Genies, UFOs, Psychic Powers, and Gods

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 31, 2010 in General Atheism

genies ufos psychic powers gods

The Stephen Roberts quote on my website masthead reads:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

I have explained many times what I mean by that quote.

Still, it’s obvious why believers who haven’t read my explanation would object to that quote. It sounds like I’m saying that, for example, Christians disbelieve in Allah and Vishnu and other gods for the same reasons I do: lack of evidence, superstitious magical absurdity, available natural explanations, and so on.

For many Christians, this is true. They can see the lack of evidence, superstitious magical absurdity, and available natural explanations with regard to Allah and Vishnu and other gods, but they refuse to see the same things with regard to the God of their own tribe.

But for many Christians, the above quote doesn’t fit. They don’t disbelieve in Allah and Vishnu because of lack of evidence, superstitious magical absurdity, and available natural explanations. Rather, they disbelieve in Allah and Vishnu precisely because they believe in the Christian God, and that rules out the existence of Allah and Vishnu. They believe they have good reasons to believe in the Christian God, and therefore good reasons to reject others gods, which are incompatible with the existence of the Christian God.

For such Christians, the Stephen Roberts quote doesn’t hit home.

So I’d like to try my own variation:

When you understand why you dismiss genies, UFOs, and psychic powers, then you will understand why I dismiss your god.

The Christian cannot say that he dismisses genies, UFOs, and psychic powers because of his belief in the Christian God. Christianity does not rule out the existence of genies, UFOs, or psychic powers.

Instead, the Christian is more willing to admit that he dismisses genies, UFOs, and psychic powers due to lack of evidence, superstitious magical absurdity, available natural explanations – and for other reasons he shares with the atheist. The Christian may also be able to see the contrast between his skepticism toward genies, UFOs, and psychic powers and his credulous acceptance of God.

Chris Hallquist illuminates how Christian apologists rely on the same naive or deceptive tactics as peddlers of pseudoscience and superstition in UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus.

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{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeb July 31, 2010 at 5:15 am

If I knew of arguments for genies that were as powerful that the arguments from contingency, morality, consciousness, and fine tuning, I would consider genie existence likely enough that if I knew of strong reasons to want to encounter or confirm their existence, I would seek to encounter them. If I then did encounter them, I would become a genie-ist.

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Eric July 31, 2010 at 5:18 am

Luke, Michael Shermer has an article that links to your site’s “God’s You Don’t Believe In” post.

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Rob July 31, 2010 at 5:28 am

Zeb,

I’m curious. Prior to your exposure to the arguments from contingency, morality, consciousness, and fine tuning, were you an atheist?

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Ajay July 31, 2010 at 5:59 am

Arguments from contingency, morality, consciousness, and fine tuning do not lead at all toward Christianity, per se.

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Zeb July 31, 2010 at 6:29 am

Rob, I was a naive Bible believer until college, when I lost faith in Christianity. I was an agnostic for a short time, until the argument from contingency convinced me there must be something like God. Then for about 9 months I was a generic sort of theist, until a personal experience with God led me to Christianity.

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 6:57 am

I don’t think this accurately portrays the main reason that Christians reject the Roberts quote. Commenters on your previous post, including atheists, explained why it’s a bad argument. Christianity predicts the existence of apparently miraculous evidence for other gods, psychic phenomena, and even evidence for false *christs* — it simply discounts all of these as being deceptions of Satan.

Admittedly, some of the reasons for belief in Christ’s resurrection and belief in UFOs overlap. For example, eyewitness reports (which are generally good evidence for things). Others do not overlap. For example, nobody is raised in a home where eternal hell is threatened for unbelief in UFOs (which is a bad reason).

We can find good and bad arguments that are shared between UFOs and resurrection, and we can find good and bad arguments that are unique to Christianity. This should make us very skeptical of any attempt to judge the veracity of one based on the other.

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 7:27 am

JS Allen,

I certainly am not making any attempt to judge the veracity of theism from the veracity of UFO reports.

