an “intrinsic defeater-defeater” for the accusation against him; but if he points to any evidence that is in his favor to make his case to others, he is perfectly consistent with believing in his innocence on noninferential, nonevidential grounds

I hate this example for two reasons:

Firstly, if I were accused of a crime, and there was genuinely massive evidence to support that I did it, but I don’t remember doing it at all, I would believe the evidence. Just because I know how faulty the human memory and cognative faculties are.

Secondly, in determining the question of God, I don’t think we are the defendant in this example, I think we are the jury. Surely you don’t think that it is perfectly acceptable to acquit a man who has massive evidence of his guilt simply because he has a strong inner conviction of his innocence?

This kind of special pleading is really what McCormick was talking about when he says that what Christians accept on Sunday morning at church would never fly on Monday morning at work.

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ayer February 12, 2010 at 8:32 am

Justfinethanks:
I hate this example for two reasons:Firstly, if I were accused of a crime, and there was genuinely massive evidence to support that I did it, but I don’t remember doing it at all, I would believe the evidence. Just because I know how faulty the human memory and cognative faculties are.Secondly, in determining the question of God, I don’t think we are the defendant in this example, I think we are the jury.Surely you don’t think that it is perfectly acceptable to acquit a man who has massive evidence of his guilt simply because he has a strong inner conviction of his innocence?This kind of special pleading is really what McCormick was talking about when he says that what Christians accept on Sunday morning at church would never fly on Monday morning at work.  

That’s an idiosycratic fact about you, but is irrelevant to the point that you would be violating no epistemic duties in regarding belief in your innocence as justified, just as the Jodie Foster character in “Contact” (as was discussed in another thread) was completely justified in her belief in the genuineness of her “encounter” experience even though the evidence was against her:

http://www.youtube.com/watch#v=-FbSPXC4btU&feature=related

Justfinethanks: Secondly, in determining the question of God, I don’t think we are the defendant in this example, I think we are the jury. Surely you don’t think that it is perfectly acceptable to acquit a man who has massive evidence of his guilt simply because he has a strong inner conviction of his innocence?

That is irrelevant to the question, which is not what a jury would ultimately find, but whether the accused violates any epistemic duties in maintaining that his belief in his innocence is justified. As Plantinga notes, he does not.

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Lorkas February 12, 2010 at 9:26 am

Kyle: I think you need to reread Plantinga. Plantinga argues that it is possible to provide defeaters for basic beliefs.

He also argues that he has an intrinsic defeater defeater that beats all of them no matter what, so this point falls a little flat when we’re speaking about Plantinga’s view on arguments about God.

I might as well say “My belief in invisible pink unicorns can be disproven with reason, but you can’t really disprove it because I already know invisible pink unicorns exist because of my own experiences.” My assertion that it’s possible to disprove my claim about IPU is hardly relevant anymore after I assert that no reason or evidence is strong enough to beat my intrinsic defeater defeater.

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

It’s tempting to try to respond to the increasingly sprawling list of objections here, but I don’t think that will get us very far except to reveal other more remote philosophical commitments and disputes.

But there seem to be a lot of people here who have thought a lot about reformed epistemology, so I wonder if I could get some input. Maybe you all can just help me understand what this immediate, direct, non-inferential, basic apprehension of God is, exactly. I’m not really interested in theoretical interpretations or descriptions that are couched in abstract theological babble. I just want to hear some descriptions of the actual phenomenology of these moments, experiences, or apprehensions. Describe the sorts of feelings, sights, smells, or apprehensions that are occurring when one is having this direct hookup with God. For analogies, we have the Jodie Foster contacts aliens example and a guy who knows he didn’t commit a crime because he recalls being at home watching TV on Saturday night and not robbing a liquor store, or whatever. But obviously, one’s encounters with the almighty creator of the universe and master of all reality aren’t really going to be like either of these in any shape, manner, or form. So what exactly are they like? And what is it about them that engenders such profound confidence and such strong ontological conclusions?

MM

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

Lorkas:
He also argues that he has an intrinsic defeater defeater that beats all of them no matter what, so this point falls a little flat when we’re speaking about Plantinga’s view on arguments about God.I might as well say “My belief in invisible pink unicorns can be disproven with reason, but you can’t really disprove it because I already know invisible pink unicorns exist because of my own experiences.” My assertion that it’s possible to disprove my claim about IPU is hardly relevant anymore after I assert that no reason or evidence is strong enough to beat my intrinsic defeater defeater.  

Yeah, I think this is essentially right. But there are a lot of variations on RE now. Plantinga does make some nominal efforts to deal with Marx and Freud (hardly the most serious objections to modern philosophical theism).

With someone like William Lane Craig you get outright categorical statements that his direct experience of the Holy Ghost gives him knowledge that cannot be undermined by any other considerations, evidence, or arguments. That is fixed in his epistemology and he acknowledges that he will make every thing else he encounters conform to it at all costs. So its really hard not to see his involvement in debates and arguments as disingenuous. His special private access to God renders all of that irrelevant.

MM

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Kyle February 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

He also argues that he has an intrinsic defeater defeater that beats all of them no matter what

He doesn’t say that. He argues that belief in God can act as a defeater-defeater, that that it will no matter what.

Maybe you all can just help me understand what this immediate, direct, non-inferential, basic apprehension of God is, exactly.

I’m not sure that exactly is possible, but here’s a go. I think it is similar to my knowledge of basic mathematical truths, or to simple statements about right and wrong. That is, it doesn’t have a feeling, or smell, or anything like that about them.

Sometimes it is not really God’s existence that seems obvious, rather it is that the world around me points to a God. I think it things that that that may make the design argument so appealing to many, even though a good version does not exist.

For analogies, we have the Jodie Foster contacts aliens example and a guy who knows he didn’t commit a crime because he recalls being at home watching TV on Saturday night and not robbing a liquor store, or whatever. But obviously, one’s encounters with the almighty creator of the universe and master of all reality aren’t really going to be like either of these in any shape, manner, or form.

I have never had an encounter with God and I don’t know anyone who I think has had an encounter with God. Having an encounter with God would be very different. Knowing that God exists is a lot more like ordinary knowledge.

A word of warning: I think you may be disappointed by the answers to this question because they may differ considerably. Just in the same way that philosophical theories about perception, intuition and introspection all differ.

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ayer February 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Kyle: I’m not sure that exactly is possible, but here’s a go. I think it is similar to my knowledge of basic mathematical truths, or to simple statements about right and wrong.

Yes, that’s a good point. One knows that God exists in a basic way in the manner that one knows that other people have minds (and are not carefully constructed androids) or that one knows that torturing babies for fun is morally wrong. So properly basic knowledge is in the neighborhood of, but not exactly the same as an “experiential encounter with God”, although such an experience would produce justified belief in a similar, noninferential way (as in the “Contact” movie or the example of the innocent man). In the case of both properly basic knowledge and a “Contact”-like or “mystical” experience, one violates no epistemic duties in holding beliefs based thereon without the production of arguments and evidence.

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Josh February 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

ayer:
That’s an idiosycratic fact about you, but is irrelevant to the point that you would be violating no epistemic duties in regarding belief in your innocence as justified, just as the Jodie Foster character in “Contact” (as was discussed in another thread) was completely justified in her belief in the genuineness of her “encounter” experience even though the evidence was against her:http://www.youtube.com/watch#v=-FbSPXC4btU&feature=related

I thought we talked about this before, since in the case of Contact, there WAS evidence, it was just hidden. Hidden by people who had a reason to hide it (whereas god has no reason to hide his evidence). Moreover, I would say that GIVEN the fallibility of human memory and cognitive capability, you ARE violating an epistemic duty by saying “LOL MY FEELINGZ IZ BETTAR THAN UR EVIDENZ”

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for trying Kyle, but that doesn’t help me understand at all. First of all, comparing it to one’s mathematical knowledge from the outset is question begging. The whole question at hand is whether or not one is entitled to call these feelings or deliverances knowledge. When I apprehend that 2 + 2 = 4, I would claim to know it, of course. But the sensations or mental feels of that apprehension are something different. The sentence seems to just fit, or make sense or be comfortable, or not dissonant in the way that 2 + 2 = 5 is not. Plantinga insists that he just apprehends that God is angry with him the way that he apprehends that someone is smiling at him. It just comes to him unbidden through his senses. That’s what I want to hear more about.

I keep asking this too, but no one responds: In all seriousness, what would the RE advocate say if I announce symmetrically that I am having a sensus atheistus that just informs me directly, immediately, basically that there exist no supernatural beings or gods. I have an intrinsic defeater defeater defeater. And mine, like William Lane Craig’s sense of the Holy Spirit, provides me with unassailable, incorrigible knowledge that cannot be undermined by any evidence, or any contrary reasons.

Just to be clear: I think that this is an utterly absurd position, but I may end having to explain why if a RE advocate bites this bullet.

MM

Kyle: He also argues that he has an intrinsic defeater defeater that beats all of them no matter whatHe doesn’t say that. He argues that belief in God can act as a defeater-defeater, that that it will no matter what.Maybe you all can just help me understand what this immediate, direct, non-inferential, basic apprehension of God is, exactly.I’m not sure that exactly is possible, but here’s a go. I think it is similar to my knowledge of basic mathematical truths, or to simple statements about right and wrong. That is, it doesn’t have a feeling, or smell, or anything like that about them.Sometimes it is not really God’s existence that seems obvious, rather it is that the world around me points to a God. I think it things that that that may make the design argument so appealing to many, even though a good version does not exist.For analogies, we have the Jodie Foster contacts aliens example and a guy who knows he didn’t commit a crime because he recalls being at home watching TV on Saturday night and not robbing a liquor store, or whatever. But obviously, one’s encounters with the almighty creator of the universe and master of all reality aren’t really going to be like either of these in any shape, manner, or form.I have never had an encounter with God and I don’t know anyone who I think has had an encounter with God. Having an encounter with God would be very different. Knowing that God exists is a lot more like ordinary knowledge.A word of warning: I think you may be disappointed by the answers to this question because they may differ considerably. Just in the same way that philosophical theories about perception, intuition and introspection all differ.  

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TaiChi February 12, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Kyle: Sometimes it is not really God’s existence that seems obvious, rather it is that the world around me points to a God.

How so, Kyle? Would you agree that this ‘pointing’ is cognitive, so that, even though you admit no persuasive version of the design argument has yet been found, still you would expect that there is one, which would underwrite your intuition? (I’m genuinely curious.)

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Kyle February 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

First of all, comparing it to one’s mathematical knowledge from the outset is question begging. The whole question at hand is whether or not one is entitled to call these feelings or deliverances knowledge.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand this comment. I thought you were asking what it was like, not for a justification of it.

Plantinga insists that he just apprehends that God is angry with him the way that he apprehends that someone is smiling at him. It just comes to him unbidden through his senses. That’s what I want to hear more about.

I’m not really sure what you mean. Just because a person knows something it doesn’t follow from that that they understand how they know. Suppose person A and person B meet person C; A knows C very well, B does not. After C leaves A says “C seemed very happy”, and B replies “You really think so? What made you think that?” and A answers “I don’t know, I can just tell”. Even if A can tell, it doesn’t follow that A understands how he can tell. Does it?

I keep asking this too, but no one responds: In all seriousness, what would the RE advocate say if I announce symmetrically that I am having a sensus atheistus that just informs me directly, immediately, basically that there exist no supernatural beings or gods. I have an intrinsic defeater defeater defeater. And mine, like William Lane Craig’s sense of the Holy Spirit, provides me with unassailable, incorrigible knowledge that cannot be undermined by any evidence, or any contrary reasons.

Well, that fine. As long as the sensus atheistus exists. According to Plantinga whether or not a belief is warranted depends upon whether it was produced by a properly functioning cognitive faculty. The asymmetry between theistic and atheistic belief is that according to theists we were created by God with the ability to know him, so the sensus divinitatis is plausible on that account. There is no plausible story on the atheist account that includes a sensus atheistus.

How so, Kyle? Would you agree that this ‘pointing’ is cognitive, so that, even though you admit no persuasive version of the design argument has yet been found, still you would expect that there is one, which would underwrite your intuition? (I’m genuinely curious.)

I don’t know. Perhaps there is no good design argument that doesn’t appeal to some sort of knowledge like this.

Sometimes with arguments one can see ones way through them before one can properly articulate them. I think this happens in philosophy a lot. You can often see a problem with some argument, before you are able to point out where it has gone wrong. Once you are able to show the error it does not mean you now know something you didn’t know before, only that you see it more clearly.

Suppose that what I know is ‘P: If God did not exist then there would be no order in the world’. As long as I really do know P then I have a sort of design argument, as long as I observe that there is order in the world. However, it does not follow from that that I could convince someone that this argument was any good who was not already persuaded of P.

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Thomas Reid February 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Matt McCormick:
I keep asking this too, but no one responds:In all seriousness, what would the RE advocate say if I announce symmetrically that I am having a sensus atheistus that just informs me directly, immediately, basically that there exist no supernatural beings or gods.I have an intrinsic defeater defeater defeater.And mine, like William Lane Craig’s sense of the Holy Spirit, provides me with unassailable, incorrigible knowledge that cannot be undermined by any evidence, or any contrary reasons.Just to be clear:I think that this is an utterly absurd position, but I may end having to explain why if a RE advocate bites this bullet.

A basic belief about the non-existence of something? How does that work? What does it mean to say one has non-propositional knowledge of a non-entity? Of what are you having an intuition? I don’t see that symmetry is even available here.

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ayer February 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Josh: I thought we talked about this before, since in the case of Contact, there WAS evidence, it was just hidden. Hidden by people who had a reason to hide it

That is irrelevant to the point that she was violating no epistemic duties regardless of the evidence. If the evidence did become available to her, she could use it to show that her belief was true–although those to whom she was presenting the evidence would not have the same sort of noninferential, nonevidential experiential knowledge she possessed. This is analogous to Craig’s distinction between “knowing” his faith is true and “showing” his faith is true. His knowledge is based on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, but the truth of his belief must be demonstrated through the use of argument and evidence (which the Holy Spirit then uses to draw listeners and readers to the triune God).

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Hermes February 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Thomas Reid: A basic belief about the non-existence of something? How does that work? What does it mean to say one has non-propositional knowledge of a non-entity? Of what are you having an intuition? I don’t see that symmetry is even available here.

I’ve experienced what Matt described in meditation, so yes, that type of claim is available and it is in the exact same category as Crag’s similar claim.

Unlike Craig, though, I don’t assert that that assessment gained from a meditative state is a preconception that others must contend with. Presuppositional apologetics of any form is intellectually bankrupt and a cheap method of dealing with questions that few Christians want to address.

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svenjamin February 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Hermes:
I’ve experienced what Matt described in meditation, so yes, that type of claim is available and it is in the exact same category as Crag’s similar claim.Unlike Craig, though, I don’t assert that that assessment gained from a meditative state is a preconception that others must contend with.Presuppositional apologetics of any form is intellectually bankrupt and a cheap method of dealing with questions that few Christians want to address.  

Are you by any chance referring to an experience of the Buddhist doctrine of non-self as directly perceived in meditation? If so, I think that would serve as an excellent counterpoint to WLC’s arguments from personal religious experience. In fact, I think the early Buddhist philosophical developments regarding the self provide pretty good arguments against Christian notions of a soul.

I recommend “Buddhism as Philosophy” by Mark Siderits to anyone interested in a western analytic philosophy approach to early Buddhist thought. I wish there were more books like it available.

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Thomas Reid:
A basic belief about the non-existence of something?How does that work?What does it mean to say one has non-propositional knowledge of a non-entity?Of what are you having an intuition?I don’t see that symmetry is even available here.  

Sounds like to me that the belief in God then isn’t really basic or something is fishy here. There’s a more fundamental principle that’s derived from I don’t know where that informs the agent that only intuited, direct apprehensions concerning existing entities make sense, but direct apprehensions of a supernatural void are not to be trusted. Was this principle that only the sensus divinitatus can be trusted but the sensus atheistus cannot also an instance of a basic apprehension?

Am I the only one who appreciates how embarrassingly circular this whole business is?

MM

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm

So the entire edifice of the ideology and the single most important metaphysical claim that we can consider all boils down to: “I don’t know, I can just tell.”? Do you really find that satisfying? You can just tell that God is real without being able to access more details about how it is that you know it, and you’re prepared to dismiss all of the alternative explanations of this feeling you’ve got on that basis?

I’m sorry, but I’m really having trouble taking you all seriously. I can’t tell if you’re putting me on, or if you really believe this.

MM

Kyle: First of all, comparing it to one’s mathematical knowledge from the outset is question begging. The whole question at hand is whether or not one is entitled to call these feelings or deliverances knowledge.I’m sorry, I don’t understand this comment. I thought you were asking what it was like, not for a justification of it.Plantinga insists that he just apprehends that God is angry with him the way that he apprehends that someone is smiling at him. It just comes to him unbidden through his senses. That’s what I want to hear more about.I’m not really sure what you mean. Just because a person knows something it doesn’t follow from that that they understand how they know. Suppose person A and person B meet person C; A knows C very well, B does not. After C leaves A says “C seemed very happy”, and B replies “You really think so? What made you think that?” and A answers “I don’t know, I can just tell”. Even if A can tell, it doesn’t follow that A understands how he can tell. Does it?I keep asking this too, but no one responds: In all seriousness, what would the RE advocate say if I announce symmetrically that I am having a sensus atheistus that just informs me directly, immediately, basically that there exist no supernatural beings or gods. I have an intrinsic defeater defeater defeater. And mine, like William Lane Craig’s sense of the Holy Spirit, provides me with unassailable, incorrigible knowledge that cannot be undermined by any evidence, or any contrary reasons.Well, that fine. As long as the sensus atheistus exists. According to Plantinga whether or not a belief is warranted depends upon whether it was produced by a properly functioning cognitive faculty. The asymmetry between theistic and atheistic belief is that according to theists we were created by God with the ability to know him, so the sensus divinitatis is plausible on that account. There is no plausible story on the atheist account that includes a sensus atheistus.How so, Kyle? Would you agree that this ‘pointing’ is cognitive, so that, even though you admit no persuasive version of the design argument has yet been found, still you would expect that there is one, which would underwrite your intuition? (I’m genuinely curious.)I don’t know. Perhaps there is no good design argument that doesn’t appeal to some sort of knowledge like this.Sometimes with arguments one can see ones way through them before one can properly articulate them. I think this happens in philosophy a lot. You can often see a problem with some argument, before you are able to point out where it has gone wrong. Once you are able to show the error it does not mean you now know something you didn’t know before, only that you see it more clearly.Suppose that what I know is ‘P: If God did not exist then there would be no order in the world’. As long as I really do know P then I have a sort of design argument, as long as I observe that there is order in the world. However, it does not follow from that that I could convince someone that this argument was any good who was not already persuaded of P.  

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Matt McCormick February 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I’ve experienced it a few times after I had a bad burrito, but I didn’t mistake it for some sort of transcendental insight into the ultimate nature of reality. Nor did I think that those “insights” gave me a powerful defeater defeater to the other biological and neurological explanations.

But seriously, let me point everyone’s attention to some famous research that shows how bad people are at 1) knowing what it is that they believe, 2) understanding why they believe it through introspection, and 3) acknowledging external stimuli that elicited a response:

http://www.lps.uci.edu/~johnsonk/philpsych/readings/nisbett.pdf

I would hope that examples like this would at least give those with these strong internalist epistemological views some pause.

MM

Hermes:
I’ve experienced what Matt described in meditation, so yes, that type of claim is available and it is in the exact same category as Crag’s similar claim.Unlike Craig, though, I don’t assert that that assessment gained from a meditative state is a preconception that others must contend with.Presuppositional apologetics of any form is intellectually bankrupt and a cheap method of dealing with questions that few Christians want to address.  

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Hermes February 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm

svenjamin: Are you by any chance referring to an experience of the Buddhist doctrine of non-self as directly perceived in meditation? If so, I think that would serve as an excellent counterpoint to WLC’s arguments from personal religious experience. In fact, I think the early Buddhist philosophical developments regarding the self provide pretty good arguments against Christian notions of a soul.

Yep. I agree on all points.

I learned meditation a few years before learning about Buddhism, but from what I read since then it seems to fit precisely.

When I’m in a good meditative state, the focus is often on seeing the moment clearly without injecting ‘me’ into it. I’ve heard that similar methods are used for religious trances induced by intense prayer, but in those instances ‘God’ or ‘Vishnu’ or ‘Allah’ or ‘the universe (pantheism)’ … are experienced. What you get in meditation is as Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, “Only what you take with you.” Prayer adds the demons and the deities. It includes the presumption that there will be something there, and the mind fills in that gap with the predetermined entity.

For anyone who is curious, meditation is a good skill to learn, fairly easy to pick up, free, requires no guru or special tools, but is often overrated in what it can provide.

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exapologist February 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm

In Plantinga’s original statement of his “intrinsic defeater-defeater” reply (, his original examples of intrinsic defeater-defeaters were:

(i) The purloined letter case
(ii) The Moses and the burning bush case

In case (i), we have a clear, fresh memory that serves as an intrinsic defeater-defeater of evidence that one stole a letter out of the department chair’s office. In case (ii) Moses has an overwhelming experience as of God speaking to him from a bush. But the worry is that the doxastic force of the basic belief in God for the typical believer is radically dissimilar to that in cases (i) and (ii). But Plantinga’s current, externalist account of warrant ties the degree of warrant a given belief enjoys to the degree of firmness with which the believer holds it (assuming it meets the four conditions of warrant in the first place: (a) the proper function condition, (b) the truth-aimed faculty condition, (c) the epistemically congenial mini and maxi environments condition, and (d) the no defeaters condition). But if the firmness of a given believer’s belief is significantly weaker than that involved in cases (i) and (ii) above, then on Plantinga’s own account, that believer’s belief is nowhere near sufficient for warrant. And the worry is that, for very many Christians, at least, the degree of belief they enjoy isn’t sufficiently analogous to that in cases (i) and (ii). For such Christians, not only is Christian belief not warrant basic, but it’s not strong enough to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater. This is a point made by many Christian philosophers (Quinn, Beilby, Chignell, Sennett, DeRose, Menssen, Sullivan et al. In fact, such philosophers testify that the degree of belief that their own faith enjoys is nowhere near “Plantinga faith”, as DeRose puts it).

Second, and relatedly, Beilby has argued that on Plantinga’s extended A/C model, the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit acts on the believer by repairing the sensus divinitatus and producing a firm and unwavering faith in the Great Things of the Gospel. And since it meets the other conditions of warrant, the degree of warrant enjoyed by the believer’s belief is sufficient to constitute knowledge. Unfortunately, though, the belief of many believers is weak and wavering (the “I do believe; help thou my unbelief” sort). But if so, then something has gone wrong. Now the worry is that it’s implausible (and blasphemous) to say that the Holy Spirit fails in his job to produce warranted Christian belief in many believers, and so Plantinga chalks up the less-than-maximal belief to the noetic effects of sin in the unbeliever. But the problem is that this means that a certain portion of the believer’s mini-environment (their body and mind) aren’t epistemically congenial, in which case the belief fails the “congenial epistemic environment” condition of his account of warrant. As such, those with less than maximal faith have a warrant-defeater for their Christian faith.