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Justfinethanks July 31, 2010 at 7:27 am

Christianity does not rule out the existence of genies, UFOs, or psychic powers.

Actually, someone who is a Bible believing Christian has to believe that there exist some people who have supernatural access to some future and present events (i.e. physics). Except Christians call them “prophets.”

I remember one day telling my seven grade scripture teacher that I believed in telephone physics. Since we knew it was true that God gave some people the ability to predict the future in the Bible, it made sense that God would continue giving some people this gift in the present time.

My teacher patiently explained that while the prophets of the Bible were divinely inspired to know and tell humanity future events and other knowledge that humans couldn’t have access to without supernatural intervention, telephone physics were just scam artists who gave you pointlessly vague information and people just think that they have physic powers because that’s what they want to believe.

It was a deeply confusing lesson in skepticism.

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Haukur July 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

I take this as the promised reply to my previous criticism (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8329). So, thank you. And I do think we’ve made some progress here.

I have explained many times what I mean by that quote. Still, it’s obvious why believers who haven’t read my explanation would object to that quote.

Even now, I do not see how this (putatively) naive understanding is much different to the understanding one gets after reading your exegeses on the quote. I still think you have much better options available for a masthead quote (as laid out in the link above).

Also: Every time I post something with a link lately it doesn’t show up so I make another post without the link instead. Is this normal?

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Haukur July 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

I take this as the promised reply to my previous criticism (/?p=8329). So, thank you. And I do think we’ve made some progress here.

I have explained many times what I mean by that quote. Still, it’s obvious why believers who haven’t read my explanation would object to that quote.

Even now, I do not see how this (putatively) naive understanding is much different to the understanding one gets after reading your exegeses on the quote. I still think you have much better options available for a masthead quote (as laid out in the link above).

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Haukur July 31, 2010 at 7:43 am

Every time I post something with a link lately it doesn’t show up – so I make another post without the link. Is this normal?

In the case above I couldn’t really omit the link so I truncated it until the filter let it through.

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 7:48 am

I certainly am not making any attempt to judge the veracity of theism from the veracity of UFO reports.

I didn’t say you were. You’re arguing that Christianity should be rejected (or at least, that Christians should understand why you dismiss God) because some of the reasons Christians have for debunking UFOs could also be applied to Christianity. I’m simply saying that’s illogical.

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Ajay July 31, 2010 at 7:57 am

So Christians have often said that the Roberts quote does not get at their real objections to other religions. But I really don’t understand this argument:

“Other God [X] is not true because:”

1. It is a demon’s deception
2. I have sensory experience of Christ, therefore no other religion could be true.

It seems clear that any adherent of another religion could make the very same objections. So where does that leave us? And why should we have any reason to value one set of arguments over another?

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Márcio July 31, 2010 at 8:12 am

“Chris Hallquist illuminates how Christian apologists rely on the same naive or deceptive tactics as peddlers of pseudoscience and superstition in UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus.”

I can’t see how the arguments for the origin of the universe, fine tuning of the universe, the existence of objective morals values or the ressurrection of Christ are naive, pseudoscience or supersticious arguments in any way.

If they were, atheists would have successfully refuted them a long time ago.

As William Lane Craig says in a video: “These are deductive arguments. If the premises are true, than the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. Whether you like it or not.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WdWAzoMI4E

People still don’t understand that we have a lot of good arguments to believe in the Christian God, even though we don’t need then to do so.

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Silver Bullet July 31, 2010 at 8:18 am

Luke,

I’m not sure I would include psychic powers in your list. Its easy to test psychic powers, & not so easy to test for the existence of the other items in your list.

Having said that, I like what you’re doing with this line of reasoning.

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 8:22 am

@Ajay – The “demon deception” claim is a response to Luke’s variation of the Roberts argument. See post 2998, where Luke explains that he’s primarily talking about Christian credulity about apparently miraculous phenomena. The Roberts quote encompasses a lot more than just unexplained phenomena, but I assume Luke stays away from the full Loftus OFT, since it’s so weak.

As many have pointed out, Luke was relying on an inaccurate portrayal of what Christians actually believe. Not only are Christians not told that other religions are incapable of producing apparently miraculous phenomena; we’re told to expect it.

So where does that leave us? And why should we have any reason to value one set of arguments over another?

It simply means that we can’t use apparently miraculous phenomena, on their own, to judge the veracity of a religious belief. I don’t know why atheists would disagree with this rather simple point.

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Mark July 31, 2010 at 8:32 am

You’re arguing that Christianity should be rejected (or at least, that Christians should understand why you dismiss God) because some of the reasons Christians have for debunking UFOs could also be applied to Christianity. I’m simply saying that’s illogical.

I don’t see why. Even if you think Christianity could predict secular paranormal phenomena (but explain them away as satanic), there are probably still lots of Christians who don’t believe in most reports of them. If that’s the case, and if the evidence for the resurrection is on a par with the evidence for those phenomena, then the argument could have force with those Christians.

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Razm July 31, 2010 at 8:36 am

“People still don’t understand that we have a lot of good arguments to believe in the Christian God, even though we don’t need then to do so. ”

Marcio, can you list those arguments?

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Ajay July 31, 2010 at 8:42 am

@JS Allen

Thanks for the clarification.

You write: “It simply means that we can’t use apparently miraculous phenomena, on their own, to judge the veracity of a religious belief.”

Sure, but I’m not sure who is judging the veracity of a religious belief entirely on miraculous phenomena…? I can agree that this is a bad idea.

But my larger point was that the two arguments I entailed which Christians often use seem an effective response by, say, a Muslim against the veracity of Christian truth claims too, no?

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 8:46 am

Zeb, you mentioned arguments but not evidence. I could make a strong case for a variety of things, including extra terrestrial intelligent beings visiting us, and yet the issue comes right back to evidence. Do I have any positive evidence? Do those with beliefs in deities?

[ Evidence being widely defined, not narrowly restricted to one specific type of evidence. Evidence can be shared and checked as being in support of a contention by people regardless of beliefs. ]

That’s why I distinguish between belief statements and knowledge claims.

Basically; Anyone can believe what they want — they actually can’t help but believe or not believe — but if they claim to know for a fact that something is or is not the case (they claim knowledge), they are on the hook for backing up that claim to knowledge.

Additionally, and this is where the rubber hits the road for me, if anyone wants to assert a belief must be held by others, they are effectively making a claim to know for a fact that a statement of belief is not a belief but actual knowledge.

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Márcio July 31, 2010 at 8:47 am

Razm,

I already did in my post.

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 8:47 am

there are probably still lots of Christians who don’t believe in most reports of them. If that’s the case, and if the evidence for the resurrection is on a par with the evidence for those phenomena

I don’t think Luke or Hallquist are arguing that evidence for UFOs is on par with evidence for the resurrection. They’re simply pointing out that some (perhaps even many) of the reasons for being skeptical about UFOs could be applied to skepticism about the resurrection.

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 8:58 am

But my larger point was that the two arguments I entailed which Christians often use seem an effective response by, say, a Muslim against the veracity of Christian truth claims too, no?

The claim about “demon deception” isn’t really a refutation of someone else’s belief system. IOW, Christians don’t use it to refute Islam, and Muslims don’t use it to refute Christians. It’s simply a statement of belief, and is used defensively.

So “where that leaves us” is that no religion is able to compel others to switch religion, purely through use of apparently miraculous phenomena. I guess you could say that it creates an impasse, but it doesn’t seem like an impasse that atheists would object to.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 9:11 am

Luke, maybe a slight rephrasing of the original quite might drive the point home better?

Stephen Roberts:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

Tweaked:

When you understand why others disbelieve in any gods that are not their own, you will understand why I don’t believe in any of them.