Finally, I worry that Plantingian reformed epistemology can be consistently employed by a conservative Christian. For it allows that non-theistic epistemic communities could employ Plantinga’s particularist inductive method for generating critieria of proper basicality in a way that entails that belief in God is neither properly basic nor properly based. Now, true enough, if Plantinga is right, then such belief isn’t warrant. But the problem is that the apostle Paul teaches that no one is with legitimate excuse before God for failing to believe, on the grounds that God’s existence and nature are not only seen, but clearly seen, in the creation. But if non-theistic epistemic communities can form theism-precluding criteria of proper basicality in a way that’s morally blameless, then Paul was wrong, in which case the sort of Christianity that holds to the inspiration of the epistle to the Romans can’t accept Plantinga’s reformed epistemology wholesale.

These are my initial worries, anyway.

Best,
EA

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Hermes February 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Matt McCormick: I would hope that examples like this would at least give those with these strong internalist epistemological views some pause.

Thanks for the paper.

I agree, and would only add that the correlation between what I experienced and what Christians claim I only use as an example of how unimpressive the Christian claims are.

Personally, I do not think that I tapped into some special source of understanding reality that defines the rest of reality for me. Meditation is interesting. It’s a discipline and is useful for practicing a specific type of self control. It’s not much else, and I cringe when people layer on to it some new-agey fantasies.

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exapologist February 12, 2010 at 5:58 pm

One more: in “Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?”, (Philosophia Christi 8:2 (2006), pp. 383-399), he argues that a number of religions can generate an extended A/C model of externalist warrant-basic belief, in which case there is a de facto objection to warranted Christian belief.

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Thomas Reid February 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Matt McCormick:
Sounds like to me that the belief in God then isn’t really basic or something is fishy here.There’s a more fundamental principle that’s derived from I don’t know where that informs the agent that only intuited, direct apprehensions concerning existing entities make sense, but direct apprehensions of a supernatural void are not to be trusted.Was this principle that only the sensus divinitatus can be trusted but the sensus atheistus cannot also an instance of a basic apprehension?Am I the only one who appreciates how embarrassingly circular this whole business is?
MM

There’s nothing in my original question to suggest one needs a “more fundamental” principle. The point of my questioning was that it seems the idea of a basic belief in the non-existence of an entity is an incoherent notion. An intuition presupposes an entity to which the person’s perception is attached. So to posit an intuition of the non-existence of something is nonsense, because that cannot be an intuition.

There’s a difference between not intuiting God and intuiting not-God. The former can make sense, but I was asking how the latter can.

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exapologist February 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm

So, my intuition that, necessarily, there are no round squares, isn’t properly basic?

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Hermes February 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Thomas Reid: The point of my questioning was that it seems the idea of a basic belief in the non-existence of an entity is an incoherent notion. An intuition presupposes an entity to which the person’s perception is attached. So to posit an intuition of the non-existence of something is nonsense, because that cannot be an intuition.

A few points;

1. Consider it a non-belief then.

2. If anything is explicitly presupposed, it can not be an intuition because it’s already ‘known’ by the presupposition and is no longer part of an intuition.

3. An experience — intuition or not — that has no pre-supposed deity in it is still informative. If, to drag back your searching for a pre-supposed deity is used, if someone doesn’t find one then … what? You can’t have it both ways.

Note that in my meditation example, I neither looked for nor did not look for anything. I just meditated.

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Sly February 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I tend to think that anyone hiding behind reformed epistemology is a person not concerned with finding the truth. Rather they are trying to justify their no-evidence beliefs in any way they can.

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Thomas Reid February 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm

exapologist: So, my intuition that, necessarily, there are no round squares, isn’t properly basic?  

Right, that’s not how I understand it. One has concepts of round and square, and then acquires the knowledge that these concepts cannot be conjoined, or that they preclude each other. Wouldn’t that be how it goes?

Again, I’m just asking questions here, I’m not committed to RE. But it does seem like the assymetry exists that doesn’t permit a sensus atheistus, a sense that intuits the non-existence of something. Think of it another way: it’s the Great Pumpkin Objection with which the RE defender has to contend, not the Non-Existent Great Pumpkin Objection.

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exapologist February 12, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Wait: concept-possession is typically considered among epistemologists as a mere enabling condition for rational insight; it plays no primary epistemic role. In fact, this is Plantinga’s view about rational insight. The idea is that mere concept possession is sufficient to determine the truth-value of such a proposition. The same is of course true of positive propositions knowable via rational insight (e.g., all bachelors are unmarried). Indeed, the same is true of perceptual justification. If concept possession plays an epistemic role, then perception can’t be properly basic, either.

In any case, even waiving this, isn’t it epistemically possible for there to be triggering-conditions for belief that, say, everything is material? That strikes me as a positive belief, no?

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ayer February 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Matt McCormick: I’m sorry, but I’m really having trouble taking you all seriously. I can’t tell if you’re putting me on, or if you really believe this.

Plantinga wrote a several hundred-page treatise on the subject, and I don’t think he did on a lark to “put people on.”

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lukeprog February 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Matt,

I appreciate you coming here to defend your views, but don’t burn yourself out! :)

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Kyle February 13, 2010 at 4:18 am

So the entire edifice of the ideology and the single most important metaphysical claim that we can consider all boils down to: “I don’t know, I can just tell.”?

Where did I say that?

You seem to be confused about what is being said. You seem to think that one must first understand the origin of one’s beliefs before one can reasonably believe them. This is a very strong internalist account.

For externalists what is important about the belief is the reliability of the origin, not the believers understanding of the origin.

Do you really find that satisfying?

No, of course not. That part of the reason why I read philosophy – to understand better. Just in the same way I know that other minds exist, but do not know how I know. Philosophy helps me to understand those issues better, but I wouldn’t claim to have solved those problems.

You can just tell that God is real without being able to access more details about how it is that you know it, and you’re prepared to dismiss all of the alternative explanations of this feeling you’ve got on that basis?

Again, where did I say that?

Having a basic belief doesn’t mean that you can’t consider other possibilities, and it doesn’t mean that you have to believe you are infallible. I could be wrong, so I reflect on my beliefs and seek to improve them over time.

I’m sorry, but I’m really having trouble taking you all seriously. I can’t tell if you’re putting me on, or if you really believe this.

I can kind of understand your frustration. It seems like we’re making things too easy on ourselves.

Rest assured that my frustration is equal when you say things like that when it seems like you’re making no attempt to engage.

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Matt McCormick February 13, 2010 at 6:46 pm

There’s still no one who can offer some details about what it’s like to have this sensus divinitatus or the testimony of the Holy Ghost? What’s it like when your radio is tuned to the God channel? Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on.

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Hermes February 13, 2010 at 7:04 pm

[ second Matt's request ]

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ayer February 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Matt McCormick: There’s still no one who can offer some details about what it’s like to have this sensus divinitatus or the testimony of the Holy Ghost?What’s it like when your radio is tuned to the God channel?Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on.  

What’s it like when you know an objective moral fact, e.g., that torturing babies for fun is wrong? (I’m assuming you acknowledge that as a fact). Such knowledge is properly basic (see http://tinyurl.com/yggjg6f

Properly basic knowledge of God’s existence is like that.

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Hermes February 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Hmmmm…really not what was being asked.

Want to give it another go?

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Hermes February 13, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Ayer, note that if you don’t have an answer that’s fine. The request was for a person, and your input is not required so don’t feel pressured to give any.

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Justfinethanks February 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm

I assume RE’s have no qualms with the methodology by which this person achieved his knowledge of the divine?

I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Not because some person told me, and not because some man showed me a book full of evidence (there is much evidence for those who want to find it). I know, because like Joseph Smith, I got down on my knees, in faith, and asked my Heavenly Father if it was true. You cannot know anything, but by God.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3O9028RW4DASK/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Matt McCormick February 13, 2010 at 8:57 pm

ayer:
What’s it like when you know an objective moral fact, e.g., that torturing babies for fun is wrong? (I’m assuming you acknowledge that as a fact).Such knowledge is properly basic (see http://tinyurl.com/yggjg6fProperly basic knowledge of God’s existence is like that.  

This is evasive, of course. The MO of many RE advocates, including Plantinga, seems to be to go after the critic and find some claim that, according to RE, is basic for the critic, and then claim that they have comparable entitlement to their God. That’s a dodge. Plantinga says that everyone has this elusive sensus divinitatus, but for many the corruptive effects of sin have distorted their cognitive faculties so they can’t “hear” it anymore. Once they have accepted Jesus into their hearts, their cognitive apparatus will be fully restored to its proper functioning. What I suspect is just the opposite. Religion, particularly some of forms of Christianity, seems to have a corrupting effect on a set of cognitive faculties that were already pretty kludged together by evolution, and the noetic effects of the Christian ideology exploits various gaps and glitches in the system. The result is often a near total highjacking of the cognitive system that borders on delusion.

So I ask again, what exactly does it feel like when God’s giving you these basic encounters with his reality? If I’ve got the sense too, I need to know when it’s happening to me. And I need to know how to distinguish it from the a long list of other unusual psychological states that all have completely natural, neurobiological origins. I am assuming that all you RE advocates have done your due diligence and figured out how to make these sorts of distinctions, right?

MM

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Robert Gressis February 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, and I haven’t had much in the way of religious experience, but I’ll give a go at answering the challenge. Here’s the challenge:

“what exactly does it feel like when God’s giving you these basic encounters with his reality. If I’ve got the sense too, I need to know when it’s happening to me. And I need to know how to distinguish it from the a long list of other unusual psychological states that all have completely natural, neurobiological origins.”

First, I don’t have religious experiences that God exists; I’m not sure I have experiences of anything’s existing, other than the experience of finding something that I had thought lost. What the experiences are like, when they occur, are like this: I experience some phenomenon; the thought occurs to me that God is responsible for this phenomenon; the thought that God is responsible for this phenomenon just makes sense.

Now, that doesn’t help you yet, but I wanted to give the general outline before I sketched it in. So, let me start with an example, not of a religious experience, but an experience of sense-making that can be likened to a religious experience.

In the past, when I read what Kant had to say about freedom in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, I didn’t get what he meant. I started to think of freedom as having something to do with activity and being determined as having something to do with passivity. Kant seemed clear enough on that. But I didn’t get why the experience of activity would be any more indicative of a free action than an experience of being passively determined; after all, both feelings must be arranged into a deterministic causal nexus, so it didn’t appear to me to be obvious why one feeling should signify not being part of a causal nexus and why another one should.

Reading Berkeley, though, as well as Wayne Waxman’s treatment of him in Kant and the Empiricists made things clear for me. On Waxman’s account of Berkeley, there were certain feelings of activity that you couldn’t in fact have an experience of. That is, there was no sensible content to the “experience” of acting freely. Since for Berkeley, to be is to be perceived, it meant that free action didn’t exist. But Berkeley had another category, subsistence, which was how perceivers like God and us carried on. We weren’t perceived, so we didn’t exist, but we were still implied by there being perceptions, so something had to be going on with us. And so for Berkeley, that something was non-perceivable subsistence.

Once I read that, Kant’s writings on freedom made a lot more sense to me. Free actions couldn’t be placed in a causal nexus, but it made sense to posit them as being responsible for the feeling of activity. The feeling of activity was an evidence of transcendentally apperceiving one’s own responsibility for something.

The point of all the foregoing was that there was a revelatory feeling granted by a new way of conceiving things that introduced a Gestalt shift in my apprehension of Kant’s writings on freedom. I felt like I got it, finally. Everything had a new cast, even though they were the same words.

Now, let’s apply that to God. There were certain experiences in my life–in my own case, the main one I can think of is kind of peculiar. I was in church, and I strongly felt that God was a monster. I didn’t feel that because of suffering in Africa or anything like that; I felt it because I disliked strongly the people around me in church. They weren’t kind or open, and they seemed to me that they could not care less whether I ever showed up to church at all. And I felt angry at God for attracting such milquetoast people. But with that condemnation of God, there was a great feeling of liberation. I felt great–I felt I was truly myself. I felt as though a burden had been lifted off of me. And, if I remember things correctly, I felt an intense feeling of thankfulness–my feeling of personal liberation and the ensuing sense of comfort in my own skin made me feel a kind of gratitude to God. I felt like this is what I could be. And attributing that to God made the most sense to me. Seeing God as the provenance of this feeling just made the most sense to me–it was part of the Gestalt shift.

Could this feeling have a natural, neurobiological origin. Surely. In fact, if God exists, and wants us to come to know him, I would expect us to be hardwired for belief in God. I would expect that there were certain circumstances in which many people felt attributing certain psychological states to invisible agents made the most sense for us.

Can I know how to distinguish this state from a hallucination? Nope. I don’t know how to distinguish any of my states from hallucinations.

So, I shared. Now, I want you to share with me, Matt. You don’t have to, of course. You may be less confessional than I. That said, when you write, “Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on”, are you serious? Do you think that the people who talk about their religious experiences are just lying to you? Do you think they’re lying to themselves? I ask because this is the second time you’ve mad this request; you’ve also written, “Religion, particularly some of forms of Christianity, seems to have a corrupting effect on a set of cognitive faculties that were already pretty kludged together by evolution, and the noetic effects of the Christian ideology exploits various gaps and glitches in the system. The result is often a near total highjacking of the cognitive system that borders on delusion.” In other words, you think “some forms of” Christians follow a religion that brings them close to the brink of delusion. What do you mean by that? Do you literally mean a kind of psychological pathology that would perhaps be helped by therapy? Do you think this is a serious condition? Do you worry about such people?

I don’t mean to come off as hostile. I hope I didn’t. I have been told such things before, though–that I have psychological problems, that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach philosophy, and all because of my theism. So it’s something of a sore spot for me.

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Hermes February 13, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Robert, thanks for taking Matt McCormick’s question seriously.

I’m about to pop off to sleep and have not yet read your reply from end to end, but I wanted you to know your effort is appreciated.

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lukeprog February 13, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Great discussion going on here.

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H J February 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

ayer:
What’s it like when you know an objective moral fact, e.g., that torturing babies for fun is wrong? (I’m assuming you acknowledge that as a fact).Such knowledge is properly basic (see http://tinyurl.com/yggjg6fProperly basic knowledge of God’s existence is like that.  

This is worse than a dodge, it an outright dirty trick. First, the suggestion is that if we don’t accept this mystical access to God, then we’re somehow equivalent to baby torturers. Or else it poses the laughably false dilemma “Either accept that my sense of God is real and baby torturing is wrong, or be a moral relativist/nihilist.” Second, it substitutes a complete red herring for a straight answer–”Well, you DO think that torturing babies is wrong, DON’T YOU?” Third, what I would feel in that case would be revulsion and horror. Those are subjective feelings. Those are different from providing a justification for thinking that the torture is wrong. Feelings of revulsion, horror, or whatever are utterly unreliable as guides to what’s true or justified. Lots of people have the same reaction when they contemplate mixed race relationships or just when they hear the words, “Brokeback Mountain.”

I’m coming in late to this conversation, but it sounds like to me that when they are asked to explain a silly view, the Reformed Epistemology people have this strategy:
1. find some knowledge claim, preferably one with powerful emotional attachments, that the objector accepts.
2. make vague gestures that whatever it’s like to have that knowledge, well, their knowledge of God is “like” that.
3. escalate the personal attacks on the objector, distract with baby torturing, or otherwise avoid giving a straight answer at all costs.

So now I’m really curious too: what’s it feel like when you guys are having these special moments of “knowledge” with God? Does Plantinga ever say anything about how to get your bullshit detector to function properly? I think mine’s working pretty good already.

H J

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Matt McCormick February 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm

First, thanks very much Robert for taking a crack at this. And thanks for giving me something I can kind of get my head around. This is interesting, but it doesn’t sound like the sort of direct, non-inferential access to God’s existence that Plantinga and co. talk about. You said, “I’m not sure I have experiences of anything’s existing.” I am taking RE to maintain that the apprehension of God’s reality is immediate, quasi-sensory, and basic (not involving any propositional or inferential justification). And the resulting conviction that God is real is strong enough that long and careful deliberation on the part of the Christian who reflects on Marx, Freud, and others with objections to theism will still leave them reasonably convinced that God is real. The basic apprehension of God defeats all of these defeaters. It doesn’t sound to me like there’s anything nearly up to this epistemological task in the story you are telling, but I don’t know the whole story. That is just to say that it doesn’t sound like you are putting all of your eggs in the RE basket, or at least you shouldn’t. I wouldn’t, if I were you.

So now, as I understand it, the analogy is roughly something like this. Thinking of God as a real being provides a set of sense-making, understanding granting, or revelation type feelings about certain sorts of cognitive, personal, and emotional dissonances. Believing that God is real is to those cognitive dissonances what Waxman’s interpretation of Kant and Berkeley are to dissonances about Kant’s theory of freedom.

There are several things that I think have gone wrong here. In no particular order: The analogy is out of whack. Waxman’s reading of Kant is just an academic interpretation of a work of philosophy. Reading it and understanding it doesn’t entail accepting any claims about real objects existing. And it certainly doesn’t entail accepting the existence of a vast, all powerful, all knowing supernatural creator of the universe. That is, the stakes are vastly higher and more metaphysically significant in the God case than they are in the Waxman/Kant case. The only sorts of analogies that I can think of that might work better would be hypotheses about the existence of subatomic particles like the Higgs Boson or something where there’s a whole bunch of empirical data, and no other hypothesis can explain it so well (and make our cognitive dissonance go away) as positing the real existence of the particles in the universe.

But there’s the rub. The sorts of dissonances that you’re talking about are feelings—anger, frustration at first, and then liberation, thankfulness, comfort with the acceptance of God. And none of these would be adequate to indicate the existence of something big and important. The study I cited above is just the start of the empirical evidence that shows how unreliable our cognitive faculties are, especially when we are angry, frustrated, overjoyed, enthusiastic, bitter, ingratiated, and so on. Men gamble more and engage in more risk when they are angry or sexually aroused. We’ve got lots of really telling evidence that people’s feelings of confidence and certainty after they have taken a test, for instance, aren’t predictive of their actual performance on the test. We’ve got compelling evidence that subjective certainty isn’t callibrated well with performance across a wide range of cognitive tasks. In fact, for many things, as certainty goes up, performance actually goes down. In fact, I can’t think of any instances where the presence of all of these emotions wouldn’t make us more suspicious of the conclusions that the cognitive agent comes to. At the very least, the feelings should be treated as something tangential to the actual evidence that is relevant to figure out what’s real, not as the evidence itself. Why do I believe that the horse won the race? Not because I am jumping up and down happy, but because we can observe the horse at the front of the pack. The happiness is the reaction, not the reason.

Another problem, and no doubt you won’t see it this way, is that while God might seem to make all the pieces fall into place about some of these problems that were bugging you, when you take a really broad view of the dissonant issues that need to be resolved, introducing God makes it harder, not easier to make sense of it all. The problem of other religions, other supernatural beings, the inductive problem of evil, a host of deductive atheology arguments, the problem of divine hiddenness, and so on all make it really hard to countenance God as the answer to a much broader class of questions about reality, the origin of the universe, the success of science and naturalism, and the failures of orthodox religious dogmas. As I see it, if one wants to sign on for some orthodox conception of God like Plantinga’s Calvinism or Van Inwagen’s Catholicism, or Craig’s fundamentalism, the only way to make your worldview roughly coherent is by adopting a long list of increasingly strained metaphysical, epistemological, and moral provisions that help to make the old world doctrine sit more comfortably with the general advances in human knowledge that we have made. You have to take on too many complicated, ad hoc, or bizarre views about evolution, natural selection, consciousness, human moral failings, history, cosmology, science, neurology, and so on. That is, God might make you feel better about some little, local stuff, but it’s really hard to see how he fits with the rest of what we know.

Sharing: no, actually, this doesn’t sound delusional to me—I think believing in God on grounds like this, if this is what RE entails, is unreasonable. Presuppositional apologetics is pretty scary. All of the tens of hundreds of millionis of apocalyptic millenialists and rapture nuts are really scary. I get comments from people who find my blog just about every week where it appears that Christian ideology has devoured their whole consciousness and they’ve completely lost the capacity to think about the issue with any objectivity. And they appear to be ready to pull the trigger, as it were.

I’ve gone on long enough. So just one more little note. You said, “In fact, if God exists, and wants us to come to know him, I would expect us to be hardwired for belief in God.” Yeah, I see why this appeals. But I am always surprised at the lack of imagination about this issue. If God exists, and he wants to make his existence known to us, couldn’t he have done a better job? Wouldn’t it be a trivial matter for an all powerful being to do a better job than, say, I can do when I want people to believe something? (And please don’t give me the old line about faith, or about God not wanting to compromise our freedom to choose.) I have to think, given that he could have made it abundantly clear, and given that he didn’t, if there is a God, he doesn’t want us to believe in him.

With your permission Robert, I’d like to quote some of your post with my response as a blog entry on my blog.

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Robert Gressis February 13, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Hi Matt,

Feel free to quote my post and respond to it on your blog. Along the same lines, may I put up your challenge–or a differently worded version of your challenge, if you’d like–and my response up on Prosblogion, and then link to your response via Prosblogion? Luke and his helpful commenters can link to and discuss the whole thing as well. Is that okay with you?

Rob

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ayer February 14, 2010 at 1:33 am

Matt McCormick: This is evasive, of course. The MO of many RE advocates, including Plantinga, seems to be to go after the critic and find some claim that, according to RE, is basic for the critic, and then claim that they have comparable entitlement to their God.

No, it’s not “going after the critic” it is reaching out to the critic for an area of common ground, i.e., their common moral experience by pointing to an incredibly clear moral fact that virtually all can agree on. The knowledge that torturing babies for fun is wrong (an example given by Paul Copan in the article I linked to) is apprehended noninferentially and immediately. It is not just a feeling of disgust, as one might have about, e.g., eating a disgusting substance. It is a distinctively, uniquely moral response that is a form of knowledge; it is properly basic.

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Rob B February 14, 2010 at 10:15 am

Ayer,

Suppose you tell me you have an experience of a god. I tell you I have never had such an experience. You explain that is because I am a wicked sinner.

Do you really not see the problem with that?

Such a tactic by you could be used to “warrant” any belief whatsoever.

Rob

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Robert Gressis February 14, 2010 at 11:05 am

Rob B,

But Ayer clearly said nothing of the sort. He pointed to another kind of experience, the experience of seeing the wrongness of torture, as an example of what it’s like to have an experience of God. He did not bring up this example to say that, if you don’t know what it’s like to experience God, then you don’t believe anything is morally wrong. He brought it up as a useful analogue of another kind of experience that’s rather hard to describe but that nonetheless involves proper basicality.