If a Mormon or a Sunni brings up their deity as the end of the conversation, then they haven’t addressed the beliefs of other believers at all. They are being dismissive — and there’s no reason not to return that favor and be as dismissive when they demand that their deities be given special consideration.

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Martin July 31, 2010 at 9:54 am

I think this quote is naive and represents the core of modern naive lay atheism. Since Luke’s blog rises above that (for the most part), I think he should consider replacing it with a quote that represents it better.

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Mark July 31, 2010 at 9:57 am

I don’t think Luke or Hallquist are arguing that evidence for UFOs is on par with evidence for the resurrection.

Really? I haven’t read Hallquist’s book, but I was under the impression he argues precisely this – that the evidence for ghosts, UFO’s, etc. is both similar to and at least as good as the evidence for the resurrection. And I’m guessing that’s what Luke believes, as well.

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Mark July 31, 2010 at 9:58 am

I think this quote is naive and represents the core of modern naive lay atheism. Since Luke’s blog rises above that (for the most part), I think he should consider replacing it with a quote that represents it better.

Could you elaborate on that?

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 10:08 am

There is better evidence for ghosts and UFOs than for the resurrection of Jesus, yes.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 10:15 am

Márcio: People still don’t understand that we have a lot of good arguments to believe in the Christian God, even though we don’t need then to do so.

Logically true does not mean necessarily true.

The same arguments or variations could apply to other deities and would not make a difference in that regard.

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KT July 31, 2010 at 1:09 pm

It baffles me that philosophically literate individuals could propound such nonsense. The theist/atheist debate is not a debate between credulous, uneducated people and scientifically trained, objective individuals; in reality, this is THE debate in philosophy which has gone on for centuries between the greatest thinkers who have ever lived. Idealism vs. Naturalism. Teleology vs. Mindless, Purposeless Chance. Thinkers such as Plato and Epictetus were not unintelligent fools who lacked the “benefit” of living after the Darwinian Revolution; on the contrary, the objections posed by such thinkers to metaphysical naturalism centuries ago are still as unanswerable as ever.

How is reason reducible to irrational, purposeless forces?
Even YOU, Luke, have a faculty greater than the flesh after having gone through the evidence and decided that the flesh was the principle thing.

It is amusing how atheists pretend to be upholders of reason when their world view has no respect for reason in the deepest metaphysical analysis.

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Martin July 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Mark,

Could you elaborate on that?

The reason I dismiss Zeus is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus. So, per the quote, the reason I dismiss the Christian God is that we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus?

???

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JS Allen July 31, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I haven’t read Hallquist’s book, but I was under the impression he argues precisely this – that the evidence for ghosts, UFO’s, etc. is both similar to and at least as good as the evidence for the resurrection

I don’t think the “at least as good” question is relevant to the question about the Roberts quote, unless the reasons are, indeed, similar. And I don’t think the evidence is similar at all. It’s very different kinds of evidence, which would seem to negate the validity of “when you understand your reasons for rejecting UFOs, you’ll understand my reasons for rejecting the resurrection”. The quote is clearly drawing equivalence between the two sets of reasons.

As an example, several people who claim to have witnessed Christ resurrected were willing to die over that belief. This doesn’t seem to be common with people who are convinced they’ve seen UFOs. Thus, I claim the evidence is different, and Luke is back to comparing with other religions, which people are willing to die over.

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Silas July 31, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Martin says:

“The reason I dismiss Zeus is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus. So, per the quote, the reason I dismiss the Christian God is that we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus?

???”

More like:
“The reason I dismiss Zeus is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus [and so on]. So, per the quote, I should be as reasonable when I consider my own God, and not believe because I have been raised as a [Christian/Muslim/Jew and so forth] and all my family and friends believe in this God, and I don’t want to betray my faith and identity.”

Let’s just face it: the majority of religious people don’t believe in God because of all the fancy philosophical arguments. It’s their “faith”, and the reasoning goes from there.

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Justfinethanks July 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm

The reason I dismiss Zeus is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus.

Ok then. Then the reason I dismiss your God is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning

(He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. – Job 36:32)

and there are no giant boats on Mt. Araat

(And on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. – Genesis 8:4)

And if you are justified in dismissing Zeus on those grounds, I don’t understand why I’m not equally justified.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 2:16 pm

KT, none that you list that are serious philosophical topics requires the addition of a belief in deities (theism) or religious strictures. If you disagree, show me where that requirement is best expressed in philosophical terms.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Dismiss Zeus? Tisk tisk.

Why would anyone say such things while I’m in the room? It all becomes a challenge at that point as I’m a messenger and Jove hands out justice.

Should he recuse himself? Would that be in his character? If I were you I’d burn a goat or at a minimum go grill a steak or a burger in his honor.

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TaiChi July 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I was an agnostic for a short time, until the argument from contingency convinced me there must be something like God. ” ~ Zeb

Is there any particular version of that argument which convinced you, Zeb? I intend to write something on it at some stage or other, so if there’s an especially good formulation I’d like to examine it.

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Zeb July 31, 2010 at 4:20 pm

TaiChi, no, it was just something I came up with on my own. I didn’t even know it was a sort of argument from contingency until I heard the Philosophy Bites about Avicenna last year. I’d be really interested to see a good discussion of the arguments.

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Zeb,

See my interview with Timothy O’Connor on contingency arguments.

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Reidish July 31, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I intend to write something on it at some stage or other, so if there’s an especially good formulation I’d like to examine it.

Looking forward to it, TaiChi. Have you read Alexander Pruss’ in the Blackwell Companion? Here’s a link:

http://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html

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Rhys Wilkins July 31, 2010 at 6:14 pm

As William Lane Craig says in a video: “These are deductive arguments. If the premises are true, than the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. Whether you like it or not.”

This is rubbish. Craig disguises his inferences to the best explanation as deductive logic. They are not.

For instance, “If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist” is buttressed by the notion that God is allegedly the best explanation for objective morality.

Same with fine tuning. That is an inference to the best explanation as well.

The Kalam might not be IBE, but I don’t know. Luke seems to think so, but I can’t really see it myself (come to think of it I might ask him about that). It all seems to be deductive logic. The only IBE in the Kalam seems to be that the universe began to exist, no IBEs to do with Yahweh himself.

Now his appeal to magic is definetly IBE (Craig makes this very clear).

The only point that might not be IBE is the immediate experience of Yahweh, but that is not even an argument. Its just fucking wierd that he brings it up in debate.

By the way, Craig’s arguments have been shown to be resoundingly implausible by many people, even other Christian philosophers! Wes Morriston comes to mind.

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Márcio July 31, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I hear a lot o people saying that Christians appeal to magic. That is funny, because at least we have the “magician”. Atheists on the other hand just have the magic, magic without a magician.

Example:

Christians says that God create the universe. Atheists disagrees, because this is like magic.

Atheists says that the universe came into being from the big bang singularity uncaused out of nothing. Christians disagrees because this is worse than magic.

I think it’s very funny when atheists say that Christians appel to a magician when they themselves only have the magic (without a magician).

It’s like saying that it’s impossible for a magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but is possible for the rabbit to come into being uncaused out of nothing.

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Martin July 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Rhys,

Uhhh, but Craig’s arguments are deductive. The moral argument is modus tollens. A valid, deductive syllogism.

If the premises are true then the conclusion follows necessarily. Craig is correct to say this.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Márcio, you scramble together atheists and Christians and supernaturalists and scientists. Then you assert that they say things, but you offer no quotes. Please stop that. Show your work if you want to make a claim.

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Rob July 31, 2010 at 7:09 pm

The main problem with contingency arguments is that they rely on The Principle of Sufficient Reason. But there are no good reasons to accept the PSR, and several good reasons to think that it is false.

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TaiChi July 31, 2010 at 11:25 pm

@Zeb,
Thanks. I find it the most interesting argument for God’s existence.

@Reidish,
That looks very helpful. Thankyou.