Let me go on a bit, since going on at far too great a length is what I do. When someone sees a particular act as being morally wrong, they experience it right away as morally wrong. It’s not as if they experience it as morally wrong only after first proving the existence of moral facts. Rather, the reverse is entirely the case: we have lots of particular experiences of certain acts as wrong and certain acts as right. We only start talking about moral principles if we abstract from all those acts and try to find their common features (and note, trying to find moral principles is extremely difficult and, if Wittgenstein and Jonathan Dancy are right, might be impossible; thus, it wouldn’t be surprising if a common person cannot answer the question, “what makes an act wrong?” in anything like a sophisticated way). On a similar note, very few of us go around talking about objective wrongness or moral facts. Those of us who do so are either philosophers who are trying to fit such things into our ontology, or we’re people who are challenged to justify the reality of our moral beliefs in general (a challenge that in real life happens extremely rarely for most ordinary people). In other words, here are three common features of people’s moral experiences:

(1) We believe in moral objectivity on the basis of particular moral experiences;
(2) We don’t have moral principles explaining why particular events are right or wrong;
(3) We don’t go around saying “moral facts exist!”

Now, let’s continue this parallel with belief in God. Most people who believe in God believe in God on the basis of particular experiences. They might look at a mountain and feel a prompting along the lines of “God made this”, or might feel an urge to pray, or they might feel distant from God. When asked how they know God exists, they might say “because there is this mountain” or “because I had to pray to someone” or “because I’m feeling distant from him”. When asked what God is like, they may rehearse what they’re told about him from church, but chances are, if they’re pressed, they will say things about God that are contradictory, either in themselves, or with other things they say about God, or with their own experiences of God. Finally, they don’t go around saying “God exists” nearly as much as they say “God loves you”, but they will say such things if the veridicality of their experiences are challenged. In a nutshell, there are three common features of people’s theistic experiences:

(1) They believe in God on the basis of particular experiences rather than arguments;
(2) They don’t have general principles explaining the features of theistic experiences in general;
(3) They don’t go around saying “God exists!”

Now, ayer’s point, if I understand it correctly, is twofold: (1) If you’re going to go around claiming that people’s belief in God is flimsily evidenced, then you’re going to have to say things about people’s belief in moral facts. (Indeed, you’re going to have to say that about most people’s beliefs, and so you may end up saying that most people know almost nothing, if anything at all. Would that be a result you’d like?) (2) If you want to know what it’s like to have a theistic experience, then just try to answer for yourself what it’s like to have a moral experience. The two kinds of experiences are similar, and both are similarly difficult to describe.

Assuming I have ayer’s position right, I agree with him on (1) but not on (2). I think moral and theistic experiences, while related, are importantly different, phenomenologically, so if someone asks me what the phenomenology of a religious experience is, I won’t say it’s identical to the phenomenology of a moral experience, though I will say that they’re both similarly difficult to describe.

Finally, I refer you to William James’s “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. There’s lots of stuff describing religious experiences in there.

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Rob B February 14, 2010 at 11:15 am

Robert Gressis,

Does or does not Plantinga explain my lack of experience of God as due to my cognitive faculties being defective because I am a wicked sinner?

Rob

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Matt McCormick February 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Robert Gressis: Hi Matt,Feel free to quote my post and respond to it on your blog. Along the same lines, may I put up your challenge–or a differently worded version of your challenge, if you’d like–and my response up on Prosblogion, and then link to your response via Prosblogion? Luke and his helpful commenters can link to and discuss the whole thing as well. Is that okay with you?Rob  

Hi Robert. Yeah, quote it, link it, and use it. I’d very much like to hear some more ideas about the issue.

MM

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Matt McCormick February 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

ayer:
No, it’s not “going after the critic” it is reaching out to the critic for an area of common ground, i.e., their common moral experience by pointing to an incredibly clear moral fact that virtually all can agree on.The knowledge that torturing babies for fun is wrong (an example given by Paul Copan in the article I linked to) is apprehended noninferentially and immediately.It is not just a feeling of disgust, as one might have about, e.g., eating a disgusting substance.It is a distinctively, uniquely moral response that is a form of knowledge; it is properly basic.  

Once again, the putative knowledge that torturing babies is wrong is not immediate, non-inferential. As I argued before, whatever you want to call the sensations you’re having in that immediate moment, it’s an unreliable indicator of what’s right or wrong. If it produces knowledge of moral truths, then we’d have to conclude first that there are numerous pairs of contradictory moral truths (from different people whose magical powers of moral knowledge conflict), and that many morally acceptable things like homosexuality, women’s rights, mixed race relationships, civil rights, having a black president, allowing women to speak in public, get educated, and hold jobs, tolerating the existence oof atheists, and on and on are all moral wrong. You can’t really expect us to accept that there is nothing epistemically culpable about your accepting the deliverances of this private, magical sense in your head that gives you all of this putative knowledge. You’re failing your epistemic and moral duties to yourself and to the rest of us in society with you.

Furthermore, moral intuitionism, or whatever you want to call this, got thoroughly refuted decades ago.

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Matt McCormick February 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Rob B: Robert Gressis,Does or does not Plantinga explain my lack of experience of God as due to my cognitive faculties being defective because I am a wicked sinner?Rob  

The whole thing amounts to a grand circle just like Descartes’. How do I know that God exists? I can apprehend it immediately with my special cognitive powers. How do I know that I can trust my special cognitive powers to deliver the truth? God designed them and made them function properly.

Furthermore, anyone who disagrees isn’t just mistaken, nor can they really have any legitimate grounds for doubting. Their sinfulness in rejecting God has corrupted the proper functioning of their cognitive powers. If they repented and accepted Jesus into their hearts, they’d see the light and accept this whole scheme too.

That’s what I mean about RE barricading itself off from any real critical scrutiny.

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Matt McCormick February 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Here’s some more empirical evidence that is highly relevant to the claim that we are able to directly, immediately, and non-inferentially grasp objective moral truths.

In an article titled: Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs. Link at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19955414
the authors devised a series of experiments that showed that whatever believers happen to think is right or wrong, they attribute that to God. Even when they were led to change their moral opinions without realizing it, they still bestowed their new view onto God as if he had commanded it all along. God provides a too convenient stamp of approval for whatever shifting, idiosyncratic, or unreflective moral beliefs people have.

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Rob B February 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm

For the defenders of RE, I’m wondering if a Hindu that has an experience of Vishnu is warranted to believe in Vishnu? What about the Mayan that experiences Quetzalcoatl? Or suppose I claimed to have a sensus pastatatus that gave me incorrigible knowledge of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Would I be warranted to my claim of knowledge about the FSM? If not, why not?

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lukeprog February 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Matt,

Many people would disagree with you on moral intuitionism. In what works do you think it was thoroughly refuted?

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lukeprog February 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Rob B,

Those are exactly the questions explored in my latest podcast, with guest Erik Baldwin, who has devoted most of his philosophical career so far to exactly that issue with RE.

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Robert Gressis February 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Rob B,

“Does or does not Plantinga explain my lack of experience of God as due to my cognitive faculties being defective because I am a wicked sinner?”

I thought you were talking about ayer. My response was directed at your response to him. I guess you were directing your remark at Plantinga rather than ayer?

As for Plantinga, yes, I think he would say that, assuming you are using your cognitive faculties in the environment for which they were designed, and you’re still not getting any theistic experience, then yes, your lack of experiencing God has to be due to the noetic effects of sin, whether this is original sin or your own sin. So what, though? I mean, here’s the thing: Plantinga has to have some account of why not everyone, when they’re using their cognitive faculties in the right environment, don’t have the proper experience. On the Christian story, sin is the explanation for why. It doesn’t obviously make you more sinful than anyone else (on the Christian story, we’re all sinners), just defective in that particular way. But are you offended by that? I mean, surely you think I’m unreasonable. You may even think I have psychological problems, as lots of atheists think about Christian theists. Indeed, if I didn’t see something that you saw, you would no doubt either question your own faculties or you would question mine.

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Robert, thanks for sharing. I was able to read through your long post and will read it and the other replies a second time before commenting to give it due consideration.

FWIW, you or Matt may repost anything I write in this thread on your blogs with or without attribution, excerpted or in whole. Hopefully my future comments will be worth the time to do that.

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Haecceitas February 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm

“the authors devised a series of experiments that showed that whatever believers happen to think is right or wrong, they attribute that to God”

How could it be any other way? If a person believes that P is true, and he also believes that God knows all truths, then obviously he’s going to think that God knows P.

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

ayer:
No, it’s not “going after the critic” it is reaching out to the critic for an area of common ground, … It is a distinctively, uniquely moral response that is a form of knowledge; it is properly basic.  

I recommend you change your approach. From end to end, that whole response did not seem genuine, but stubbornly strategic.

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Thomas Reid February 14, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Hermes:
2. If anything is explicitly presupposed, it can not be an intuition because it’s already ‘known’ by the presupposition and is no longer part of an intuition.

I didn’t mean a presupposition to a particular item of knowledge on the part of the knower. I meant the intuition within the properly functioning noetic system would require (“presupposes” in this sense) the thing to exist prior to the knower’s belief of it. I can see how you might have interpreted it as the former sense, sorry for the confusion.

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Rob B February 14, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Robert Gressis,

No I am not offended. It just seems rather silly for you to think I don’t have experiences of God because Eve ate some fruit. Just like you are not offended by the Hindu who thinks you might be reincarnated as a goat.

My point with any RE defender is that RE can be used to declare any belief “warranted”. I do not think you are unreasonable, rather just lax in your epistemic hygiene.

Also, care to take a stab at my Vishnu/FSM questions?

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Robert Gressis February 14, 2010 at 4:53 pm

“My point with any RE defender is that RE can be used to declare any belief “warranted”. I do not think you are unreasonable, rather just lax in your epistemic hygiene.”

I think that’s largely right, but a lot of defenses of common sense can arguably be used to defend any belief as warranted. Keep in mind that Plantinga does respond to challenges to his belief, that it’s inconsistent, or immoral, or inconsistent with our best science, etc. It’s not as though he falls down on the epistemic job, at least with regards to such things. I think the main thing Plantinga wants to do is to say that it can be permissible to believe in God without having a natural theological argument for it. He does not say that you’re allowed to have this belief even if no one in your community of belief-holders can’t respond to certain challenges against your belief.

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Robert Gressis: the experience of seeing the wrongness of torture, as an example of what it’s like to have an experience of God.

Robert, from your perspective;

1. Do you consider that observation to be part of what the discussion was dealing with?

2. If YES, to be clear, do you consider that to be one way to experience God (Yahweh)?

3. If so, how do you see that same experience showing up in non-Christians let alone non-humans? (Actual examples provided on request.)

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ayer February 14, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Robert Gressis: Assuming I have ayer’s position right, I agree with him on (1) but not on (2). I think moral and theistic experiences, while related, are importantly different, phenomenologically, so if someone asks me what the phenomenology of a religious experience is, I won’t say it’s identical to the phenomenology of a moral experience, though I will say that they’re both similarly difficult to describe.

I agree with your summary. Different categories of properly basic knowledge are certainly phenomenologically distinct; my knowledge that other people have minds, my knowledge of the external world, my knowledge of objective moral values, and my knowledge of God’s existence are all distinct, but have in common the fact that the knowledge is obtained in a properly basic way. The point of the moral example was to offer an example of properly basic knowledge experienced by both theists and nontheists, and to illustrate how difficult it would be to describe that experience to one who does not have that knowledge.

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm

(Robert, the point of the last post; he seems to be wildly off topic.)

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm
Rob B February 14, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Hermes,

I don’t think anyone here has claimed that belief in Jesus is somehow required for morality. Other’s have, of course.

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Robert Gressis February 14, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Hermes: (Robert, the point of the last post; he seems to be wildly off topic.)  

Are you saying ayer is wildly off-topic?

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lukeprog February 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Hermes,

God wrote ‘no infanticide’ on their hearts. Don’t you read the Bible?

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Hermes February 14, 2010 at 8:18 pm

lukeprog: Hermes,God wrote ‘no infanticide’ on their hearts. Don’t you read the Bible?  

Well, in that case! Why didn’t someone say so?!?!?!

Robert Gressis:
Are you saying ayer is wildly off-topic?  

Staggeringly so. Torturing babies? That explains anything about intuitive or personal or … knowledge of Yahweh?

Like the Piraha said; “Who would kill their babies?” It’s beyond the pale and tells me zero about the main question you thoughtfully started to address before Ayer brought up his regular nonsense that now has sucked the air out of the room.

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exapologist February 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm

I’d very interested to hear a story about the noetic effects of sin that meets the following desiderata:

(i) The story is at least epistemically possible.
(ii) The story is consistent with Plantinga’s community-relative version of Chisholm’s particularist inductive method of generating criteria of proper basicality.
(iii) The story is compatible with Plantinga’s Extended A/C model of warranted Christian belief
(iv) The story fits best with the most natural interpretation of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (about all humans being without excuse before God for failure to acknowledge him, on the grounds that the existence and nature of God are utterly obvious via the Creation)
(v) The story doesn’t entail that the moral obligation to acknowledge God (which, again, is taught by Paul in Romans) is incompatible with the “ought implies can” principle.

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Matt McCormick February 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm

lukeprog: Matt,Many people would disagree with you on moral intuitionism. In what works do you think it was thoroughly refuted?  

I’m pretty sure I just refuted it thoroughly. How do you reconcile the claim that there are objective moral facts that are best accessed by appeal to one’s intuitions with the fact that we get such wildly divergent intuitions from different thoughtful people about them? Why would you think that our intuitions are dead on accurate about reality on this front when they are so demonstrably bad at tracking reality in every other way? Check any solid history of moral theory textbook for the standards. Look at the treatments of Sidgwick, Pritchard, and Ross.

I still should point out that bringing intuited moral facts into the discussion is a red herring. I’ve been told now that bringing up baby torture is an attempt to find some common ground between the RE critic and the RE advocate. My original charge was that instead of giving a straight answer about this mysterious God access they have, they confront the critic and try to find some claim or other that the critic also accepts as direct, and basic. Then the response is, “whatever you think you have knowledge of immediately, my god knowledge is like that.”
Why I think baby torture is wrong is utterly beside the point. What we want to hear is a forthright account of the experiences that the believer undergoes that endows them with this highly indefeasible God belief. If that belief is to withstand the host of objections that have been raised, then its origin must be commensurate with those challenges. That is, given the philosophical challenges to Christian doctrines, these basic apprehensions better be damned impressive. But so far what we’ve heard is utterly unimpressive.

Futhermore, many of us have agreed that on the RE account it is possible for a wide range of views, including many that contradict the Christian ones, to be properly basic for different religious, or even non-religious groups. I take that relativist or contextualist result to be a pretty powerful reductio of the theory. If the theory allows that it is properly basic for an epistemic community to talk themselves into the idea that they are all having direct, transcendental experiences of elves, Bigfoot, a UFO hidden inside a comment, or L. Ron Hubbard aliens, then there’s something sorely wrong with the theory. That the advocates of RE would continue to defend the theory after acknowledge these bizarre results suggests to me that they are too deep in the grips of an ideology.

MM

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Kyle February 15, 2010 at 1:38 am

What we want to hear is a forthright account of the experiences that the believer undergoes that endows them with this highly indefeasible God belief.

According to Plantinga the knowledge is defeasible.

Also, I think you are confused about what claim is being made. You seem to think that the character of the experience is important because the knowledge rests on some principle like: “when I form a belief accompanied by an experience like this, it must be true.” The reason I get this from you is because you talk about wanting to what it is like so that you can spot it if you have it.

I think your question is mistaken because the belief is not based upon the above principle.

According to Plantinga there are many things that we know in the basic way but cannot say how we know them or describe some accompanying experience that goes with them:

Belief in the external world
Belief in other minds

Is it that you reject these beliefs, or reject them as basic, or think that they are justified by some accompanying feeling?

If you reject that we do have basic knowledge, then Plantinga’s claims are probably going to unconvincing.

I’m pretty sure I just refuted it thoroughly. How do you reconcile the claim that there are objective moral facts that are best accessed by appeal to one’s intuitions with the fact that we get such wildly divergent intuitions from different thoughtful people about them?

Well, you could say that moral intuition provides a defeasible basis for knowledge. You could say that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between deliverances of moral intuition and attitudes picked up from those around you. You could say that, just as with our other senses, we have have to learn how to use our moral intuition properly.

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lukeprog February 15, 2010 at 3:33 am

Matt,

Of course, I am no fan of intuitionist ethics…

Yes, to hear RE described only in terms of supposed parity is frustrating. I might as well say, “You know how you just KNOW that baby torture is wrong? My knowledge that Michael Bay movies are objectively poor art is like that.”

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lukeprog February 15, 2010 at 3:39 am

Kyle,

I know that Michael Bay movies have objectively poor aesthetic merit. I can’t give an account of how I know that, but then again neither can you give an account of how you are justified in believing in an external world or other minds. So if belief in the external world and in other minds is rational, then belief in the objectively poor merit of Michael Bay movies is rational.

Apparently, I am now a genius. I have proven that I am rational to believe that Michael Bay movies have objectively poor aesthetic merit, and millions of people who agree with me can rest happily in the truth of their strong inner feelings about the matter.

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ayer February 15, 2010 at 4:56 am

lukeprog: I know that Michael Bay movies have objectively poor aesthetic merit. I can’t give an account of how I know that, but then again neither can you give an account of how you are justified in believing in an external world or other minds.

Actually, Plantinga has given such an account: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_and_Other_Minds

When you have written a similar 277-page book giving an account of why aesthetic values are objective and properly basic, I will be glad to take a look at it. (Perhaps your jumping off point can be the classic triad of “the true, the good and the beautiful” See: http://tinyurl.com/yzgdf5y

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lukeprog February 15, 2010 at 5:08 am

ayer,

I know Plantinga has given such an account; I’m making fun of it.

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Kyle February 15, 2010 at 5:55 am

Luke,

You need to bear in mind what Plantinga is responding to, and what he is claiming.

He is responding to the claim that belief in God is irrational without supporting arguments.

He is claiming that if the Christian story is true, then belief in God is rational, and in fact warranted. He is not arguing it is either warranted or rational only that it is if the Christian story is true. This means that one can only show that belief in God is irrational by showing that it is false.

In the case of Michael Bay movies, it would be rational to believe those things if you have such a special cognitive faculty. That doesn’t prove that it is rational or that you have such a faculty. I assume that you wouldn’t want to claim that it is even plausible that you have a faculty (except in the broadly logical sense).

However, in the case of belief in God it is plausible that, if God exists, then we have something like the sensus divinitatis.

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Rob B February 15, 2010 at 6:54 am

If the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, then it is plausible that I have a sensus pastatatus.

It is therefore rational for me to believe in the FSM.

Do the defenders of RE agree with that?

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 7:08 am

Rob B: If the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, then it is plausible that I have a sensus pastatatus.

It is therefore rational for me to believe in the FSM.

Do the defenders of RE agree with that?

I am one with FSM when I am pure in ingredients and eschew mere man-made packages for goods unbounded by tin or glass.

Raaaa-maaaan!

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Justfinethanks February 15, 2010 at 8:02 am

When you have written a similar 277-page book giving an account of why aesthetic values are objective and properly basic

Ah yes, the long debated Argument From Book Length.

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drj February 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

Rob B: If the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, then it is plausible that I have a sensus pastatatus.It is therefore rational for me to believe in the FSM.Do the defenders of RE agree with that?  

From what I have seen, Plantinga et al, will argue that such beliefs have no community standing. Since no one reasonably believes such silly examples, RE would not allow one to claim that their belief in the flying spaghetti monster is properly basic. But apparently, if enough people seem to arrive at a particular belief, it can be warranted and properly basic – or something like that. In other words, if no one else really believes it, it isnt warranted. Maybe someone else can elaborate on this better than I can.

Of course, one doesn’t have to result to absurdities like the FSM to cause problems here. Simply appeal to things like astrology, scientology, tarot cards, etc.

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lukeprog February 15, 2010 at 9:52 am

Kyle,

I was responding to God and Other Minds not Warranted Christian Belief.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

drj, Christian beliefs didn’t have ‘community standing’ anywhere for nearly all of human history, and still don’t with most people in the world. As such, since popularity is a factor(?), should they be ignored as well?

(Note: The FSM isn’t absurd in comparison to quite a few established belief systems.)

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Rob B February 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

drj,

You seem to miss the point. I said “If the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists”, and so on. I constructed it just like the RE advocate would.

The absurdity of it is entirely subjective. Christian beliefs are as absurd to me as I’m sure all the thousands of non-Christian religious beliefs are to you. One man’s faith is another man’s belly laugh. So tack on the premise that my FSM beliefs have community standing.

Would it then be rational for me to believe in the FSM based on my strong inner conviction?

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danielg February 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

1. On rejecting the deist approach of assuming God is real

In the real world, we always use a combination of induction and deduction. Even McCormick’s article at the IEP talks about Inductive and Deductive Atheology. We all start with primary assumptions. While some may be guilty of arguing backwards from their conclusions, such an approach does not invalidate their assumptions or their conclusions.

You may question their assumptions, but how they came to their argument does not invalidate it – it’s like a genetic fallacy of sorts.

2. Natural Theology v. Reformed Epistemology

His point about the shift of emphasis in Christian apologetics to an unassailable first assumption is interesting, but I don’t know if it really reflects a concession that natural theology fails. I don’t think classical apologists like Craig have abandoned natural theology at all. “That Kalam argument,” as your guest calls it, is being “trotted out again and again” because it is a good argument, even if your guest is tired of hearing it.

It may reflect a shift in evangelicalism towards Calvinism, but I take that, not as something caused by the likes of Plantinga, but rather, by a shift towards more biblical theology – Calvinism wins out because it is more internally consistent, consistent with biblical text and the doctrine of grace, and with Christian experience.

But perhaps some theologians DO think that they MUST have some unassailable argument, and make that move to acquire one. However, I agree that making such a move is perhaps invalid. Like Oppy said, these arguments do NOT have airtight arguments on either side.

I am comfortable with the limits on reason with regard to these things. In fact, I have concluded that both sides have logical arguments, and perhaps logical weaknesses. Now we must move to our other faculties to make decisions – again, the functions of the spirit, which I call intuition, conscience, and communion. I think this is the inescapable conclusion for those looking for the answer, both theist and antitheist – logic and reason only get us part of the way.

3. On PZ Meyers

PZ Meyers is a loudmouth satirist, not a philosopher or intellect. Does anyone in the anti-theist movement take him more seriously than a Richard Dawkins? He’s an aggravator, not a true open intellect. The polemicists who have popularized the New Atheism are not really helping atheism – they’re like the gays who wear leather and go out chanting “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”

4. Incompatible Properties

He mentions the unmovable stone argument, but of course, this is just a logical fallacy to begin with. Christian theology has a word for ‘incompatible properties’ – they’re called paradoxes of reality. In fact, this is one way in which reality, and God, frustrate those who depend on intellect alone to find reality.