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Mark July 31, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I don’t think the “at least as good” question is relevant to the question about the Roberts quote, unless the reasons are, indeed, similar. And I don’t think the evidence is similar at all.

I agree that the similarity is limited – the evidence for UFO’s is overwhelmingly superior in most respects.

As an example, several people who claim to have witnessed Christ resurrected were willing to die over that belief. This doesn’t seem to be common with people who are convinced they’ve seen UFOs.

1. Martyrdom can provide strong evidence that the martyrs believe their story. But I think there are UFO cases where there’s also fairly strong evidence that the witnesses believe their story. So this isn’t really a difference in kind. 2. The evidence for the martyrdom of the Apostles isn’t in general very strong.

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Mark July 31, 2010 at 11:45 pm

The reason I dismiss Zeus is because we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus. So, per the quote, the reason I dismiss the Christian God is that we have a naturalistic explanation of lightning and no one lives on Mt Olympus?

???

Oh, I thought you were referring to Luke’s variation on the quote.

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KT August 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

The debate is not whether some collection of religious dogmas is true. The question is whether reality is fundamentally rational or mindless and purposeless. If it is mindless (or one believes that it is), one has no reason to expect that one’s reason is a faculty capable of forming veridical beliefs. Rationality is not at home in a mechanistic universe, but it is at home in a teleological world. Attempting to be too parsimonious in one’s metaphysics is not wise.

(BTW, I am not “religious,” but am an inclined towards an eclectic version of Stoicism-very similar to Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.)

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Hermes August 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm

KT: Rationality is not at home in a mechanistic universe, but it is at home in a teleological world.

I’m not seeing the connection. Can you back that up?

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 5:21 am

[ continued ]

Besides, observation doesn’t lead credence to the idea that the universe/world/reality is mechanistic or by design. (That said, I’m not sure about what you mean exactly by mechanistic.)

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ildi August 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

For example, eyewitness reports (which are generally good evidence for things).

Eyewitness reports are sucky evidence! Please read Elizabeth Loftus’ Eyewitness Testimony as a good primer.

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JS Allen August 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Eyewitness reports are sucky evidence! Please read Elizabeth Loftus’ Eyewitness Testimony as a good primer.

I’ve read much of Elizabeth’s work, and have even blogged about it. The fact is, multiple eyewitness testimony is sufficient to execute or imprison a person for life. I think you’re overestimating the importance of Elizabeth’s work in order to try to score a point.

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JS Allen August 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I agree that the similarity is limited – the evidence for UFO’s is overwhelmingly superior in most respects.

In some respects, the evidence for UFOs is superior. Heck, I saw something fly over my house once when I was 12 that remains unidentified to this day. I never thought it was extraterrestrial in origin, but I can certainly believe that people see flying objects that cannot be explained by any normal explanations.

The resurrection is very different, IMO. All of the claims of evidence for resurrection can be challenged, but you challenge them in a very different manner from how you challenge the veracity of UFO claims. Debunking the resurrection is very different from debunking UFO claims.

For example, you can challenge the resurrection by claiming that the eyewitness reports were fiction (since you cannot interview the author of the records, nor can you interview the people the record reports as having been eyewitnesses). This route of challenge is not open to UFO debunking, since you can actually interview me about the UFO I saw.

As another example, you can challenge the resurrection by saying that it happened in an environment with 500+ years of religious expectation created by prophesy. We don’t have 500 year-old holy texts predicting UFOs; or at least not that people today use to explain UFOs.

Finally, you have the fact that generations of people found the story plausible, and made life-or-death decisions based on that belief. We don’t have that yet with UFOs, and I do think it’s a matter of kind rather than quantity. For example, I’ve known a few friends who had parents that believed fervently in UFOs. I’ve never seen that belief get passed on to the children; let alone several generations. There may be reasons why, but the point is that it’s *different*.

I just don’t think it’s workable to compare the resurrection with belief in UFOs.