Even naturalists themselves deal with, for instance, the paradox of predestination vs. free will – it seems that both exist whether you look at it from the materialist or biblical view. This is not as much of a challenge to Christian faith as your speaker thinks – it’s part of reality, rather than some oversimplified simplistic world view that demands, for instance, only one side of the paradoxes of reality.

5. On Miracles and Jesus’ Resurrection

The reason that most Christians don’t start from reasoned/historical conviction of Jesus’ resurrection is because, like it or not, Christianity is usually first and primarily an experience of God, not an intellectual conviction – it’s one of the heart, of the intuition, conscience, and communion (the spirit), a rebirth of the spirit. The education of the SOUL (mind, will, emotions) takes place over time AFTER conversion.

Most Christians BEGIN with an experience which includes trust in the scriptures. Now, perhaps there are intellectual reasons to wonder which of the scriptures are true, but the ‘thinness’ of the threads of the Gospels is not only as thin as antitheists would like, nor as thick perhaps as evangelicals say either.

I don’t think that Christians are using special pleading when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection – while you might not think that the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection rises to the level of the Hindu milk miracles, I think that your evaluation of what is useful and credible evidence may be lacking. I think you are entirely ignoring the strong manuscript tradition (as compared to other documents of antiquity), the incredible value of the content of Jesus’ teaching (as opposed to the value of believing in statue-drinking statues), and the lack of evidence that contradicts the resurrection.

In addition, the reason that Christians allow such a “double standard” is because they are not looking for airtight intellectual or historical arguments as the materialist unbeliever might, but ones that are consistent with their experience, their understanding of truth and salvation, and that are NOT contradictory or inferior.

6. Salem Witch Trials

Please, this comparison is ludicrous, as his claim is.

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danielg February 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Wow, lots of comments.

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Rob B February 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm

danielg: 6.Salem Witch Trials
Please, this comparison is ludicrous, as his claim is.  

How so? It seems spot on to me.

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exapologist February 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm

A lot of people are throwing around Plantinga’s notion of an intrinsic defeater-defeater here in a way that’s not in keeping with Plantinga’s own account of it. According to Plantinga,

“…a basic belief P has more by way of warrant than a potential defeater q of p, then p is an intrinsic defeater of q — an intrinsic defeater-defeater, we might say.”[1]

Now all the criteria of warrant are externally construed on Plantinga’s most mature account of warrant. However, he ties degrees of warrant to degrees of firmness with which a properly basic belief is held.[2] Very roughly, then, the picture is this:

I. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.
II. Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.

But here’s the rub: since we have direct (or at least indirect) access to how firmly we hold a given belief, we can tell (in principle, and often in practice) whether we hold a belief with sufficient firmness to be warranted for us. Thus, even if your belief meets all of Plantinga’s externalist conditions of warrant, if you’re belief is closer to the weak and wavering sort (i.e., of the “I do believe; help thou mine unbelief”) than the firm and unwavering sort — i.e., sufficiently analogous in force and vivacity to e.g.: the Moorean belief that you see your hand when you hold it up to your face; to the memory that you were alone in the woods yesterday; to Moses’ reported experience of Yahweh in the burning bush (the latter two are Plantinga’s original examples, by the way), then on Plantinga’s own account, (i) your belief lacks sufficient doxastic force to have a sufficiently high degree of warrant, and (ii) your belief lacks sufficient doxastic force to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for at least some objections to religious belief. This is a point that goes way back to Plantinga’s debate with Christian philosopher Phillip Quinn (now deceased) — one that Plantinga has never sufficiently addressed, so far as I can tell.

Furthermore, a good many other Christian philosophers are in agreement with Quinn about this point re: Plantinga’s account. For example, here’s leading epistemologist and Christian philosopher Keith DeRose:

“I, however, have not been blessed with Plantinga faith. I believe that I have been blessed enough to have had experiences that are in some ways like those Plantinga describes, but for me, the most I have received directly from the Holy Spirit have been gentle nudges toward belief, certainly nothing even approaching the firm and certain conviction of which Plantinga speaks. And if the people I’ve talked to are to be believed — and they are — there are many who would be thrilled to receive faith as Plantinga describes it, but who have not, despite Plantinga’s claim that faith — presumably as he defines it, as a firm and certain conviction — “is given to anyone who is willing to accept it”"[3]

Christian philosopher James K. Beilby (who wrote his dissertation on Plantinga’s externalistic account of warrant) agrees:

“When a defeater for some aspect of Christianity rears its ugly head, Plantinga’s preferred response is that the defeater is defeated not by another argument but by the degree of internal conviction associated with the Christian beliefs themselves. Plantinga calls this an intrinsic defeater-defeater. While such a response is possible, it will be successful only if the degree of warrant and the degree of psychological conviction associated with Christian beliefs is near maximal. In some cases, the degree of warrant will be sufficient, but in most cases, the degree of warrant and conviction will be insufficient to sustain an intrinsic defeater-defeater and thus the defeater-defeater will have to be extrinsic [i.e., propositional evidence and argument -EA]“[4]

Sorry, kids. Unless the force and vivacity of your faith is on a par with, say, your perceptual belief that you see your hand when you hold it in front of your face, your faith lacks sufficient force to be sufficiently warranted, and it lacks sufficient warrant to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater. As such, you’re going to have to actually come up with reasons for your belief, and you’re going to actually have to come up with extrinsic defeater-defeaters to retain your faith in the face of criticisms.
—————–
[1] Cf. Plantinga, “The Foundations of Theism: A Reply”, Faith and Philosophy 3:3 (1986), pp. 298-313.
[2] “We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it.” Warranted Christan Belief (OUP, 2000) p. 156.
[3] DeRose, “Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?”, APA Eastern Division talk, 1998. Accessible here.
[4] Beilby, Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, (Ashgate, 2006 ) p. 212.

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Exapologist, thanks for the review.

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danielg February 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Rob B:
How so?It seems spot on to me.  

Perhaps you could summarize how the Witch Trials are a valid comparison, evidence-wise, to the resurrection accounts – or perhaps superior, as the guest seemed to indicate.

I am not a professional philosopher (yet ;), but I think the comparison is invalid for many reasons:

1. It’s pejorative – this type of poisoning the well with a negative analogy clouds the issue a bit. I suppose you could argue that such a comparison is done precisely to show the believer their own special pleading, but it might have been more useful to take an example less likely to offend the person you are trying to convince – like the Hindu milk statue example.

2. It’s theological foundation is mired in misapplication of Christian doctrine, and is both a historical anomaly and exception, not a general rule.

While the resurrection is a central Christian doctrine, the burning of witches and other hysteria are anomalies and abuses, not mainstream doctrine or practice. Comparing a central doctrine to an anomaly makes the comparison muddy at best, strained and invalid at worst.

3. If you are viewing things from a purely evidential perspective, you might find the comparison valid. However, the resurrection has the advantage of being consistent with and central to not only the New Testament, but the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah, and types and foreshadowing of the Messiah in the OT.

The fact that it is in some sense consistent with the central tenets and mythos of a long standing narrative, not to mention the more general mythos of redemption and life after death.

These consistencies don’t make it more true, nor do they fall within the narrow rubric of materialist evidences. However, these characteristics make the comparison to the Witch Trials seem spurious.

I think that this is one of the most frustrating things about discussing items of faith with materialists. I mean, I really like Luke, and in many ways, he is very fair and open minded. Yet his insistence that our other more subjective epistemologic faculties, those of intuition, conscience, and communion, are totally unreliable and inadmissible seems too narrow to me.

Despite their subjective nature, in everyday life, we use these all the time – scientific materialism can not tell you whom to marry, or which career to choose. Very few people go through life purely applying the scientific method – it is not only impractical, it is too limited.

I wish we could at least define some principles to bound the use of such faculties, instead of doggedly denying their value or application.

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Funny how so many people are sure that I’m mistaken, but there’s no agreement about what or how exactly. That’s a good sign.

And I’m particularly excited about “Please, this comparison is ludicrous, as his claim is.” I take this as a very strong indicator that I’m on the money.

danielg:

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danielg February 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm

One more thing. I noticed in McCormick’s IEP entry on atheism, he mentions all the common theistic arguments, but not the Moral, unless I missed it.

Why? I can’t believe it’s because he fails to see it as valid – maybe he thinks it’s too good an argument against atheism? JK, I seriously doubt that. Is it there and I missed it?

http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Morality is a difficult subject that is not made easier by asserting theism or a lack of theism.

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ayer February 15, 2010 at 6:17 pm

exapologist: Unless the force and vivacity of your faith is on a par with, say, your perceptual belief that you see your hand when you hold it in front of your face, your faith lacks sufficient force to be sufficiently warranted, and it lacks sufficient warrant to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater.

The fact that warrant may vary with the firmness of belief among individuals may be an interesting fact about warrant, but it is irrelevant as to whether my (or Craig’s or Plantinga’s) belief in God rises to the level of an intrinsic defeater-defeater. An falsely accused man with a poor memory may have less warrant for belief in his alibi than an falsely accused man with a normal memory has for HIS alibi, but the latter still has an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Someone who because of defective cognitive faculties who only weakly believes, e.g., that torturing babies for fun is wrong, does not affect the fact that someone with a normally functioning moral faculty has an intrinsic defeater-defeater for that belief. Similarly, another philosopher’s weak belief in God (perhaps because of varying levels of the noetic effects of sin) does not affect Plantinga’s warrant for his theistic belief from rising to the level of an intrinsic defeater-defeater.

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm

While the argument from morality and the argument from consciousness have become popular in the echo chambers of Christian apologetics, neither have made a significant impact on the mainstream discipline of philosophy. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that a single peer reviewed paper in English has been published in any of the top philosophy journals advocating the moral argument. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Divine Command Theory gives some sense of the weakness of the argument and its challenges. The short answer: The view that humans can’t be moral without God is a non-starter. I know that’s going to upset some folks, but that’s why I get the big bucks.

MM

danielg: One more thing.I noticed in McCormick’s IEP entry on atheism, he mentions all the common theistic arguments, but not the Moral, unless I missed it.Why?I can’t believe it’s because he fails to see it as valid – maybe he thinks it’s too good an argument against atheism?JK, I seriously doubt that.Is it there and I missed it?http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/  

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 7:00 pm

danielg:
Perhaps you could summarize how the Witch Trials are a valid comparison, evidence-wise, to the resurrection accounts – or perhaps superior, as the guest seemed to indicate.I am not a professional philosopher (yet , but I think the comparison is invalid for many reasons:1. It’s pejorative – this type of poisoning the well with a negative analogy clouds the issue a bit.I suppose you could argue that such a comparison is done precisely to show the believer their own special pleading, but it might have been more useful to take an example less likely to offend the person you are trying to convince – like the Hindu milk statue example.2. It’s theological foundation is mired in misapplication of Christian doctrine, and is both a historical anomaly and exception, not a general rule.While the resurrection is a central Christian doctrine, the burning of witches and other hysteria are anomalies and abuses, not mainstream doctrine or practice.Comparing a central doctrine to an anomaly makes the comparison muddy at best, strained and invalid at worst.3. If you are viewing things from a purely evidential perspective, you might find the comparison valid.However, the resurrection has the advantage of being consistent with and central to not only the New Testament, but the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah, and types and foreshadowing of the Messiah in the OT.The fact that it is in some sense consistent with the central tenets and mythos of a long standing narrative, not to mention the more general mythos of redemption and life after death.These consistencies don’t make it more true, nor do they fall within the narrow rubric of materialist evidences.However, these characteristics make the comparison to the Witch Trials seem spurious.I think that this is one of the most frustrating things about discussing items of faith with materialists.I mean, I really like Luke, and in many ways, he is very fair and open minded.Yet his insistence that our other more subjective epistemologic faculties, those of intuition, conscience, and communion, are totally unreliable and inadmissible seems too narrow to me.Despite their subjective nature, in everyday life, we use these all the time – scientific materialism can not tell you whom to marry, or which career to choose.Very few people go through life purely applying the scientific method – it is not only impractical, it is too limited.
I wish we could at least define some principles to bound the use of such faculties, instead of doggedly denying their value or application.  

My Salem Witch Trials argument is really quite simple. Many Christians have maintained that there is sufficient evidence of quantity and quality about the resurrection of Jesus for us to conclude on historical grounds that it really happened. They have cited the number and integrity of the witnesses, the honesty and integrity of the witnesses, the martyrdom of the witnesses, the corroboration by other sources, and so on all as virtues of the evidence for the resurrection.

During the Salem Witch Trials, 19 people were tried and executed and hundreds of others were accused and tried for witchcraft. We have the equivalent of a truckload of direct, original evidence indicating that the women who were convicted were witches. That is, by any measure of quantity and quality of evidence that has been presented favoring the resurrection, we have evidence that is orders of magnitude better to think that witchcraft happened at Salem. There was a formal investigation by objective third parties (not true with Jesus). We have hundreds of original documents (not true with Jesus). We have sworn affidavits from hundreds of witnesses to the witchcraft (not true with Jesus). The governor of Mass. and many people trained in investigation and law got involved in the cases (not true with Jesus). The people who testified against the witches had a great deal to lose by accusing their friends, neighbors, wives, etc. And on and on.

1. If the historical evidence for the resurrection is sufficient to justify believing, then the evidence for witchcraft is (more than) sufficient to justify believing.
2. Therefore, if you believe that Jesus was resurrected on the basis of the historical evidence, then you should also believe that there were real witches at Salem.
3. But there were no real witches at Salem.
4. Therefore, you should not believe that Jesus was resurrected on the basis of the historical evidence.

Easy peasy.

MM

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Exapologist:
First, I appreciate your clearness of insight and your being thoughtful about these matters. And I applaud your escaping the clutches of Christian apologetics after getting in so deep.

Question: I don’t recall the matter of subjective certainty from WCB that well, but in Warrant and Proper Function, Plantinga starts with a principle about subjective certainty contributing to warrant in chapter 1 or 2. But by the time he’s done defending the principle in Chapter 11 or so, he abandons any talk about the subject’s introspected level of certainty playing a role. Why does he do that there, but not in WCB?

Here’s what I would say: It’s a real mistake to hook your horses up to the subject’s introspected level of certainty and think that it correlates or tracks with reality, justification, warrant, or truth. There’s just too much empirical evidence that shows that when we start asserting high levels of certainty, our performance on tracking the world actually goes down. See, for instance:
“Calibration of probabilities,” Lichtenstein, Fischoff, and Phillips. In Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. eds. Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky.

MM

exapologist: A lot of people are throwing around Plantinga’s notion of an intrinsic defeater-defeater here in a way that’s not in keeping with Plantinga’s own account of it. According to Plantinga,“…a basic belief P has more by way of warrant than a potential defeater q of p, then p is an intrinsic defeater of q — an intrinsic defeater-defeater, we might say.”[1]Now all the criteria of warrant are externally construed on Plantinga’s most mature account of warrant. However, he ties degrees of warrant to degrees of firmness with which a properly basic belief is held.[2] Very roughly, then, the picture is this:I. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.
II. Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.But here’s the rub: since we have direct (or at least indirect) access to how firmly we hold a given belief, we can tell (in principle, and often in practice) whether we hold a belief with sufficient firmness to be warranted for us. Thus, even if your belief meets all of Plantinga’s externalist conditions of warrant, if you’re belief is closer to the weak and wavering sort (i.e., of the “I do believe; help thou mine unbelief”) than the firm and unwavering sort— i.e., sufficiently analogous in force and vivacity to e.g.: the Moorean belief that you see your hand when you hold it up to your face; to the memory that you were alone in the woods yesterday; to Moses’ reported experience of Yahweh in the burning bush (the latter two are Plantinga’s original examples, by the way), then on Plantinga’s own account, (i) your belief lacks sufficient doxastic force to have a sufficiently high degree of warrant, and (ii) your belief lacks sufficient doxastic force to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for at least some objections to religious belief. This is a point that goes way back to Plantinga’s debate with Christian philosopher Phillip Quinn (now deceased) — one that Plantinga has never sufficiently addressed, so far as I can tell.
Furthermore, a good many other Christian philosophers are in agreement with Quinn about this point re: Plantinga’s account. For example, here’s leading epistemologist and Christian philosopher Keith DeRose:“I, however, have not been blessed with Plantinga faith. I believe that I have been blessed enough to have had experiences that are in some ways like those Plantinga describes, but for me, the most I have received directly from the Holy Spirit have been gentle nudges toward belief, certainly nothing even approaching the firm and certain conviction of which Plantinga speaks. And if the people I’ve talked to are to be believed — and they are — there are many who would be thrilled to receive faith as Plantinga describes it, but who have not, despite Plantinga’s claim that faith — presumably as he defines it, as a firm and certain conviction — “is given to anyone who is willing to accept it””[3]Christian philosopher James K. Beilby (who wrote his dissertation on Plantinga’s externalistic account of warrant) agrees:“When a defeater for some aspect of Christianity rears its ugly head, Plantinga’s preferred response is that the defeater is defeated not by another argument but by the degree of internal conviction associated with the Christian beliefs themselves.Plantinga calls this an intrinsic defeater-defeater.While such a response is possible, it will be successful only if the degree of warrant and the degree of psychological conviction associated with Christian beliefs is near maximal.In some cases, the degree of warrant will be sufficient, but in most cases, the degree of warrant and conviction will be insufficient to sustain an intrinsic defeater-defeater and thus the defeater-defeater will have to be extrinsic [i.e., propositional evidence and argument -EA]“[4]Sorry, kids. Unless the force and vivacity of your faith is on a par with, say, your perceptual belief that you see your hand when you hold it in front of your face, your faith lacks sufficient force to be sufficiently warranted, and it lacks sufficient warrant to serve as an intrinsic defeater-defeater. As such, you’re going to have to actually come up with reasons for your belief, and you’re going to actually have to come up with extrinsic defeater-defeaters to retain your faith in the face of criticisms.
—————–
[1] Cf. Plantinga, “The Foundations of Theism: A Reply”, Faith and Philosophy 3:3 (1986), pp. 298-313.
[2]“We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it.” Warranted Christan Belief (OUP, 2000) p. 156.
[3] DeRose, “Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?”, APA Eastern Division talk, 1998. Accessible here.
[4] Beilby, Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, (Ashgate, 2006 ) p. 212.  

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lukeprog February 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Comments with footnotes!!!!

You guys make me beam with pride.

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exapologist February 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Hi Ayer,

So far as I can tell, you haven’t disagreed with anything I said. The problem is that the doxastic force of most Christians doesn’t arise to the requisite level — as DeRose puts it, most Christians just aren’t blessed with “Plantinga faith”. As such, Plantinga’s account of warranted Christian belief is of little help for the vast majority of Christians.

One could push the point further, and argue that the virtual inapplicability of Plantinga’s model provides pressure to think that if Christianity is true, then Plantinga’s account of warranted Christian belief is false:

“While it is undoubtedly easier to describe and defend the warrant of “epistemological saints”, because the Extended A/C model describes the ideal, fully formed faith of paradigmatic believers rather than the usual, in-process faith of typical believers, Plantinga’s attempt to use the Extended A/C model to provide a good way for Christians to think about the epistemology of Christian belief is in jeopardy. Since the faith of typical believers looks very different from that described in Plantinga’s model, they have a choice between questioning the warrant of their belief about God or rejecting Plantinga’s model as a good explanation of the warrant of their religious beliefs. Since Plantinga himself argues that the beliefs of “most Christians” are “both externally rational and warranted”, the most reasonable option for the typical Christian is the latter.” (Beilby, Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, (Ashgate, 2006 ) p. 146).

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Danielg, you also said:

“Yet his insistence that our other more subjective epistemologic faculties, those of intuition, conscience, and communion, are totally unreliable and inadmissible seems too narrow to me.”

The central problem with these others allegedly epistemological faculties is the absence of any adequate error correction methodology. One of the virtues of the scientific method is that it requires that we actively seek out contrary evidence to pet hypotheses, look for disproof, and aggressively vet our ideas until only that that withstand the harshest levels of critical scrutiny that the whole scientific community can muster. Even the most faithful among you will have to admit that humans all frequently make mistakes. And the examples of people claiming to have intuitive, spiritual, or non-disconfirmable knowledge like you are suggesting that were completely mistaken are too numerous to count. We won’t apologize for demanding that some high standards of justification be met for what could be the most important claims humans have ever made. And as far as I can tell, methodologies for error correction are almost totally absent within believer communities claiming to have these special kinds of knowledge. I’m not opposed to them in principle–but I’m not going to swallow all of that just based on your heartfelt enthusiasm that it is true.

See this post on my blog for lots more:

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/open-floodgates.html

MM

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ayer February 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

exapologist: So far as I can tell, you haven’t disagreed with anything I said. The problem is that the doxastic force of most Christians doesn’t arise to the requisite level — as DeRose puts it, most Christians just aren’t blessed with “Plantinga faith”. As such, Plantinga’s account of warranted Christian belief is of little help for the vast majority of Christians.

One could push the point further, and argue that the virtual inapplicability of Plantinga’s model provides pressure to think that if Christianity is true, then Plantinga’s account of warranted Christian belief is false:

I see several problems:

1) How could anyone know what DeRose claims to know (or Plantinga, for that matter, if he makes such a claim), since it would somehow require “measuring” the inner experience of those who call themselves Christians?
2) It’s not really controversial within the Christian community that there are likely many, many people who call themselves “Christians” for cultural reasons who don’t really hold to orthodox Christianity, so in that sense DeRose’s point is trivial. Determining what that percentage is from outside their inner experience would be problematic to say the least.
3) Basing the truth of Plantinga’s warrant theory on counting the number of people in one category or another also seems extremely problematic.

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Rob B February 15, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Matt McCormick:

3. But there were no real witches at Salem.

Oh really Matt? How do you know? You just have an unjustified bias against witchcraft evidence because you are stuck in a materialist paradigm.

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exapologist February 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Hi, Matt,

Thanks for the kind words!

Interesting question! Hmm. It’s tough for me to say why Plantinga connects degrees of warrant to degrees of firmness. I have some ideas, but I don’t know of specific passages in Plantinga’s corpus that would make me confident in attributing them to him.

Best,
EA

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Matt McCormick February 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm

More evasions: There must be some feature of the experience in virtue of which it is recognizable as basic. There must be some feature of the experience in virtue of which you can say that it is of God rather than a bad burrito.

Evidently the answer is, “I just know it, and I can’t say why or how, and I refuse to elaborate or consider that I could be mistaken.” and that’s the worse sort of anti-rational stone walling on this topic that I’ve seen. Surely you can’t expect the rest of us to take this seriously, or to think that you’re perfectly reasonable and justified when you do it.

Another question: you must acknowledge that many people make mistakes about these matters–the RE Christian must conclude that all of those religious people who come to some other conclusion about the divine, for instance. So what is the error checking method that you employ on the sensus divinitatus? How can you tell when these deliverances are mistaken? What allows you to distinguish the veridical from the bogus?

MM

Kyle: What we want to hear is a forthright account of the experiences that the believer undergoes that endows them with this highly indefeasible God belief.According to Plantinga the knowledge is defeasible.Also, I think you are confused about what claim is being made. You seem to think that the character of the experience is important because the knowledge rests on some principle like: “when I form a belief accompanied by an experience like this, it must be true.” The reason I get this from you is because you talk about wanting to what it is like so that you can spot it if you have it.I think your question is mistaken because the belief is not based upon the above principle.According to Plantinga there are many things that we know in the basic way but cannot say how we know them or describe some accompanying experience that goes with them:Belief in the external world
Belief in other mindsIs it that you reject these beliefs, or reject them as basic, or think that they are justified by some accompanying feeling?If you reject that we do have basic knowledge, then Plantinga’s claims are probably going to unconvincing.I’m pretty sure I just refuted it thoroughly. How do you reconcile the claim that there are objective moral facts that are best accessed by appeal to one’s intuitions with the fact that we get such wildly divergent intuitions from different thoughtful people about them?Well, you could say that moral intuition provides a defeasible basis for knowledge. You could say that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between deliverances of moral intuition and attitudes picked up from those around you. You could say that, just as with our other senses, we have have to learn how to use our moral intuition properly.  

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 12:09 am

Rob B:
Oh really Matt?How do you know?You just have an unjustified bias against witchcraft evidence because you are stuck in a materialist paradigm.  

Yeah, this is one route you can take. You can accept the argument and just bite the bullet and concede that there really were witches at Salem. Go with that, dude. That makes you sound a LOT more reasonable than us rabid materialists.

MM

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Rob B February 16, 2010 at 4:59 am

Matt,

err . . . I was joking. The joke was to emphasize the double standard Christian’s use. In all other areas, they reject evidence that contradicts what we know about how the world actually works, except when it comes to Bible miracles. My statement was so idiotic, I was sure you would get it. Poe’s Law proved again.

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Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth February 16, 2010 at 6:44 am

Plantinga the Sophist who claims that a person upon reading the Buy-bull and finding it fruitful, then can claim belief in Him as basic when that anthology contains so much rubbish reveals his sophistry and begging the question of its truth. People overrate him and WLC.!
Google skeptic griggy.
Aka Carneades , ignostic morgan

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 6:59 am

Matt McCormick: Surely you can’t expect the rest of us to take this seriously, or to think that you’re perfectly reasonable and justified when you do it.

Actually you can take it however you wish, but the import is that, e.g., in a debate setting, the atheist position will never be considered the “default position” by the theist, just as one who denies that other people have minds, that the external world does not exist, or that torturing babies for fun is not morally wrong, bears the burden of proof.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 8:20 am

Oops, ran out of time to finish editing above comment. It should read as follows:

Matt McCormick: Surely you can’t expect the rest of us to take this seriously, or to think that you’re perfectly reasonable and justified when you do it.

Ayer: Actually you can take it however you wish, but the import is that, e.g., in a debate setting, the atheist position will never be considered the “default position” by the theist (at least by the theist who accepts reformed epistemology), just as one who denies that other people have minds, denies that the external world exists, or denies that torturing babies for fun is morally wrong, will bear the burden of proof for those denials.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 8:20 am

Ayer, build those bridges. Yep. No poison or venom in your sentiments.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

Hermes: Ayer, build those bridges.Yep.No poison or venom in your sentiments.  

Yes, it’s so clear that asserting the proper basicality of the external world, other minds, and objective moral values is “poisonous”–give me a break. I might take your criticism more seriously if I saw evidence of “bridge-building” (instead of routine ridicule) in your comments. But I don’t have a problem with blunt atheism (or theism). It’s easier when each side is honest with the other about where they stand. Any true “bridges” will have to be built on a completely straightforward, not a squishy, foundation.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

Ayer, it’s a good thing I consider your comments useless distractions from the original issues. If it were otherwise, I’d spend effort on you. I just think it’s sad that you’ll probably waste a few years on your current position without figuring things out.

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

Oops, sorry about that. I should have looked more closely. The thing is, I’ve presented this argument many, many times. And I have to say that the number one response from Christians is to take this line. They are so wrapped up in the ideology that they’ll actually affirm that the women at Salem were witches, than acknowledge that the case for Jesus is weak. And even worse, Salem is just the start of it. If we lower our standards of historical evidence to the point that the resurrection of Jesus is reasonable, then, to be consistent, we have let in all sorts of other cases–demon possessions, witchcraft, ghosts, hexes, and a host of other spooky phenomena that have occupied people’s minds in history. Some Christians are ok with that–they see the world as riddled with magical, spiritual, and supernatural forces. Very medieval.

MM

Rob B: Matt,err . . . I was joking.The joke was to emphasize the double standard Christian’s use.In all other areas, they reject evidence that contradicts what we know about how the world actually works, except when it comes to Bible miracles.My statement was so idiotic, I was sure you would get it.Poe’s Law proved again.  

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Matt McCormick
And I’m particularly excited about “Please, this comparison is ludicrous, as his claim is.”I take this as a very strong indicator that I’m on the money.  

That could be a mistake. There are at least two reasons why your opponents respond with the claim that you are being ludicrous. The first, which you assume perhaps too easily, is that your comparison is right on target, and your correctness irritates your opponents.

The other, which I contend, and defended to the best of my ability, is that your example is poorly chosen (a.k.a. ‘ludicrous’) because it is (a) pejorative and chosen for it’s inflammatory value as much as it’s appropriateness, and (b) using an anomaly as an analogy to something central.

I think you are creating as much heat as light with the analogy you chose, which doesn’t help make your point.

Perhaps my use of ‘ludicrous’ threw you off and sent you into your victory dance too soon. I’ll tone down my rhetoric so you don’t miss my points ;)

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm

>> MM: My Salem Witch Trials argument is really quite simple.

Perhaps, rather than choosing a negative example (people are witches), you could choose one that was a positive claim that has been proven false (visages of Mary?) That might make your argument more palatable, if not more appropriate. Healing at Lourdes?

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

danielg: choose one that was a positive claim that has been proven false (visages of Mary?) That might make your argument more palatable, if not more appropriate. Healing at Lourdes?

Good attempt, though both examples have advocates for them, and for those people haven’t been disproven.

If there are no Mormons in this thread, maybe using Joseph Smith’s story of how the Book of Mormon came to him might be more apt? Then again, Matt can’t reuse that later as an example because he might be addressing Mormon(s) or those who are sympathetic to their origin story even if they do not personally follow it.

Non-sectarian examples might be various ‘conspiracy theories’, but then again there might be advocates of those stories that would also take offense if those were used as well.

All things considered, I think the Salem incident is much cleaner and is not offensive as it is generally seen as an example of crowd paranoia, personal gain, and vengeance.

Matt’s point that if stories with thinner support — but with strong social expectations of specific groups — are accepted as true, then Salem having witches should also be seriously considered as it has much better documentation. The only difference between the two are the current social expectations. (Note: If you’ve watched Jesus Camp, remember the scene when the lady proselytizer shouts to the kids that ‘if Harry Potter were real, he should be put to death’ for being a warlock. Toss in a batch of bad rye and the lessons of Salem could be forgotten very quickly while it snaps out of history and becomes present-day fact. Every month or two, I hear of yet another story of someone who dies because they are ‘possessed by the Devil’, so I’m not giving an outrageous or impossible example.)

Anyone else want to give it a try?

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lukeprog February 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

How, exactly, does Matt’s example (Salem witches) not show what he claims it shows? I think it is analogous in every way that is relevant to his argument.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

(Luke, I agree. I don’t see how it being ‘negative’ impacts on how accurately it tracks as an analogy. The alternative examples others propose might shed some light on this, but I’m not hopeful and don’t think any of my suggestions are nearly as good as Matt’s use of Salem.)

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

lukeprog: How, exactly, does Matt’s example (Salem witches) not show what he claims it shows? I think it is analogous in every way that is relevant to his argument.  

Thank you for speaking some sense Luke. All of the other evasions about negative connotations and so on are irrelevant. The simple point is that there are a great many people who do not believe that there was magic at Salem but they do believe that there was magic in Jerusalem despite the fact that the evidence for magic at Salem is much better by orders of magnitude than for Jerusalem. There are only three options one can take here:

1) accept that there was magic both in Salem and Jerusalem. I’ve already commented on the various problems with this route.

2) Deny that there was magic either at Salem or Jerusalem. This is the only sensible choice. You probably already think that the women at Salem weren’t really witches, but your favoritism or your enthusiasm for religion and the Jesus story has led you to adopt an untenable double standard. My argument shows why you have to give up the Jesus story to be consistent and reasonable.

3) Make some sort of special pleading argument that maintains that in fact there are special differences about the Jesus case and the evidence we have about it that are not true about the Salem case, so we should accept the resurrection story and reject Salem magic. The problem here is that every special virtue of the resurrection evidence that is typically claimed is true and to a greater extent of the Salem cases. So special pleading here looks like, well, special pleading and an ad hoc attempt to defend Jesus magic.

So if you reject the argument, you’ve either got to give us some non ad hoc reasons to think that the evidence for a magical resurrection is better than it is for magical witches in Salem, or you’ve got to defend lowering your epistemic standards to the point that you accept real witchcraft at Salem.

And I haven’t even started with the list of 50 other examples that do the very same thing as the Salem Witch Trials case: instances where your typical evidential standards and common sense would lead you to reject some alleged supernatural phenomena, but you continue you lower that skepticism so that you can believe in Jesus’ resurrection.

Does anyone have an on-topic, plausible objection to this argument at all?

MM

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Oh yeah, I forgot my new favorite response to the Salem Witch Trials argument:

When I look around it just seems obviously true to me that Jesus was resurrected. My knowledge of the resurrection is just like my knowledge of other minds, God’s universal moral truths, my knowledge that black people are genetically inferior, and my knowledge that astrology works. I know it directly, non-inferentially, and basically. I can’t really explain why, or what my reasons are, it’s just right. And even though I have considered some objections to it, I still find myself believing it. So my belief has warrant.

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Rob B February 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Matt,

It’s a good argument. No Christian here has even come close to addressing it. Whining that it is pejorative is just sour grapes.

The instances of Christian’s having double epistemic standards are innumerable. An obvious example is the alien abduction stories. The number of eye-witnesses telling similar stories of orifice probing gray aliens far out numbers the folks who allegedly saw the resurrected Jesus. But do the Christians buy the alien abduction stories? No. Why not?

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Matt McCormick: Does anyone have an on-topic, plausible objection to this argument at all?

Sure, are you familiar with the work of N.T. Wright? The most powerful evidence for the resurrection is the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah against every expectation of their Jewish worldview. There was a completely unexpected revolution in their theology best explained by the fact that the resurrection happened. The persecutors of the Salem witches, on the other hand, had every reason from within their theological worldview to see witches everywhere. For them, finding witches was entirely expected and nonrevolutionary, making it easy to see why they would “witness” what they expected.

N.T. Wright: “Jesus had not done what Messiahs were supposed to do. He had neither won a decisive victory over Israel’s political enemies, nor restored the Temple (except in the most ambiguous symbolic fashion). Nor had he brought God’s justice and peace to the world; the wolf was not yet lying down with the lamb. But the early gospel traditions are already shaped by the belief that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah; Paul regularly calls him Christos, and if that term had become for him merely a proper name (which I dispute) that only goes to show how firmly Jesus’ messianic identity was already established by Paul’s day. For Revelation, Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The historian is bound to face the question: once Jesus had been crucified, why would anyone say that he was Israel’s Messiah?” http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Matt McCormick: The view that humans can’t be moral without God is a non-starter.

The question is not “whether humans can be moral without God.” The question is whether there is an objective, ontological grounding for a moral standard without God. The fact that individual atheists can live moral lives is irrelevant to that latter issue.

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Thomas Reid February 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Matt McCormick:

1. If the historical evidence for the resurrection is sufficient to justify believing, then the evidence for witchcraft is (more than) sufficient to justify believing.

Does anyone have an on-topic, plausible objection to this argument at all?

MM

If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear your reasoning supporting Premise #1 please.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Matt McCormick: Oh yeah, I forgot my new favorite response to the Salem Witch Trials argument:When I look around it just seems obviously true to me that Jesus was resurrected.My knowledge of the resurrection is just like my knowledge of other minds, God’s universal moral truths, my knowledge that black people are genetically inferior, and my knowledge that astrology works.I know it directly, non-inferentially, and basically.I can’t really explain why, or what my reasons are, it’s just right.And even though I have considered some objections to it, I still find myself believing it.So my belief has warrant.  

Proper basicality does not apply in this specific case, but Plantinga’s Aquinas/Calvin model of the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit in the reading of scripture (as described in Ch. 12 of “Warranted Christian Belief”) actually does provide a good basis for belief in the resurrection aside from historiographical means.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Matt McCormick: Does anyone have an on-topic, plausible objection to this argument at all?

I can’t think of one, but then again I’m starting to wonder if we weren’t born the same person in a different dimension, and one of us was sucked through a dimensional rift in early life. Were you adopted under mysterious circumstances, perhaps? :-)

Matt McCormick: [example] When I look around it just seems obviously true to me that Jesus was resurrected.

The strangest one I’ve ever gotten was when someone decided to argue with me about the Shroud of Turin and they insisted that ‘of course it’s Jesus, it even looks like Jesus!’ and thus it couldn’t be anyone else.

They weren’t kidding.

Strangely, they weren’t clueless just strident on a few different topics.

Because I was kinda surprised, I restrained myself for a few posts and asked a few delicate questions as hints to them that they might want to rethink that zinger.

After a few days of seeing that I was getting nowhere, I decided to point out that nobody drew a portrait of Jesus when he supposedly lived, so nobody knows exactly what he looked like. Because nobody did, how did he have special knowledge that the Shroud ‘looked just like Jesus’?

I think a light went on when I pointed that out. As I said, the person wasn’t dumb, just fervent. Yet, I don’t think it was enough. Baby steps, I guess!

(FWIW, I’m not convinced Jesus Christ as described in the Christian Bible existed. Even his name isn’t a name; it’s a title.)

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm

ayer: The question is whether there is an objective, ontological grounding for a moral standard without God.

Or with a god (Yahweh(tm) or not), so dividing the population up like that isn’t really warranted.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Thomas Reid: If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear your reasoning supporting Premise #1 please.

The Salem trials have much better documentation. They are mentioned as an example because this really isn’t in dispute.

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm

>> MM: There’s still no one who can offer some details about what it’s like to have this sensus divinitatus or the testimony of the Holy Ghost? What’s it like when your radio is tuned to the God channel? Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on.

I think that this feature is better described in more generic terms. I recommend Watchman Nee’s The Spiritual Man for a complete, biblical treatment of the functions of the soul and spirit.

I think Nee and others in the Evangelical/Protestant tradition would describe this ‘sensus divinitatus’ first in general terms, then specifically.

I started a series on The Tripartite Makeup of Man to discuss these things, but never got back to it, so let me sum up here. However, please at least go read my first (and only) article in that series to understand the difference between soul and spirit, biblically speaking – I think it’s a useful model.

Q: What is it like to have this sensus divintatus?

I think more commonly, this can be described as the impressions of conscience, intuition, and communion, the three ‘functions’ of the spirit. These are distinct from, but not disconnected to the functions of the soul, that is, the will, the emotions, and the intellect.

I’m writing this up in a post, and will post the results here. I hope to answer your question well.

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lukeprog February 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

danielg,

I hope you do. So far we’ve heard almost nothing, excepting some posts from Gressis.

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Thomas Reid February 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Thomas Reid: If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear your reasoning supporting Premise #1 please.

Hermes: The Salem trials have much better documentation.They are mentioned as an example because this really isn’t in dispute.

Right, what does “better documentation” mean? The most eyewitnesses? The most independent sources? The earliest recordings?

Further, are these sources to be understood independent of the claims made – is “spotting a witch” as easy as identifying that someone you saw die is now alive in front of you? Are they to be understood independent or the historical context of the events – 1st century Palestine versus late 17th century New England?

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hermes: The Salem trials have much better documentation.

I agree with Thomas – not that we doubt you ;), but we are not sure what evidences you are comparing to come up with your “better documented” conclusion.

Esp. since, as i alluded somewhere above, atheists are notorious for accepting only a very narrow band of evidences – so for instance, did any of the people claiming to have seen these witch activities die as martyrs, as the original apostles did? Is that part of the evidence considered, or not? How about comparing the credibility of the claimants?

Also, I want to be clear – you are claiming that the evidence for *witchcraft* is better documented, not for the actual events that took place as a result of the accusations, right?

I mean, I might agree with you that the Salem witch trials actually happened, but just for the sake of argument, how DOES the evidence that the Salem Witch EVENTS actually occurred compare to the evidence for the resurrection? Even there your comparison may fail.

I mean, how many manuscripts do we have? How soon after the events were they written?
——————————–
I don’t think I got my point across about my objections to the validity of the Witch Trials analogy, and perhaps the difference of negative v. positive claims is not significant – I’ll have to think that through.

However, I do maintain that they are different in many ways, some of which may be significant, and outweigh the similarities you want to leverage. And I continue to contend that you should want to avoid unnecessarily offending your opponent – I don’t think that Mormons are your intended audience per se, and since most Christians don’t think too highly of Smith, using a John Smith analogy might have been a very good one.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Danielg, thank you for your thoughtful approach on this. For now, I will refrain from offering detailed commentary, but I do have a question. If it will not distract you from fleshing out the 9 bullet items, then please consider taking a look;

Q. What are your thoughts on the similarities of what you describe in “spirit” and “soul” or any bullet item in those lists and my earlier comments on meditative states?

* * *

If you have any questions about what I experienced during meditation, please let me know.

I realize that none of your bullet items have been fleshed out yet, and as such I am going mainly on what I guess you mean by each item.

For what it’s worth, going with my initial guess, there may be a close tracking of some of the items in your lists and what I described about meditative experiences earlier. Furthermore, I think I can explain each of your bullet items if my guess is close to what you intended to express. In addition to meditation, I draw from a detailed discussion on incorporeal souls posted elsewhere.

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Rob B February 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm
lukeprog February 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Great link, Rob.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Re: Salem

Thomas and Danielg, I have no problem providing and discussing details where there is a serious doubt that the issue is close and not at all obvious after a modest investigation. That is not the case here.

For the resurrection of Jesus, there are differing accounts, none recorded at the time they were claimed to occur.

For the Salem trials, we have trial transcripts and statements of the participants. For example, see the Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

Is this satisfactory as a summary of what the current records and evidence available are? If not, why not?

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm

The comments section format is pretty limiting. I’ve gone through all of the answers to these questions on my blog.

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/search?q=Salem

And here’s a more recent excerpt from my book manuscript: Sorry for the length. But you asked for it.

The Salem Witch Trials

Between 1692 and 1693, dozens of people were accused, arrested, stood trial, and were tortured or hanged for “Sundry acts of Witchcraft,” possession by devils, and other supernatural ill deeds in Salem, Massachusetts. The events began with the strange behavior of some little girls that fed suspicions. The girls ran about and froze in grotesque postures, complain about biting and pinching sensations, and had violent seizures.

Ultimately over 150 people were accused. In the end, 19 people, including Sarah Goode, and Rebekah Nurse had been sentenced and executed. William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts got involved. A court was established with judges, prosecutors, defenders, and a large number of respected members of the community. Thorough investigations were conducted. Witnesses were carefully cross-examined. A large body of evidence was meticulously gathered. Many people confessed. The entire proceedings were carefully documented with thousands of sworn affidavits, court documents, interviews, and related papers.

In most people’s minds, the Salem Witch Trials are a frightening example of how enthusiasm, hysteria, social pressure, anxiety, and religious fervor can be powerful enough to lead ordinary people to do such extraordinary and mistaken things. “Witch hunt” has come to be synonymous with an irrational and emotionally heated persecution.

Evidence for witchcraft?

Suppose we were to consider the hypothesis that the women who were accused of performing magic at Salem really were witches. That is, suppose they really possessed some supernatural powers or the ability to harness forces beyond the natural realm to make magical events happen. The interesting and crucial question for us is, what is the state of our evidence as support for this hypothesis? Is the evidence we have adequate to justify us in accepting this conclusion? What can be said in favor of it?

First, hundreds of people were involved in concluding that the accused were witches. They testified in court, signed sworn affidavits, and demonstrated their utter conviction that the accused were witches. Furthermore, the people attesting to the witchcraft charge came from diverse backgrounds and social strata. They included magistrates, judges, the governor of Massachusetts, respected members of the community, husbands of the accused, and so on. These people had a great deal to lose by being correct—men would lose their wives, children would lose their mothers, community members would lose friends they cared about. It seems very unlikely that they could have had ulterior motives. Accusing a friend or wife of being a witch would very likely have the horrible outcome of getting them executed.

How good was the evidence gathering process at the time? The trials were thorough, careful, exhaustive investigations. They deliberately gathered evidence, and made a substantial attempt to objectively sort out truth from falsity. In the court trials, they attempted to carefully discern the facts. That there were witch trials in Salem and that many people were put to death has been thoroughly corroborated with a range of other historical sources. It also seems abundantly clear that the accusers, or at least a significant number of them, were utterly convinced that the women were witches. Why else would so many people agree and act so decisively and with such conviction? It strains credibility to suggest that there was a conspiracy, or a mass hallucination shared by all of the hundreds of people involved.
What about the state of the evidence as it was passed to us, centuries later? The Salem Witch Trials were a mere 300 years ago, so we have hundreds of the actual documents that were part of the evidence. We have the actual, signed, sworn testimonies of the eyewitnesses claiming to have seen the magic performed not as it was repeated and relayed for decades to others, but from the witnesses themselves immediately after it occurred. (One of the accusers swore that one of the witches had flown her to the top of a distant mountain and then promised to give all of the surrounding lands to her in exchange for signing a magical book.)

How much evidence do we have? Enough to fill a truck. Modern archives at the University of Virginia and elsewhere have thousands of documents, books, records, transcripts, affidavits, testimonials, and other works detailing the events. That there were witch trials that convicted the women is beyond a shadow of historical doubt.

But They Weren’t Witches
Of course, I am not making a serious case for real witchcraft at Salem. I do not think you should conclude that the accused were really witches. Real witchcraft is one of the possible hypotheses that could explain the events in Salem, but it is not the best, most probable one. The point is that they were not really witches, and you do not believe that they were on the basis of this substantial body of historical evidence. If you do, then there is another discussion we must have. For now, I will assume that you do not.