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Mark August 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm

The resurrection is very different, IMO. All of the claims of evidence for resurrection can be challenged, but you challenge them in a very different manner from how you challenge the veracity of UFO claims. Debunking the resurrection is very different from debunking UFO claims.

Debunking UFO claims is harder than debunking the resurrection, in part for the reasons you adduce. I don’t really understand why you’re drawing the conclusion that you do from this claim. There are certain desiderata we assign to distinguish more trustworthy testimony from less trustworthy testimony. These include things like evidence of sincerity, temporal proximity to the event, eyewitness reportage, independence of witnesses, self-consistency, textual fidelity, corroboration by skeptical investigators, level of detail, expectation that counter-evidence would survive, etc. It’s straightforward to show that in most of these dimensions, the evidence for (apparently) extraterrestrial UFO’s comes out miles ahead. In fact, you gave some examples, yourself.

As another example, you can challenge the resurrection by saying that it happened in an environment with 500+ years of religious expectation created by prophesy. We don’t have 500 year-old holy texts predicting UFOs; or at least not that people today use to explain UFOs.

Actually, there’s tons of cultural expectation regarding aliens. Joe Nickell made an awesome chart showing how perceptions of aliens have changed over the years in accordance with popular cultural, particularly Hollywood depictions.

Finally, you have the fact that generations of people found the story plausible, and made life-or-death decisions based on that belief.

This is true, but I don’t see how it’s germane. The fact that millions of Christians throughout history believed in the resurrection strongly enough to die or risk dying for it tells us nothing about the historicity of the resurrection. What could inform our judgments about its historicity is the reputed eyewitnesses’ martyrdom. But as I said above, the evidence for this is weak.

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ildi August 2, 2010 at 3:27 pm

The fact is, multiple eyewitness testimony is sufficient to execute or imprison a person for life.

If you’ve read her work, you’d know that her point is that it shouldn’t be sufficient because it is so easily manipulated. It is simply false to state that eyewitness testimony is highly reliable evidence. (see Innocence Project)

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JS Allen August 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

[Mark] Actually, there’s tons of cultural expectation regarding aliens. Joe Nickell made an awesome chart showing how perceptions of aliens have changed over the years in accordance with popular cultural, particularly Hollywood depictions.

Yeah, I remember seeing Jared Diamond talk about this before, specifically with respect to how the belief in UFOs tracks to the technological advancements. Maybe he was getting it from Joe Nickell.

The point here is that you can’t equate 500 year-old prophesies with current technological culture. I mean, those prophesies which predated Christ by 500 years are there, and you need to contend with them. Atheists would certainly assert that the evidence is weak, but the point is that it’s a different kind of evidence. It takes a lot of stretching to call it the same as UFO evidence.

What could inform our judgments about its historicity is the reputed eyewitnesses’ martyrdom. But as I said above, the evidence for this is weak.

What I was driving at here is the idea that one piece of evidence for the resurrection is the trust that later generations placed in their predecessors; even to the point of martyrdom. I won’t argue about whether the evidence is weak or not, but it’s definitely different. The generations of people who believed in resurrection tended to trust their ancestors’ veracity more than the children of UFO believers do.

Again, I don’t think any of the evidence is slam-dunk, or even very strong — but the point is that there are different sorts of evidence, and it’s really illogical to try to jam the resurrection into a UFO-shaped box.

The fact is, comparisons to Islam and Hinduism are a lot more valid that comparisons to UFOs; and for many more reasons than we’ve discussed here.

[ildi] If you’ve read her work, you’d know that her point is that it shouldn’t be sufficient because it is so easily manipulated.

Hey, I totally sympathize with her lonely quest to improve the reliability of eyewitness testimony. But your original statement seemed much stronger to me. It seemed like you were saying that we ought never to trust eyewitness testimony.

We generally trust what we see, and we generally trust eyewitness reports of our friends. Anyone who says otherwise is most definitely a hypocrite, or else an endless source of annoyance to his friends. I’m glad that the silly “pictures or it didn’t happen” meme has largely died off, since it presented a pretty perverse trust model (as if pictures can’t be manipulated, or as if eyewitness reports are never valid).