If we take the attempts to prove the resurrection of Jesus on historical grounds seriously, then in order to be consistent we must also accept that the Salem witches actually performed acts of black magic. In fact, the Salem case (there are many others) has an ironic result. When it is put up against the case for the resurrection, in every important respect, the historical evidence for witchcraft is better than the historical argument for the resurrection, yet a great many people reject the former and accept the latter. In the Salem case, we have thousands of the actual documents. The events were actively investigated by thoughtful, educated, (relatively) modern people. The trials were a mere 300 years ago, not 2,000. We have the actual documents; we do not have any of the original Gospels, only copies from centuries later. We have the actual, sworn testimony of people claiming to have seen the magic performed immediately after it happened instead of decades later. The girls were repeatedly examined and interviewed. A large number of people devoted a great deal of time and energy to carefully analyzing their states and concluded that whatever was wrong with them must be of a supernatural origin. You will recall from the last chapter that the Gospel stories are a handful of anecdotal, hearsay stories from passionate and committed religious adherents that were passed by word of mouth through an unknown number of people for decades before being written down. All that remains of those stories are copies of copies from 200 years later that were actively culled from a wider range of more varied writings.

By any reasonable measure of quantity and quality, the evidence we have that there were witches in Salem is vastly better than the evidence we have for the magical return from the dead by Jesus. But despite the better evidence, it is simply not reasonable to believe that the women in Salem really were witches or that they really performed magic. No reasonable person with a typical, 21st century education believes that even though they were tried, convicted, and executed for witchcraft, they were really witches.

The example should produce a great deal of cognitive dissonance for the Christian who accepts the historical argument for Jesus; you can’t consistently accept Jesus’ returning from the dead while rejecting the real magical powers of the Salem witches. Something’s got to give. There are at least three ways that someone might attempt to reconcile the cases. First, it’s possible to be consistent by lowering one’s threshold of required evidence that some extraordinary supernatural event occurred to the point that you accept both the resurrection of Jesus and the magical powers of the Salem witches. Indeed, there will be some who believe that supernatural forces, magic, and spiritual phenomena are quite common, so acknowledging real witchcraft at Salem may not seem that troubling.

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Could you give me some reasons to think that spirits or souls are real? I’m not opposed to the idea in principle, but aside from a pretty widespread belief that they are real, I’ve never heard a shred of evidence that withstood any real scrutiny. Sorry, I’m not just trying to be obstructionist, but it’s not going to help me understand anything to be lectured about souls and spirits and spooks when as far as I can tell those are Iron Age superstitions.

danielg: >> MM: There’s still no one who can offer some details about what it’s like to have this sensus divinitatus or the testimony of the Holy Ghost? What’s it like when your radio is tuned to the God channel? Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on.I think that this feature is better described in more generic terms.I recommend Watchman Nee’s The Spiritual Man for a complete, biblical treatment of the functions of the soul and spirit.I think Nee and others in the Evangelical/Protestant tradition would describe this ’sensus divinitatus’ first in general terms, then specifically.I started a series on The Tripartite Makeup of Man to discuss these things, but never got back to it, so let me sum up here.However, please at least go read my first (and only) article in that series to understand the difference between soul and spirit, biblically speaking – I think it’s a useful model.Q: What is it like to have this sensus divintatus?I think more commonly, this can be described as the impressions of conscience, intuition, and communion, the three ‘functions’ of the spirit.These are distinct from, but not disconnected to the functions of the soul, that is, the will, the emotions, and the intellect.I’m writing this up in a post, and will post the results here.I hope to answer your question well.  

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Matt McCormick: nd here’s a more recent excerpt from my book manuscript: Sorry for the length. But you asked for it.

Doesn’t deal with N.T. Wright’s argument.

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Thomas Reid February 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Matt,
Thank you for the summary. A few questions:

1. Do you think the accusation of being a witch, so conceived by the accusers, rises to the level of falsifiability as the claim of someone rising from the dead? To me these two claims seem miles apart in this regard.

2. Do you think it is appropriate to compare the quality and quantity of source material across centuries? I’m skeptical that this is the right method to go about it.

3. Do you think the context of the culture is important in establishing the credibility of the claim? The concept of witchcraft was at least intelligible and familiar to many for centuries prior to the events of Salem, whereas the bodily resurrection prior to the Messianic age was foreign at least throughout Second Temple Judaism (Sadducees didn’t even believe in the resurrection) and probably before then.

4. You discuss what the Salem accusers had to lose by making their claims, but have you thought about what they stood to gain (for example, regaining social standing with the other respected members of the community)? In contrast, I see no external pressure on early believers to make the outrageous claim that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact most arguments I encounter attempting to refute this claim rely on the position that the early believers had to reconcile their internal beliefs on the matter.

I still don’t see any good reasons to accept Premise #1.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Re: #3, Thomas, you do realize that there is a rising from the dead story in the OT, right?

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Rob B February 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm

“2. Do you think it is appropriate to compare the quality and quantity of source material across centuries?”

The quantity and quality of the witch evidence far surpasses anything we have about Jesus.

Do any of the Christians not think there were witches in Salem? And if not, why not?

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 9:03 pm

The idea of people coming back from the dead is ubiquitous in ancient cultures. But it doesn’t matter really. The suggestion in TR’s questions seems to be that Jesus’ followers would not have had any expectations about a resurrection because the idea was foreign to them. The inference seems to be something like, If the idea was foreign to them, then the only way they would have reported a resurrection story would be if a resurrection really happened. That’s just silly, but I guess I’m not surprised. The response to the Salem argument appears to be: there are other, better natural explanations that account for what happened at Salem, but based on the available evidence we have about Jesus, none of the possible natural alternatives is more likely than an actual resurrection from the dead. This is mistaken for several reasons: 1. we just don’t have much evidence about Jesus. Spin the details how you like, and amplify various elements as much as you want, in the end we have a copies of copies of a few disparate stories written 30 to 100 years later, none of which agree on any important detail. If you wish to claim, on that basis, that the probability of a bona fide magical event is greater than the probability that there is some alternate natural explanation then you’re simply distorting the facts and rationalizing an ideology. 2. Even if the evidence we had from people claiming that Jesus did something was magical was roughly equivalent in quantity and quality to the evidence to what we have from Salem, it still wouldn’t be enough, assuming that you’re reasonable and you don’t think they were really witches. 3. In the end, it just comes down to the question, do you or don’t you think that the women who were executed at Salem were really witches? If you do, then the rest of us know what sort of epistemic standard you’re operating with. If you don’t, the Jesus has got to go.

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Matt, I don’t mean to attack you, but like myself, I think you show some red flags of not being ready for serious dialogue. Your responses seep disdain and derision, and your frequent use of superlatives is not only off putting, it’s inaccurate. If it were not for your knowledge base and ability to present ideas, you could be easily dismissed.

In case you think I am merely engaging in ad hominems, I offer these examples:
- That’s just silly, but I guess I’m not surprised.
- Spin the details how you like, and amplify various elements as much as you want, in the end we have a copies of copies of a few disparate stories written 30 to 100 years later, none of which agree on any important detail.
- the probability of a bona fide magical event
- you’re simply distorting the facts and rationalizing an ideology.
- In the end, it just comes down to the question, do you or don’t you think that the women who were executed at Salem were really witches? If you do, then the rest of us know what sort of epistemic standard you’re operating with. If you don’t, the Jesus has got to go.

Thomas asked some really good, pointed questions that question your methods and assertions, and you responded with a mixture of indirect or incomplete answers and subtle derision. You won’t convince anyone that you have the goods or character to support your points that way.

You (and I) could take a few lessons in integrity and generosity from Bill Craig. But your consistent superior attitude finally pushed me over the edge, so I’m pissed, and have decided it may NOT be worth engaging you as long as you are more interested in asserting you are right than in engaging responsibly and respectfully.

But I will be finishing my post on explaining the details of the practical workings of Calvin’s sensus devinitatus.

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lukeprog February 16, 2010 at 10:15 pm

“You (and I) could take a few lessons in integrity and generosity from Bill Craig.”

Oh God no.

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Matt McCormick February 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm

ayer:
Sure, are you familiar with the work ofN.T. Wright?The most powerful evidence for the resurrection is the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah against every expectation of their Jewish worldview.There was a completely unexpected revolution in their theology best explained by the fact that the resurrection happened.The persecutors of the Salem witches, on the other hand, had every reason from within their theological worldview to see witches everywhere.For them, finding witches was entirely expected and nonrevolutionary, making it easy to see why they would “witness” what they expected.N.T. Wright: “Jesus had not done what Messiahs were supposed to do.He had neither won a decisive victory over Israel’s political enemies, nor restored the Temple (except in the most ambiguous symbolic fashion).Nor had he brought God’s justice and peace to the world; the wolf was not yet lying down with the lamb.But the early gospel traditions are already shaped by the belief that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah; Paul regularly calls him Christos, and if that term had become for him merely a proper name (which I dispute) that only goes to show how firmly Jesus’ messianic identity was already established by Paul’s day.For Revelation, Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.The historian is bound to face the question: once Jesus had been crucified, why would anyone say that he was Israel’s Messiah?” http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm  

My response will be completely unsatisfying and unconvincing to you: Wright is doing the same thing that most people do. When they are really determined to make a cherished belief fit in with the evidence they find around them, even if the fit is very poor, they can and will find a way to coerce, manipulate, select, embellish, adjust, or finesse it and talk themselves into thinking that the evidence justifies the belief. All I can say is that I think if he had not come to the history of the Gospel accounts with an already existing strong inclination to vindicate them in favor of Christianity, he would have come up with a much less positive account of the evidence for the resurrection. That may seem like an ad hominem attack, but I have read his account and many other like it, and I have consulted lots of reputable historians, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get clear on the history of the evidence and what we do and do not know, and I have to conclude that arguments like the one he is giving, while they sound impressive and sophisticated, are examples of confirmation bias worked on a massive scale.

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danielg February 16, 2010 at 10:22 pm

>> MM: Could you give me some reasons to think that spirits or souls are real?

There is some evidence, both biologic and cosmologic/philosophic, for independent mind, I believe. The mere assemblage of bodily chemicsals does not a living being make.

Whether you take those concepts as real entities or mere constructs to help explain the cumulative supra-material higher functions of the psyche may not matter.

However, I am seeking to explain, in both common terms and experiences and biblical systematics, how these functions of the soul and spirit are conceptualized. Yes, bible believers may believe that the spirit and soul are real entities, but I don’t think that arguing that matters. The *functions* they describe are what is important to evaluate.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 3:46 am

Re: William Lane Craig, integrity & generosity

Danielg, after hearing Craig’s arguments rebutted in formal debates and then have him come back time after time after time with those same rebutted arguments as if nothing happened, I have to disagree strongly with your assessment on his integrity. As for generosity, I don’t see him as not generous but neither do I find him generous. He has a job; bring people to Christ. Like other apologists, he is mainly interested in sounding right than in being correct.

As such, promoting him as a role model isn’t very persuasive.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 3:53 am

danielg: There is some evidence, both biologic and cosmologic/philosophic, for independent mind, I believe.

I disagree, and have made a list of counter evidence that I think is conclusive for review to spark a deeper discussion if you are up for it.

danielg:
The mere assemblage of bodily chemicsals does not a living being make.

Sounds intuitively good as we and all life forms are the product of many influences, but it has no impact on the issue of incorporeal souls existing or not.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:02 am

danielg: You won’t convince anyone that you have the goods or character to support your points that way.

Question on character. If Hitler said ‘Eins und eins ist zwei.’, does it make 1+1 not equal to 2?

The bluntness and ‘dismissiveness’ you experience from Matt is probably due to his frustration in dealing with issues that are simple. That are demonstrable. That he has demonstrated a case for. I’m sure he just wants to move on to the next issue and not deal with what he’s already covered quite throughly.

As such, I think his character is entirely appropriate. Could he be more patient? Yes. Would it make a difference? It seems the answer to that must be no at this point since he’s delivered the goods in triplicate already.

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Thomas Reid February 17, 2010 at 4:17 am

Hermes: Re: #3, Thomas, you do realize that there is a rising from the dead story in the OT, right?  

You are referring to Elijah and the widow’s son, right? Read my question again, and to which period I referred. Read also about which books the Sadducees considered canonical.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 4:44 am

lukeprog: “You (and I) could take a few lessons in integrity and generosity from Bill Craig.”Oh God no.  

If you doubt Craig’s integrity and generosity, I suggest you read Richard Carrier’s post-debate analysis, and how Carrier viewed Craig’s response to a false accusation he (inadvertently) hit Craig with in the debate: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/search/label/W.L.%20Craig

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 4:46 am

Hermes: Re: #3, Thomas, you do realize that there is a rising from the dead story in the OT, right?  

You are confusing individual resuscitations with THE resurrection (i.e., raised for eternity never to die again). The Sadducees rejected it wholesale, and other Jews believed it would only come for all people at once at the end of the world. For the messiah to experience THE resurrection prior to the end of time was radically outside any Jewish expectation.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 4:48 am

Matt McCormick: My response will be completely unsatisfying and unconvincing to you: Wright is doing the same thing that most people do. When they are really determined to make a cherished belief fit in with the evidence they find around them, even if the fit is very poor, they can and will find a way to coerce, manipulate, select, embellish, adjust, or finesse it and talk themselves into thinking that the evidence justifies the belief.

Yes, that is unsatisfying, because the same claim of bias could be launched at any historian, and it fails to deal with the substance of his work. A tu quoque along those lines could be aimed at you.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:57 am

Thomas, thank you for your reply. I understand what you meant now.

Instead of bringing up additional details I chopped from my initial reply, I’d like to know if you have any responses for Rob B’s or Matt’s comments that followed the reply of mine that you responded to?

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:59 am

Ayer, there is no confusion on my part. You’re hair splitting. Read Matt’s comment.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 5:00 am

Nice job trying to derail the discussion, danielg: “the interwebz is being MEAN to me!”

The inference seems to be something like, If the idea was foreign to them, then the only way they would have reported a resurrection story would be if a resurrection really happened. That’s just silly, but I guess I’m not surprised. The response to the Salem argument appears to be: there are other, better natural explanations that account for what happened at Salem, but based on the available evidence we have about Jesus, none of the possible natural alternatives is more likely than an actual resurrection from the dead.

Using the word ‘silly’ here is mild and considerate of your tender Christian sensibilities. I would have said ‘seriously deluded and a prime example of the deleterious effect that religious brainwashing can have on critical thinking,’ but then I’m one of those mean new atheists.

Speaking of sensus divinitatis, I experienced a sense of the divine last night watching a show on the Hubble telescope and the information we’ve garnered about the universe from this amazing tool. It was so powerful I wept. No actual divinities were involved, however.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 6:17 am

ildi: Using the word ’silly’ here is mild and considerate of your tender Christian sensibilities. I would have said ’seriously deluded and a prime example of the deleterious effect that religious brainwashing can have on critical thinking,’ but then I’m one of those mean new atheists.

I agree that Christians need to adjust expectations regarding civil debate when dealing with new atheists, and develop a thick skin. Unfortunately, too many of the new atheists seem able to dish it out but not take it (e.g., D’Souza’s latest defeated opponent).

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 8:08 am

Wow. This thread is a bloodbath. I will add a few final comments.

Holding up WLC as an example of integrity is richly ironic. Here is a man who by his own admission cannot be persuaded by arguments, yet he devotes his life to making arguments.

danileg said:

“The mere assemblage of bodily chemicsals does not a living being make.”

This is a great example of the common apologetic technique called “mere-mustification”, which is used against naturalism. It’s a form of the argument from personal incredulity. Look for it, you find it everywhere.

And finally, no Christian has addressed the meat of Matt’s argument. I will ask my question again: Do Christians think there were witches in Salem? If you do not, then the reasoning that brought you that conclusion will also bring you to the conclusion that the resurrection did not occur.

You guys are using a double epistemic standard. Knock it off.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

ayer:

Unfortunately, too many of the new atheists seem able to dish it out but not take it (e.g., D’Souza’s latest defeated opponent).

From John’s web site:

Here are my thoughts on what to look for as you evaluate it. I am NOT making excuses. I am NOT saying I won the debate. From all skeptical accounts it looks like I lost, although I have not heard from any Christians in the audience (maybe one). My problem is I need to see it objectively for myself. If you have ever been in a debate then you’re thinking on your feet and cannot remember exactly what was said, and when it was said, to have a good judgment about it until you see it later, although people who say I lost are probably right.

You mean like that?

ayer again:

You are confusing individual resuscitations with THE resurrection (i.e., raised for eternity never to die again).

According to Johannes Leipoldt in The Resurrection Stories:

To prevent any misunderstanding, let me say at the outset that the disciples must have been convinced that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. Otherwise the birth of the Jerusalem congregation and thus the Christian church becomes a mystery. Jesus died on the cross, contrary to the messianic hopes of Judaism. He died in a way that was regarded in the ancient world as particularly despicable. Furthermore, in the earliest of the four gospels, Jesus, in the throes of death, seems to utter a public confession of error or at least a cry of desperation to the effect that his whole life’s work has been in vain (Mk 15:34). However, within a very short space of time we once again find a group of believers rallying to the name of Jesus, and indeed in the very city where his terrible death took place. Something must have happened between the crucifixion and this revival to renew the disciples’ courage. This could only have been the emergence of belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
When the disciples now report this experience, however, they employ forms of speech commonly found in resurrection stories, emphasizing certain features that always stand in the foreground of such stories. This reflects the practice of their time, which was seldom marked by the distinctive manner of an individual author as what we are used to today.

[snip]

The main thing we have learned is that there are legends of the resurrection of figures who are not in any way related to the forces of nature. To be sure, in such cases the belief is confined to select segments of the population—e.g., in the case of the Roman emperors, the official representatives of the state, or for philosophers, their academic colleagues and the inner circle of admirers. Jesus is the only one who initiates a world-wide movement. This is a unique feature that deserves consideration even by historians. One superficial feature may already be significant: within a generation after the death of Jesus, which probably occurred around 30 C.E., the first Christians already made use of formulated resurrection accounts (1 Cor 15:4 ff. was written during the first half of the 50s C.E.).

Their leader dies in an ignoble way while admitting defeat. Resurrection stories abounded. The body is missing. Greeks and Romans believed this is how the gods made a special human immortal. Doesn’t seem to be anything uniquely special about THE resurrection.

Now, about those witches…

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

Rob B: Holding up WLC as an example of integrity is richly ironic. Here is a man who by his own admission cannot be persuaded by arguments, yet he devotes his life to making arguments.

No, Craig clearly states in his book “Reasonable Faith” (and elsewhere) that even if we know our faith is true by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, we “show” our faith is true through the use of arguments (among other things) which the Holy Spirit uses to reach unbelievers. He also finds the arguments he makes more plausible than their alternatives, evaluated by purely by standards of reason alone. There is no contradiction.

Rob B: And finally, no Christian has addressed the meat of Matt’s argument. I will ask my question again: Do Christians think there were witches in Salem? If you do not, then the reasoning that brought you that conclusion will also bring you to the conclusion that the resurrection did not occur.

You guys are using a double epistemic standard. Knock it off.

No, he has not addressed the substance of N.T. Wright’s argument(see my link above, and see Wright’s book “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796) (the main argument there is similar to one of Thomas Reid’s points above,too).

Since Wright is probably the leading historian of the resurrection, Matt’s point fails until Wright’s work is absorbed and addressed.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 8:43 am

Ayer,

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Do your joints hurt, with all those contortions?

I’m done here.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 9:24 am

ildi: You mean like that?

No, I mean the same thing Luke said in his comment on Loftus’ blog on 2/12, where he advised him to “chill” and stop threatening to quit over criticism.

ildi: Doesn’t seem to be anything uniquely special about THE resurrection.

Yes, there was in Judaism–but I dont’ suppose you’ve read N.T. Wright’s book either?

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 10:13 am

ayer and ildi,

Just so everyone’s clear, here’s the comment ayer is referring to from me on John’s blog:

John,

You worry me sometimes. You take criticism waaaaaaaaay too seriously. I remember when you threatened to shut down your website and leave counter-apologetics altogether because religious idiots were leaving mean comments. And a few posts ago you threatened to “quit” (what, I don’t know) because some atheists didn’t like your debate performance against Dinesh.

I think you need to chill. Have some fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Don’t concern yourself with who ‘lost’ or ‘won’ the debate, but what you can learn about what works and what doesn’t. And of course remember that you have one of the most popular atheist blogs on the net (for good reason), and that your are positioned to be a major player in the theist-atheist debate with all these terrific-looking books you are editing and contributing to.

That’s here.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 10:41 am

I mean the same thing Luke said in his comment on Loftus’ blog on 2/12, where he advised him to “chill” and stop threatening to quit over criticism.

My quote was from 2/15, and actually, it’s not relevant. As Matt put so well in the interview, since when do you win the argument because you don’t like the way someone points out the flaws in your argument?

Yes, there was in Judaism–but I dont’ suppose you’ve read N.T. Wright’s book either?

No, there wasn’t, and no I haven’t, but I read this fascinating review instead:

N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

Some snippets:

There are three fundamental, vitiating errors running like fault lines through the unstable continent of this book. The first is a complete unwillingness to engage a number of specific questions or bodies of evidence that threaten to shatter Wright’s over-optimistically orthodox assessment of the evidence. The most striking of these blustering evasions has to do with the dying-and-rising redeemer cults that permeated the environment of early Christianity and had for many, many centuries.

and

Wright comes near to resting the whole weight of his case on the mistaken contention that the notion of a single individual rising from the dead in advance of the general resurrection at the end of the age was unheard of, and that therefore it must have arisen as the result of the stubborn fact of it having occurred one day, Easter Day. This is basically absurd for reasons we will attend to in a moment, but the premise is false. Even leaving out the resurrections of the savior gods, Wright even mentions that the resurrection of Alcestis by Hercules is an exception to the rule, but he seems to think it unimportant. Worse, though, is his utter failure to take seriously the astonishing comment of Herod in Mark 6:14-16 to the effect that Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist already raised from the dead! Can Wright really be oblivious of how this one text torpedoes the hull of his argument? His evasions are so pathetic as to suggest he is being disingenuous, hoping the reader will not notice. The disciples of Jesus, who was slain by a tyrant, may simply have borrowed the resurrection faith of the Baptist’s disciples who posited such a vindication for their own master who had met the same fate. Wright should really be arguing for the resurrection of John the Baptist, if it being unprecedented means anything!

You can link to the review to read the other two errors, but this is the relevant one for this discussion.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

ildi: No, there wasn’t, and no I haven’t, but I read this fascinating review instead:

Yes, much easier to read the Cliffs’ Notes instead of the primary source.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 11:00 am

lukeprog: Just so everyone’s clear, here’s the comment ayer is referring to from me on John’s blog:

Thanks, I didn’t want to post the whole thing here without your approval.

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Matt McCormick February 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

Yeah, civilities have broken down. I won’t complain about it, however. Nor will I apologize. The stakes are high, we’re all grown ups, and strictly speaking, a person’s tone, their manner of presentation, and all these critiques of the way in which I have presented my point are utterly irrelevant. I’m actually surprised that you guys held on as long as you did. Most Christians I talk to have such heightened sensitivities that the mere fact that I don’t accept their beliefs makes them mad and produces a lot of attacks about my tone, my anger, my being strident. If you’re interested, there’s more on that topic at this blog post:

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/dont-like-my-tone-am-i-being-rude.html

It’s pretty common for people to confuse objections to a person’s tone or presentation style with real objections to the content of what they are saying.

As for the objections to my content: I think the claim was that until I can address all of N.T. Wright’s argument, then my argument is defeated. That’s a pretty silly, and dangerous view to take for the Christian. Honestly, I’ve made dozens of very involved posts here, I did the interview with Luke, I have 200 or so essays on my blog, and I have devoted a lot of energy and time to dealing with the objections. What I have found is that some Christian positions are quite mercurial. Honestly, I get a different claim about who the pre-eminent, top scholar about the resurrection is from everyone I talk to. If I take the time to deal with Wright in detail, that will produce another round of disagreements and another set of authoritative authors will be produced. Then the claim will be, “Until you can address each and every one of Author X’s points, you’re argument is invalidated.” But there’s really no hope of reconciliation here, is there? Notice that I have not and I would not pull the similar move: “Until you can address all of the arguments in Martin, Gale, Everitt, Oppy, Mackie, Drange, Grim, and on and on, then my position stands.” I prefer to give my own arguments for my own positions. Notice too that if you really put all of your eggs in Wright’s basket, then if there are serious problems with his arguments (not that you’d acknowledge them), then you’d be forced to concede the point. Furthermore, if an argument like Wright’s is required in order to justify a belief in the resurrection, then that means that vast majority of Christian believers are unjustified. And I can live with that. There are people deep in the apologetic who simply cannot be convinced by any arguments. Sometimes they begin to see the cracks from inside the facade like Exapologist has. But I don’t have the time or energy to try to midwife that process for every one of you. Gotta go.

MM

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

ayer:
Yes, much easier to read the Cliffs’ Notes instead of the primary source.  

That’s right, you seem to operate under the mistaken impression that lots of polysyllabic verbiage = accuracy.

Wright’s massive book on the resurrection is, even for the garrulous bishop, an exercise in prolixity. It is several times longer than it needs to be, as if designed to bludgeon us into belief.

Maybe you should read some historians rather than just biblical scholars with a vested interest.

One could easily go on and on and on, even as Wright does, and because Wright does. What we have in this book is not a contribution to New Testament scholarship, any more than Creationist “Intelligent Design” screeds are contributions to biological science. Both alike are pseudo-scholarly attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of readers, most of whom will be happy enough for the sedation.

No actual substantive response to the issues, I notice. What about Herod’s statement re. John the Baptist being risen from the dead? What about Leipoldt’s analysis of early Christians using formulated language from other resurrection stories? He should count in your book, as he is a believer and also a scholar.

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Right on, Matt.

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Thomas Reid February 17, 2010 at 5:47 pm

A few responses all in one post.

Hermes, I doubt very much that there were any “witches” in Salem, for several reasons off the top of my head. First, there seems very little agreed upon definition of what a “witch” was anyway. Second, there were external forces motivating accusers once a few paranoid respected members of the community committed to the claim. Third, it is nigh on impossible to falsify the claim (echos of Monty Python on my head). This is basically a reiteration of 3 of my questions to Matt. Nevertheless, I look forward to researching the additional evidence others have provided.

To those who bring up the reference to Herod in Mark 6 as evidence that Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead before the Messianic age, consider the source. Herod Antipas was an unstable individual, paranoid from the beginning of his reign regarding rebellions, both with and without associations with messianic figures. The man had John the Baptist’s blood on his hands, killing him on little more than a whim. In this context, Herod’s outburst about Jesus being John resurrected can be understood as a statement of incredulity and fear, the antithesis of scholarly reflection. Certainly first-century Jews could have conceived of the logical possibility of someone rising from the dead (anybody could conceive of this), the question is, was it taught, or held with any firmness?

Furthermore, the idea that Antipas can be trusted as a source for authoritative second-temple teaching is a very tenuous assertion. He was nominally Jewish at best, more accurately conceived of as acting Jewish when necessary to quell unrest with his subjects. He exhibited blatant disregard for Jewish law and custom (the construction of Tiberius, his second marriage). His early life was spent in Rome – I know of no sources claiming he was educated in a rabbinical tradition.

So, if Herod’s paranoid utterance is going to substantiate a rebuttal to the idea that Second-Temple Judaism promulgated a belief in resurrection only upon the advent of the messianic age, I am comfortable with the position and the close of the discussion for now.

Finally, some closing remarks for Matt. I’m not sure I saw answers to my four questions above, but you don’t owe me them here. If you have some references on your blog, I’d be happy to research it there. Your statement that belief in the resurrection was held in ubiquity during this time is a red herring, it was not a belief held within judaism at this time. It is out of Second-Temple Judaism that Christianity was born, you need to consider the context. Also, you refer to the resurrection as being “magical” with a certain tenacity that is intriguing. I would invite you to consider whether you metaphysic is forcing you to come to a certain conclusion, or whether you have come to the conclusion truly based on a purported evaluation of the historical sources.

Thanks everyone for the discussion.

T

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm

To those who bring up the reference to Herod in Mark 6 as evidence that Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead before the Messianic age, consider the source. Herod Antipas was an unstable individual, paranoid from the beginning of his reign regarding rebellions, both with and without associations with messianic figures. The man had John the Baptist’s blood on his hands, killing him on little more than a whim. In this context, Herod’s outburst about Jesus being John resurrected can be understood as a statement of incredulity and fear, the antithesis of scholarly reflection.

Translation: I think Herod was a crazy rat-bastard who was spewing paranoid fantasies, so this not evidence at all that maybe resurrection stories were common as dirt in his time. Therefore, Jesus is God!

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Matt McCormick: Yeah, civilities have broken down. I won’t complain about it, however. Nor will I apologize. The stakes are high, we’re all grown ups, and strictly speaking, a person’s tone, their manner of presentation, and all these critiques of the way in which I have presented my point are utterly irrelevant.

I don’t have a major problem with your tone; D’Souza and Craig certainly give as good as they get. I don’t really understand the almost ubiquitous condescension that atheists ooze (as if atheists automatically have higher IQs than Christians), but whatever. I agree that Christians need to “man up” (as the kids say these days) and not be hypersensitive (as should atheists, for that matter).

Matt McCormick: As for the objections to my content: I think the claim was that until I can address all of N.T. Wright’s argument, then my argument is defeated. That’s a pretty silly, and dangerous view to take for the Christian.

The problem is that if Wright’s argument is correct, your Salem Witch Trial comparison is completely vitiated. Since his work is not obscure and is generally respected even by skeptical scholars (Crossan, Borg, etc.), you should probably make sure you have dealt with it before going out on a limb with your comparison.

Matt McCormick: Furthermore, if an argument like Wright’s is required in order to justify a belief in the resurrection, then that means that vast majority of Christian believers are unjustified.

Since justification comes from RE and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, they are justified regardless of their scholarly knowledge. I know you reject it, but as you say: I can live with that.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 7:14 pm

ildi: No actual substantive response to the issues, I notice

I see Thomas Reid has provided an excellent response already.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm

ayer: Since his work is not obscure and is generally respected even by skeptical scholars

They may respect him, but that doesn’t mean they think his arguments have any merit. (In fact, they don’t.) Again confusing style with substance.

ayer:
I see Thomas Reid has provided an excellent response already.  

I repeat, no substantive response. That’s ok, ayer, I don’t expect anything more than an echo chamber from you.

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 8:25 pm

ayer,

Re: N.T. Wrong. I’ll have LOTS more to say about this later, but keep in mind that lots of people have completely changed their worldview because of what they believed to be a miraculous personal experience with the divine. That doesn’t demonstrate a supernatural reality behind all the competing gods and theologies of those who have ecstatic experiences. A dramatic shift in worldview – including a willingness to DIE for that worldview – happens quite often and is best explained by well-studied features of human psychology, not by positing invisible magical beings who have a penchant for giving people ecstatic experiences but not, for example, lifesaving medical knowledge.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm

ildi: I repeat, no substantive response. That’s ok, ayer, I don’t expect anything more than an echo chamber from you.

Fine, I look forward to your (or Matt’s) scholarly and substantive response to Reid. So far, it hasn’t been forthcoming.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm

lukeprog: ayer,Re: N.T. Wrong. I’ll have LOTS more to say about this later, but keep in mind that lots of people have completely changed their worldview because of what they believed to be a miraculous personal experience with the divine. That doesn’t demonstrate a supernatural reality behind all the competing gods and theologies of those who have ecstatic experiences. A dramatic shift in worldview – including a willingness to DIE for that worldview – happens quite often and is best explained by well-studied features of human psychology, not by positing invisible magical beings who have a penchant for giving people ecstatic experiences but not, for example, lifesaving medical knowledge.  

Putting aside the fact that the resurrection concerned a physical, public experience and not an ecstatic vision (like Stephen’s in Acts or Paul’s description in 2 Cor. 12:2–the New Testament clearly distinguishes between the two), I look forward to your posts. (Of course, to put the same scholarly effort into them as Wright did his book will be a multi-year project-but you are very prolific :)

As for me, although this blog keeps tempting me back, I am running out of free time (though I will miss ildi’s winsome manner).

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm

“the resurrection concerned a physical, public experience”

The magic performed by the alleged witches in Salem were also physical and public. So do you believe the testimony against the alleged witches? Remember, we have much better records from Salem than first century Jerusalem.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Thomas Reid: Hermes, I doubt very much that there were any “witches” in Salem, for several reasons off the top of my head.

That totally misses the point. Nobody is arguing that.

You requested that I back up an earlier statement on the availability of evidence for witches in Salem vs. the Jesus resurrection, and I did. Please acknowledge that.

As for resurrection stories, Matt has addressed that as well or better than I had planned so I’ll leave that one alone. The Jews did not live in isolation. They even borrowed stories such as Gilgamesh from other groups and included them in their sacred texts. Please acknowledge that as well if you have not yet.

Fighting the facts isn’t helping your case. You just look unreasonably stubborn. I expect that from someone like Ayer who really can’t help himself.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Rob B: “the resurrection concerned a physical, public experience”The magic performed by the alleged witches in Salem were also physical and public.So do you believe the testimony against the alleged witches?Remember, we have much better records from Salem than first century Jerusalem.  

We’re talking about whether an event radically shifted the worldview of the witnesses. The Salem witch trials were perfectly consistent with the worldview of the participants. For them to “see” witches is entirely expected.

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ildi February 18, 2010 at 3:46 am

ayer: We’re talking about whether an event radically shifted the worldview of the witnesses. The Salem witch trials were perfectly consistent with the worldview of the participants. For them to “see” witches is entirely expected.

Just as resurrection stories were perfectly consistent with the worldview of the early Christians. as demonstrated by their formulaic use of forms of speech commonly found in these narratives, and of Herod commenting on the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected.

So, in keeping with Habermas’ secular historical methodology, there were witches in Salem.

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Thomas Reid February 18, 2010 at 4:08 am

Hermes:
That totally misses the point.Nobody is arguing that.You requested that I back up an earlier statement on the availability of evidence for witches in Salem vs. the Jesus resurrection, and I did.Please acknowledge that.  

Oh, I see what you were asking, sorry. Yes, there is quite a bit of evidence of people claiming that there were witches in Salem. The debate is about, given the context (time distance from the event, the nature of the claim, etc), is it better evidence? I must say that this question is far from settled.

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 4:33 am

Why? Or better, how did you arrive at that conclusion besides going on your existing preconceptions and then discounting the evidence available?

For reference, please take a look at my earlier summary with the link to the Salem trial archive. Matt has also provided quite a few details and reasons.

I contend that it is not settled only by your assertion that it is not settled, and not by the merits of the available evidence.

Along those lines; would you do the same thing when comparing a modern trial’s transcripts and evidence locker to the Bible? Would you always say that the Bible is more reliable and better supported by available evidence?

This is more a question of how you determine and examine reality than it is about the conclusions you draw. If your method of knowing is inexact or cluttered, if it has built-in blinders, it is unreliable.

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Thomas, a clarification;

Note that I am *not* asking what you believe is true. I am asking how you analyze knowledge claims. I am not asking the same question as Matt in this case, though I think his comments are completely valid as well.

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Thomas Reid February 18, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Hermes:
Along those lines; would you do the same thing when comparing a modern trial’s transcripts and evidence locker to the Bible?Would you always say that the Bible is more reliable and better supported by available evidence?This is more a question of how you determine and examine reality than it is about the conclusions you draw.If your method of knowing is inexact or cluttered, if it has built-in blinders, it is unreliable.  

No, I don’t think it’s appropriate to hold a work of antiquity equivalent to a modern-day trial in terms of demand for documented sources. I think the demand is a function of (among other things) the time-distance from the purported event. We also have to be careful about resorting to just the number of sources as the grounds for a claim. Consider how Gutenberg revolutionized documentation capability for instance. Arguably, there is more evidence (conceived of as simply the number of sources) for the existence of Nigerian civil servants looking for monetary safehavens than there is for Ghengis Khan. I mean, look at all the truckloads of evidence the FBI has on these supposed Nigerians. By contrast, what do we have on Temujin? If we accept the existence of Khan, do we have to accept the existence of the Nigerian civil servants?

Note that I am *not* asking what you believe is true. I am asking how you analyze knowledge claims. I am not asking the same question as Matt in this case, though I think his comments are completely valid as well.

I’m a particularist, influenced heavily by the work of my namesake and Roderick Chisholm. As a substance dualist, my metaphysic does not require me to accept a certain type of explanation before I evaluate historical evidence.

And you?

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Thomas, fair enough on your promoted methods though I’m leery of someone who promotes why over how (are you?). Yes, say what you think you know and why you think you know it. Be bold about it. Yet, those claims of knowledge should be held tentatively and the question of how should be addressed at some point.

That said, I get the impression that you are not a presuppositionalist. One thing I hate most are solipsists including the presuppositionalist variant. (Ken Ham and his ‘Bible glasses’ should be slapped down by any honest person attempting to be objective even if they known they can never be objective.)

One basic question; Do you ignore, accept, reject, or have some level of appreciation for Platonic forms?

* * *

As for me, while I’ve given up on titles (even my avatar is something I’ve grown into after choosing it fairly arbitrarily) I have little time for anything or anyone that abstracts reality and then demands the abstraction take precedence over any observations. That said, I see no reason to demand either science or nature or naturalism be followed, yet I am not dismissing them at all. They gain merit only by their ability to describe reality accurately and anyone who rejects anything under the banner of science or nature or naturalism (or any banner that shows merit) without discussing the details (something you should agree with) is someone that I suspect as having an agenda and who is not interested in any attempt at clear thinking.

* * *

To answer the question I asked you in about Platonic forms, I see how Plato came to the idea that there are eternal forms that things are derived from. Knowing what I know, I reject Platonic forms while acknowledging that they can be handy tools for more brutal work. That said, I try and keep myself aware of how clumsy they are and how much flesh they rip up in the process of carving up what seems likely or is true into chunks. As any med student knows, reality doesn’t always follow the tidy illustrations in Gray’s Anatomy.

* * *

Back on topic; using your own methods, how is it that you take (?) the Biblical resurrection claims more seriously than the Salem witchcraft claims? If the answer is that you are more familiar with the Biblical claims, then that is a fine answer as I’m not asking about conclusions right now but methods.

Since you emphasized ancient;

Q. How do you see your methods being used to discern meaning and evidence of real events from other contemporaneous ancient texts? [Not limited to: Greek, Northern European (various), Indian (various), East Asian (various, mostly China and south), and Egyptian.]

Q. How do you see non-canonical texts in the Christian Bible and (possibly more important) insertions into the Christian Bible of other non-Christian or non-Jewish texts (such as but not limited or focusing on the Epic of Gilgamesh)?

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Thomas, a note on 2nd to last question;

The word ‘contemporaneous’ was intend to mean ‘roughly the same era as the resurrection claims of Jesus, plus about 500 years or minus up to a couple thousand’. Roughly anything from just after prehistoric times and into early Mediterranean Christendom but before Islam.)

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Rob B February 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

“I have little time for anything or anyone that abstracts reality and then demands the abstraction take precedence over any observations.”

Damn right. There is nothing wrong with metaphysical speculation, as long as you realize that’s all it is, speculation. The further your speculations get from being grounded on inter-subjective observable facts about reality, the more likely you have gone of the rails.

For example: Substance Dualism. LOL! Neuroscience anyone?

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Neuroscience. Exactly. I’m a big fan. It can’t be ignored. Philosophers that ignore it do so the peril of becoming irrelevant or even quaint.

A plug;

Brain Science Podcast with Ginger Campbell, MD

Page: http://docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast

RSS audio feed: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/brainsciencepodcast

iTunes: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=210065679

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jkshields February 19, 2010 at 4:03 am

Matt McCormick: There’s still no one who can offer some details about what it’s like to have this sensus divinitatus or the testimony of the Holy Ghost?What’s it like when your radio is tuned to the God channel?Please give me some reasons to think that you all are not just putting us on.  

I don’t fall into the category of a “reformed epistemologist” but after reading about this debate on Prosblogion I thought I’d give it a shot. Forgive me if I talk in Academ-Theo-glish, I am trying to avoid it.

Since you have asked for sights and smells etc. I will do my best to put what I would call “an intuition” in these terms. Most of the time my knowledge of God being is like a buzzing, above the sense of interior thought monologue,… and/or the series of incoming thought perceptions. It is the sensation of community, similar to the sensation when two people are reading in a room, even though they are occupied with separate ideas there is more than a concept of communion, there is a metaphysic,… a real relation between us. But I become even more aware of God’s being (primarily verb not noun) when I try to push away from this buzzing. It is similar to the feeling of missing a step, surprise, and then fear, and then pain. And whether you end up in a heap on the floor or catch the next step, you are thankful to feel ground beneath you although aggrieved at the whole event. When I try to think “There is no God” there is an unbearable emptiness and meaninglessness to my present awareness, my knowledge and presumption of personal and intellectual history become scrambled like looking at 0s and 1s instead of program output on a computer, and I have no sense of momentum to the next moment.

I don’t know if that is the kind of description you were looking for, but it is much more a result of what I would call a meditation on God (in the style of Descartes) than a testimony and I think anything which undergirds proper basicality will have to be.

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 5:56 am

jkshields: after reading about this debate on Prosblogion

The link is no longer valid. Here is the new one.(?)

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 6:04 am

Jkshields, thank you for your comments. They were very interesting and informative.

I have a question: Have you ever meditated?

If you have, could you compare your meditative state to what you just described?

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jkshields February 19, 2010 at 8:34 am

Hermes: Have you ever meditated?If you have, could you compare your meditative state to what you just described?  

If you mean transcendental meditation, then no I can’t say that I have meditated.

However, I have practiced Contemplative Prayer, a Christian form of meditation developed by Thomas Keating while relies somewhat on a text called The Cloud of Unknowing. In this practice you sit still and quiet and seek to push away (gently, often by allowing & dismissing) thoughts and images and focus on being present to God. While many people say that they feel embraced by God in this practice, I can’t personally say that it made me any more or less aware of God’s presence. I found it to be restful, and I felt that God was present,… but as I said before as a buzzing or a better description might even be like a slight weight overtop of/behind my other experiences of consciousness (thought, incoming perception). While to feel awash with God’s presence sounds nice, I have always felt my own experience was sufficient.

Because this may give a rather non-responsive look to the God I experience and worship, I should say that I experience God’s embrace, call, anger, direction, and forgiveness through service to others, music, prayer, and reading the scriptures. But most of those experiences take a more interactive form, and I have always felt that Contemplative Prayer is a practice which requires more discipline than I have given it.

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 10:23 am

Jkshields, thanks for the details.

Transcendental Meditation? No. I want to make it clear that I was not asking about Transcendental Meditation.

I was talking about basic meditation. Simple. No guru. No props. No new-age BS. No religious focus. Just meditation.

The ‘contemplative prayer’ as you described it is not meditation either, as it is a bit cluttered. That said, the description was interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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danielg February 19, 2010 at 11:46 am

For those interested in some Christian reflection on Buddhist meditation, see my 2001 essay

Reflections on my 10 Day Silent Vipassana Retreat

You might also like the brief comment here:
Neo-fundies and Contemplative Prayer

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danielg February 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

You can also check out another series/book that I haven’t gotten to yet here:

Christ and Buddha: A Christian Synthesis

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thank you for the links. Also consider Karen Armstrong’s Buddha. Armstrong is a former nun and has written extensively on religions and religious figures as well as on mythology.

For what it’s worth, while Buddhism is interesting, meditation doesn’t require anything from Buddhism. I learned how to do it before researching Eastern religions.

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danielg February 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Karen Armstrong is interesting, but she’s so theologically liberal, I wouldn’t consider her an orthodox Christian, and her pro-Islamic work is so blind to Islam’s true evils that I don’t really value her opinions. But I’ll skim Buddha next time I’m at the bookstore, thx.

There are other Christian authors who write about Bhuddist meditation and yoga who I think are more Christian in outlook than Armstrong, like Thomas Ryan (Reclaiming The Body In Christian Spirituality) or Anthony De Mello (Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.

I also really enjoyed Peter Toon’s Meditating As a Christian (now out of print, but available used).

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Danielg & Jkshields, the extra references are interesting. What makes me most curious is that each of them are some form of ‘a Christian tells you about something not Christian’. Why not go to the source itself? Why spend time scrutinizing how much someone is a Christian before taking them seriously?

Case in point, I have plenty of criticisms of Karen Armstrong’s work. That said, I don’t need to ignore or choose a ‘more atheist’ or ‘more secular’ person if the reference or original document has merit.

Additionally, I can appreciate the Tao Te Ching without being Tsoist. I can appreciate The Art of War without being an emperor or a general or a commander. I read a book on 1800s conceptions of fairies a few weeks ago, and was able to appreciate it for what it is — without someone else’s critical commentary — even though the authors were serious about the existence of fairies as autonomous entities and I do not share that assessment.

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Hermes February 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Danielg, I missed that you wrote one of the articles. Oops! I’m reading it now. Thanks.

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Hermes February 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

A question for any Christians reading this;

Do you consider meditation *without* an explicit Christian context to be anti-Christian? (Not just neutral, but actually anti?)

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 10:39 am

Hermes: Danielg & Jkshields, the extra references are interesting.What makes me most curious is that each of them are some form of ‘a Christian tells you about something not Christian’.Why not go to the source itself?Why spend time scrutinizing how much someone is a Christian before taking them seriously?