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ildi August 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I mean, those prophesies which predated Christ by 500 years are there, and you need to contend with them.

There’s also biblical prophecy for UFOs as one of the signs of the end of times; for example: For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie… (II Thessalonians 2:11).

That is, the ufo encounters are taken as factual, but are interpreted as demonic visitations trying to inculcate “new age” or “one world order” beliefs in hapless citizens, to the peril of their souls. This seems analogous to the belief that other religions’ miracles are demon-inspired.

What I was driving at here is the idea that one piece of evidence for the resurrection is the trust that later generations placed in their predecessors; even to the point of martyrdom.

How is trust in ancestors considered evidence?

It seemed like you were saying that we ought never to trust eyewitness testimony.

We generally trust what we see, and we generally trust eyewitness reports of our friends.

Generally we trust our friends when they say they saw a red-eyed dog in the park last night, but we become a bit more skeptical when they say their car was chased through the dark countryside by a red-eyed human-sized creature with mothlike wings…

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Mark August 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm

The point here is that you can’t equate 500 year-old prophesies with current technological culture. I mean, those prophesies which predated Christ by 500 years are there, and you need to contend with them. Atheists would certainly assert that the evidence is weak, but the point is that it’s a different kind of evidence. It takes a lot of stretching to call it the same as UFO evidence.

Oh, I had misunderstood; I didn’t realize that you were mentioning prophecy as special evidence for the resurrection not comparable to UFO’s. Well, I’d indeed say this evidence is very weak. I guess I could simply rephrase my overall point to be that the documentary evidence for the resurrection is substantially worse than the documentary evidence for UFO’s; and that the other pieces of evidence for the resurrection are highly spurious in absolute terms.

What I was driving at here is the idea that one piece of evidence for the resurrection is the trust that later generations placed in their predecessors; even to the point of martyrdom. I won’t argue about whether the evidence is weak or not, but it’s definitely different. The generations of people who believed in resurrection tended to trust their ancestors’ veracity more than the children of UFO believers do.

O.K., but as above, I would argue that this has fairly little to do with the documentary evidence for the resurrection, and in itself is highly spurious in absolute terms.

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Reidish August 3, 2010 at 6:25 am

There’s also biblical prophecy for UFOs as one of the signs of the end of times; for example: For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie… (II Thessalonians 2:11).

By what exegesis are you understanding this passage to be talking about UFO’s as one of the signs of the end of times?

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JS Allen August 3, 2010 at 7:54 am

@Mark – I mostly agree with you. I was just being pedantic about the point that Islam and Hinduism are much better analogues to Christianity than is a crazy story told by my friends alcoholic uncle who looks like Randy Quaid.

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ildi August 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

By what exegesis are you understanding this passage to be talking about UFO’s as one of the signs of the end of times?

I googled for biblical explanations for UFOs and alien abductions and a theme I saw was that aliens couldn’t exist because God only created intelligent life on this planet; the messages received by people who were visited by UFOs contradicted Christianity and the Bible; there were so many eyewitness testimonies that actual visitations must be occurring – therefore, demons, therefore Biblical prophecies re. the end times, Thessalonians being the most popular.

My point being that there are prophecies for pretty much anything in the Bible if you look for them, and that there are indeed many similarities between the ‘evidence’ for religious beliefs and alien abductions.

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baz August 4, 2010 at 5:30 am

Many Xtians *do* believe in psychic powers, so I’m not sure including that in the list is helpful.

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Hermes August 4, 2010 at 8:02 am

I think it actually presses the point home, as their belief in psychic powers deserves to be lumped into the same category as UFOs and genies, and then compared to their belief in some other silent power that does magical things.

That said, I like my tweaked version of the Stephen Roberts quote;

When you understand why others disbelieve in any gods that are not their own, you will understand why I don’t believe in any of them.

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