I merely used those references because I thought someone was interested in possible positive Christian/evangelical views of meditation. Of course, there are many differing activities which fall under the term ‘meditation,’ some of which christians might be concerned about:

1. Meditation on a scripture or axiom – this type of meditation is meditation UPON something, a type of intellectual consideration. Not a big deal, and the main type of ‘christian’ meditation.

2. Awareness meditation – this type of self- and sense-focused meditation, which I associate with Buddhist meditation, is somewhat controversial in Christian circles, but less so because (1) some of us see it merely a self-awareness and self-mastery tool, similar to yoga, martial arts, or meditations of the ‘Desert Fathers’. Hyper fundies don’t like this at all, and attack many of their own like Foster or Willard, who are more contemplative.

3. Chanting – this type of activity, which is more associated with ecstatic states, is frowned upon because it is about surrendering to emotion, if not the influence of unknown, perhaps demonic spirits. It seems to be more about clearing and emptying the mind than focusing it. Some more liberal Christians think this type of activity is OK if you chant something like “Yahweh” or “Jesus,” but I think most evangelicals would conclude that this is a pagan practice, not based on reaching towards God, but depending on ‘earthly, fleshly’ principles.

Regarding your question about ‘neutral’ meditation, you might get the response that there is no such thing. For example, the fact that yoga is based in Hinduism means that there is the probability (some would say, I would not) that you are opening yourself up to the demonic forces behind Hinduism (which I think are real).

However, I would say that awareness meditation (yoga and Buddhist) are useful for self mastery and self knowledge. However, this type of ‘enlightenment’ is not salvific – that is, it will not give you a knowledge of God, except in the general sense that the rest of creation will.

Since the Biblical God of creation is both transcendent (separate from creation, not just part of it) and personal, these things, along with salvation from the judgment to come, can not be found in awareness practices. Also, since Christianity is predicated upon a new birth, or spiritual rebirth, awareness can only lead one to the knowledge that they are sinful and need this rebirth, but can not deliver it.

There are, in my experience, distinct and real emotional benefits to these awareness tools, as there are to physical exercise. But as Paul the Apostle wrote:

1 Timothy 4:8
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

Regarding original materials by Buddhists, I have read and can recommend the following, even to other Christians if they want to explore such things:

1. A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life ~ Jack Kornfield

2. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation ~ William Hart

3. Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh

There is probably much more out there that I don’t know about, but I am not against these in principle. However, for Christians, I would give the caveat that, while Buddhism and Yoga are very useful (I do both with my wife and kids, and we are hardcore evangelicals, trust me), I do not ascribe salvific powers to these, and maintain that there are HUGE benefits to the Christian faith that go beyond these, the chief of which is experiencing the God of love and inner transformation by the Holy Spirit with truth, things which do not exist in the eastern rubric.

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

danielg: I merely used those references because I thought someone was interested in possible positive Christian/evangelical views of meditation.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am informed by the details in your categories and and agree with what you say.

As for #1, I take the traditional meaning of ‘a meditation’ in a Christian context to be actively aware and contemplating, and that it does not require an actual meditative state. Even if it did include a meditative state, I entirely avoid that type of meditation as it is counter to why I meditate in the first place (mainly #2; more later). The content of the target is entirely beside the point.

#2 and #3 I see as different sides of the same coin, only the focus is applied differently. One focusing on a mental state, and a second gaining a mental state through a repetitive physical activity. If the activity is a chant or even a more aggressive activity, the state is very similar.

For example, I find it fairly easy to enter a meditative state close to your #2 while doing repetitive non-interactive sports such as punching a speed bag. The repetitive patterns work similarly to a metronome, but include the upper body instead of an audio source. I take a minimalist approach and try not to inject anything into the process, but will acknowledge meditative states (as with the boxing example) when the description seems appropriate.

So, I have meditated in a variety of ways with different results. I’ve at times gained self-awareness and control (minor things: I’m able to stop my heart and change my body temperature) while other times I’ve limited my focus to a single idea and in the process cleared out all the normal cacophony of concerns and ideas that accompanies me normally throughout the day.

As such, I also divide mediation into self-guided (private) and externally-guided (including #1 from your list).

I practice self-guided meditation, and even then I attempt to let go of the self-guide (#2).

Like the more strident religious people you mentioned, I’m also distrustful of externally-guided meditation. Meditative states can be used for bad purposes, including behavior/habit modification and ‘brain washing’. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote an emphatic message to Jkshields that I did not practice “Transcendental Meditation”, but just meditation. “Transcendental Meditation” aka “TM” has been referred to as a cult, and while I admit ignorance of much of what they do, I do not doubt the possibility that they are being properly described by their critics.

I take it as a given that any repetitive group or leader guided meditative state can lead to dangerous outcomes, including a cult-like groupthink, because those leading the meditation are tempted to abuse their position and insert their own limited ideas into the group as a whole covertly. These states can be initiated in a variety of ways, including forcibly by external sounds or methodical repetitive movements of other people. This is natural as we humans are very social. Being aware of it is an important step that I think the more strident religious people you mentioned would likely agree with me on.

[ More later ... ]

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm

>> HERMES: externally-guided (including #1 from your list)

I don’t want to sell the Christian content-focused meditation short. It is much more than intellectual consideration. It is exposing our heart and our subconscious to truth in order to let it seep into our being – that is, through continued exposure to it, the act of meditating on it allows it to change us deeply, not just intellectually.

Jesus taught that truth is like a seed, and our hearts are like soil. Mere momentary consideration or solely intellectual appreciation of truth is like throwing the seeds on hard or rocky soil – even if they do spring up, they won’t last long.

Longer meditative consideration helps plant the truths deep in us, root up rocks, and create deep change.

In a sense, we are allowing truth to shine a light into us, rather than merely attempting to see the truth of our being in it’s current state – it is external in the sense that it allows light and truth INTO us that may not be there, as opposed to attempting to see the truths (and lies) that are in us.

I’m not selling short awareness meditation, which I think is very powerful for helping get our subconscious patterns up into the conscious. However, I would also say that, coupled with ‘truth meditation,’ you have a powerful combination.

I am sad that Christians know little of awareness meditation, but of the two, I think that truth meditation may be the better.

Regarding chanting, I get your comparison between two and three, but I’m not sure I buy it entirely. I don’t associate awareness meditation with an ecstatic state like I would with Sufi dancing or various Hindu practices. However, perhaps chanting is more like the breath/sensation focus of awareness meditation – that is, it’s the means to the end of becoming aware of what is going on inside.

However, it is different in it’s means, and I suspect that somehow it must also be different in the state it creates and what it helps you do. I have not seriously tried chanting, so I’m not sure if it has any real benefits, and if those are similar or different from something like Vipassana.

Thanks for the interchange here, I’m enjoying it.

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Regarding brain washing and external meditation, I have these thoughts:

1. Bible meditation, or ‘truth’ meditation *is* a type of brainwashing, but it might not be all bad.

Group think is bad, but group agreement on things that produce ‘good fruit’ – that is, tested truths is probably a good thing. It’s a way to get proven wisdom into your own thinking process.

I would say that we all need to ‘wash’ our brains with better thinking on many subjects ;) But as a form of control, of course, I am with you.

I think that when such meditation is combined with group brow-beating, threats, psychological ‘break down’ tactics like sleep deprivation or isolation from friends and family, then such ‘meditation’ is certainly being abused.

2. Is contact with spirit guides considered ‘external’?

What about those who, in meditation, seem to interact with other ‘spiritual beings’? Christians would argue that such may be demons – even in some Buddhist traditions, ‘demons’ are real. Is such interaction ‘external’?

To the pure Buddhist, such things, of course, do not exist.

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

[ continuing comments to on danielg on his (?) first reply ]

Thanks for the insights. Much of it was things I already knew, but you presented it in an elegant and coherent manner. As I am not a Christian, personally, I see no need for the list of benefits provided but I can understand why a Christian would pursue them.

[ more comments on other replies to follow ]

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

danielg: However, for Christians, I would give the caveat that, while Buddhism and Yoga are very useful (I do both with my wife and kids, and we are hardcore evangelicals, trust me), I do not ascribe salvific powers to these, and maintain that there are HUGE benefits to the Christian faith that go beyond these, the chief of which is experiencing the God of love and inner transformation by the Holy Spirit with truth, things which do not exist in the eastern rubric.

Along those lines, but from a secular point of view, I’ve talked someone I know into taking TaiChi classes to control their stress levels.

Before they took a class, though, I pointed out that they should not reject the mystical aspects of TaiChi the instructor will likely discuss.

Instead, I recommended that my associate should consider the mystical words to be a type of poetry that sets the emotional state of mind they should aim for. The mystical aspects of TaiChi are not an actual part of reality, but a tool for reaching that proper state of mind.

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Re: #1 type ‘meditations upon’

Do you consider the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to be of a similar type to what you describe?

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Hermes:
Along those lines, but from a secular point of view, I’ve talked someone I know into taking TaiChi classes to control their stress levels.Before they took a class, though, I pointed out that they should not reject the mystical aspects of TaiChi the instructor will likely discuss.Instead, I recommended that my associate should consider the mystical words to be a type of poetry that sets the emotional state of mind they should aim for.The mystical aspects of TaiChi are not an actual part of reality, but a tool for reaching that proper state of mind.  

Perhaps so – when I was in the Vipassana retreat, there is some ‘spiritual’ chanting which a lot of Christians might object to. But I think you are approaching this merely from a naturalist point of view, looking at it merely as getting into a biological state.

While that is certainly true, the philosophic/spiritual objection that you might be calling on other deities or demons, and opening yourself to them is a valid objection. Whether or not that is actually a real phenomenon is debatable. I certainly can’t contradict that, and don’t feel the need to.

>> HERMES: . As I am not a Christian, personally, I see no need for the list of benefits provided but I can understand why a Christian would pursue them.

Um, yeah, I mean, experiencing the presence and love of the perfect loving creator is a life changing and life giving experience. I mean, you could blithely say “I don’t see a need for that,” but that hardly seems like a sane response.

More likely, you don’t think that these experiences are anything more than self induced BY the ideas, rather than a real phenomenon. My experience is that these things go way beyond my ability to conceive of them, show themselves to be unpredictable (as reality often is when we misunderstand it), and are above and beyond the truth’s ability to make us feel freer.

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danielg February 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I think his work goes beyond what Christians would consider ‘biblical meditation’ to other Christian and secular concepts.

CONFESSION
————–
He sometimes goes into what Christians might call “confession,” which has two meanings in Christendom. The first is that of ‘confessing God’s word’, or reminding one’s self of what is true, and what God has promised through scripture, as opposed to the false and hurtful views that we might be tempted to be engaged in.

Such confessions might be something like “He himself has promised ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”

CONTEMPLATION
—————
Reviewing what one has learned as wisdom is a more generic type of meditation, not unchristian, but not biblical in the sense of allowing the words of scripture to soak into you.

Interestingly, much of Proverbs is merely common aphorisms which are now enshrined as scripture. A Christian would meditate on these as the ‘word of God,’ however, whereas meditation on “a penny saved is a penny earned,’ as true as that is, would not really be seen as having transforming power like scripture.

Nothing wrong with meditating on Franklinisms, and scripture does tell us to get wisdom, which exists all over the place outside of scripture. Still, that would not really be considered Christian meditation.

That might fall under the category of “contemplation,” which might include biblical meditation, but also includes thinking on these broader sources.

REFLECTION
————

I’m not sure this term is any different from contemplation, except that it is perhaps less used in Christian circles, and has a feeling of less depth, and perhaps again more breadth than ‘contemplation.’ Some of what Auraleus does might be included here.

Sorry for such an all over the place answer, but I think Auraleus does a lot outside of scripture meditation. Again, not objectionable, but not of the same calibre or kind as scripture meditation.

Scripture is held in very high esteem in the Christian world, and is seen as alive and able to transform lives in a way that other sources are not. It is inspired, not merely wise or true. Hence such passages:

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Romans 12:2 (New King James Version)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 5:03 pm

danielg: 2. Is contact with spirit guides considered ‘external’?

What about those who, in meditation, seem to interact with other ’spiritual beings’? Christians would argue that such may be demons – even in some Buddhist traditions, ‘demons’ are real. Is such interaction ‘external’?

I think ‘spirit guides’ or any other guiding force seen as ‘external’ shows a lack of respect for our own imaginations on the one hand, and a lack of consideration for how our own minds work on the other.

Elizabeth Gilbert has some good insights on this (starts slow, gets better).

I’ve heard Christians describe their conception of their deity in such a way that it is roughly equal to a conscience, only personified. Though we can continue to disagree on the main point of Christian theism, when I hear people report cases like that, I consider that they are talking to themselves and haven’t yet recognized the way their mind is divided as well as how it is integrated. What makes me strengthen that assessment is that what they describe is also incongruent with what is described in the Christian and Jewish religious texts about Yahweh.

To continue, the cacophony of chatter I mentioned earlier — when people say things like “I have a lot of things on my mind” or “something has been bugging me” or “I can’t help myself, I can’t get [person] out of my mind” — they are scraping the outside cover of what this person describes.

This is not to say that all people are crazy, but that what is often labeled as crazy is often an extreme example of what most people normally encounter in more subtle ways from day to day; it’s a sliding scale with many variations.

In summary; I think there’s nothing wrong with talking with yourself, even if it’s not ‘you’ you are talking with at the time. Fiction writers do this constantly so they can have believeable characters (or because the characters ‘will not leave me alone’). Believing that voice is an external entity or a demon bent on possession is a misattribution or worse.

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Hermes February 22, 2010 at 5:52 pm

danielg: But I think you are approaching this merely from a naturalist point of view, looking at it merely as getting into a biological state.

I’m not a naturalist, though. If reality can be described in a way that can be categorized as ‘natural’ or ‘naturalistic’, then that only shows that the category(ies) are useful and may have predictive power beyond the actual items in the abstract bin that happens to have those names. I think it is quite safe to say that they do have that predictive power, and as such they have been shown to be credible to a very high degree.

If you have a superior way of looking at reality, or other facts that reflect reality, then I am for learning those as well.

As for Christianity as a religion and as a form of theism, it is not credible to me. If it were, I would be a Christian. As far as I can tell, the most likely candidate categories for theisms that are based independently in reality are either in the category of deism or pantheism. Those two are internally consistent, and thus are plausible, yet because they are not shown in reality neither of them are theisms that I follow.

In either case, though, deism(s) and pantheism(s) both can’t be right. The basic claims about reality that they make contradict each other even though they are consistent by themselves with reality as we know it.

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danielg February 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm

>> HERMES: I’ve heard Christians describe their conception of their deity in such a way that it is roughly equal to a conscience, only personified.

That is way over simplified, and way imcomplete imho. Very one dimensional. The experience of God is primarily one of deep conviction of one’s sinfulness and guilt (conscience), along with the experience of love, forgiveness, great relief, and a world view with incredible, durable explanatory power.

>> HERMES: I think ’spirit guides’ or any other guiding force seen as ‘external’ shows a lack of respect for our own imaginations on the one hand, and a lack of consideration for how our own minds work on the other.

While the mind (whose existence begs the existence of the omniscient mind separate from creation) is an amazing thing, and certainly it can mimic and create all sorts of experiences that are numinous and could be misinterpreted as experiences of the divine, that does not mean that all such experiences are merely creations of the mind.

In fact, the very unexpected and otherness of the conviction, illumination, and love delivered by the Holy Spirit is an experience which may truly be founded in an external source. I know the burden of proof may be on the person who makes such a claim, but I will make it based on my experience whether or not I will eventually garner enough proof to convince the empiricist.

I am fine with the empiricist failing to believe such testimonial evidence, and I understand their unbelief and prudence in expecting “extraordinary evidence.” Nevertheless, one of the reasons that Bill Craig includes the ‘witness of the Holy Spirit’ as one of his evidences for God at the end of his list of more rational and reasoned arguments is that there ARE reasons beyond reason, which materialists usually dismiss as subjective nonsense for which they have supposed biological explanations, that many people, and perhaps for good reason, should also consider.

>> HERMES: I think there’s nothing wrong with talking with yourself,

I quite agree – in fact, I am a big fan of Transactional Analysis, which posits that we actually have perhaps three ‘selves’ which interact – the child self, the adult self, and the parent self (or ‘internalized parent’).

I like this model for a few reasons. One, it matches my own experience of self. Two, it has good therapeutic application and success. Three, it has some decent explanatory power, esp. within relationship therapy. Last, and perhaps least important, it is a three-part model, which I enjoy because of the many three part models of scripture, such as the tripartite model of man (body, soul, spirit), the trinity (father, son, HS), and others.

However, this model does not negate that we can talk to God.

Regarding confusing one’s own higher self or other selves or own psyche when talking to one’s self, I make three observations (:D):

1. I have conjectured that, assuming that there is my spirit and God’s spirit now living in me, there is actually a type of gradient between what is purely me talking and purely God – that it might not always be purely God, but some admixture. However, this is not biblical and may be entirely wrong %p

2. The Bible speaks of learning to hear God’s voice by removing our own filters – that is, through practice, learning to use our spiritual faculties, which include “communion” (one of the three functions of the spirit, which are intuition, conscience, and communion). This scripture comes to mind:
Hebrews 5:12-14
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

3. Scripture admits that there are, in a sense, two spirits within me now – mine and God’s. I am not possessed, by any means, but maintain my free will. However, now God is working from WITHIN me.

Philippians 2:13
For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Romans 8:16
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Proverbs 20:27
The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the inner depths of his heart.

All that is to say, the concept of talking with God is, of course, a biblical concept, and is interestingly stated in terms of God *within* us, which means the listening process is confused by our own inner voices, perceptions, and filters.

One more comment about removing those filters – in order to discern the voice of God, we need to judge what we hear by scripture, but also, we need to get better at hearing. Scripture also discusses this:

Romans 10:17
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

This does not mean, as most people suppose, that faith comes by hearing the scriptures, but read closely, says that the ABILITY to hear God clearly, and thereby receive faith, comes from the scriptures. Said otherwise, the more you think as God thinks, the easier it is to hear Him, like tuning in a radio, or like removing our preconceptions in order to hear what a person actually means rather than what we hear through our filters. Again, this concept can be seen here:

Romans 12:2
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

I apologize for all the scripture, but I am trying to correct what I perceive to be a simplistic view of what Christianity teaches on these matters.

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danielg February 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

>> HERMES: In either case, though, deism(s) and pantheism(s) both can’t be right. The basic claims about reality that they make contradict each other even though they are consistent by themselves with reality as we know it.

Yes, I would suppose them to be mutually exclusive, as well as atheism and the above ;)

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Hermes February 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Thanks for the review of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Very informative.

danielg: That is way over simplified, and way imcomplete imho. Very one dimensional. The experience of God is primarily one of deep conviction of one’s sinfulness and guilt (conscience), along with the experience of love, forgiveness, great relief, and a world view with incredible, durable explanatory power.

I stated it that way not to be outrageous, but because that’s the way it tends to be conveyed to me. When I apply it on my own to other comments by Christians, it seems to function that way as well. As such, it seems to be an accurate description even if it was not a nuanced or sensitive one.

danielg: that does not mean that all such experiences are merely creations of the mind.

danielg: I know the burden of proof may be on the person who makes such a claim, but I will make it based on my experience whether or not I will eventually garner enough proof to convince the empiricist.

Note that the issue to me isn’t a proof of deity claims but first plausibility — does it seem credible based on what is being claimed — then after that is established if the details in support of those plausible claims are consistent with reality. This is still not at the proof level, and I doubt that you will find anyone who demands proof, though conversationally the word proof may often come up. Most of the time, atheists will admit that they are not claiming that they know for a fact that no gods exist only that they are not convinced and believe there are none, though the same can’t be said of most monotheists.

At that more reasonable level, I’ve yet to be provided plausibility for all but a few claims let alone consistency and I am aware of negative support for specific claims about categories of deities as well as specific named deities. The vast majority of claims are ones that I’m simply ignorant of due to time constrains.

All of this comes before establishing any evidence for actual claims that can be demonstrated in reality; it is before extraordinary evidence. [context source] This is well before the sciences are addressed, biology or not.

Note that I do not reject all claims of deities up front, and that I even mentioned two categories of deities that are plausible; deistic and pantheistic deities. I’m willing to add more to the list. For example, I do consider that some deities people describe do indeed exist.

As an example, someone who worships a deity that manifests as a totem can point to the totems and say “See, there are my gods!” and I can’t deny that they have shown me clearly that their gods exists. Yet, the word deity. The word gods. These words aren’t synonyms for statues. The totems are said to be more than that, and at th point that those claims can not be demonstrated they stop being persuasive.

There are many many Christianities that have been promoted to me over the span of decades, but none that I consider meet the basic requirement of first being plausible. While I know that this does not match your personal experience, note that I am not emphasizing that I vigorously reject Christian claims but I am simply bored with them while I don’t understand why the anthropological/mythical aspects are largely ignored but to me seem much richer places to look for meaning in any theistic tradition.

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As for your personal experience with Yahweh, how do I determine that yours correctly describes reality when I have heard others say things that are much more persuasive? Additionally, and I think more important, the personal testimony of individuals is notoriously unreliable. So, when I examine things that do not rely on personal experiences beyond the day to day mundane and demonstrable ones, and I’m still not convinced that the claims have risen to the level of being plausible, so why should I make that leap for one set of experiences and not another? (As W.L. Craig has been reported to be against enlightenment values, his vouching for an issue is not a positive for me either. I’d rather trust your perceptions since I have not determined that you are actively working against the values that have built the society we currently enjoy, while Craig seems unashamed and actually insistent to do so.)

danielg: However, this model does not negate that we can talk to God.

Nor does it negate that others talk to their deities, and not Yahweh. Why yours and not another? To me, they all seem (with the noted exceptions) to be either not plausible, not supported by reality, or are claims that I’m simply not aware of. Should I examine all of them and all variations? If so, to what purpose?

Additionally, why does the Christian religious text have to be used as a filter? If there is a specific deity, and it speaks to it’s followers, why use any texts at all?

Yet, if those texts are required, then how is it that there are so many Christianities at the doctrinal level?

This is an example of, but not the only place, where Christianity stumbles and does not seem plausible. Even if it were resolved by showing that one specific group of Christians are the ones that are most correct, there are many other areas where it is just not plausible let alone demonstrable.

danielg: Yes, I would suppose them to be mutually exclusive, as well as atheism and the above ;)

Yep. I take it as a given that solipsism isn’t correct and that there aren’t separate different realities that can exist and be completely true without conflict.

That said, myths can and do express cultural ideas in a non-literal way and in the process can demonstrate the ideals and beliefs of those cultures.

I think in the broad case of all religions and religion-like cultural practices and stories, they frequently carry along previously ‘true’ cultural ideas that today are abhorrent to most people in the world, such as promoting slavery as normal and just, and cannibalism as a means to gain the strengths of the dead. That’s one of the reasons why I’m a fan of anthropology (both current cultural and past archaeological).

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