Can Theists and Atheists Reasonably Disagree?

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 7, 2011 in General Atheism

dawkins and pope

The New Atheists say belief in God is irrational.1 Many theists have countered that atheism is irrational. Others think that both sides can reasonably disagree, just as rational and well-informed scientists can disagree about string theory or the social factors contributing to secularization.

Can theists and atheists reasonably disagree about the existence of God?

Let’s begin with atheist philosopher William Rowe. After presenting his 1979 argument from evil, Rowe asked:

If one is persuaded by [this] argument for atheism, [then] what position should the atheist take concerning the rationality of the theist’s belief?

Rowe distinguishes three possible positions for the atheist. The ‘unfriendly atheist’ believes that no one is rationally justified in holding theistic belief. The ‘indifferent atheist’ has no belief about whether or not theists are rationally justified in holding theistic belief. Finally, the ‘friendly atheist’ believes that some theists are rationally justified in holding theistic belief, despite the fact that the atheist is rational to reject theism.

Rowe defends two varieties of friendly atheism, which Shane Andre calls ‘special grounds atheism’ (SGA) and ‘paradoxical atheism’ (PA):

SGA is the position (a) that the atheist is in a privileged evidential position vis-à-vis the theist, and (b) that, as a result, the atheist is justified in believing that there is no God, [even while] the theist is justified in believing the opposite. By contrast, PA is the position that, regardless of whether he has special grounds, the atheist is justified in believing that there is no God, [even while] the theist is justified in believing that there is.

Special Grounds Atheism

Andre rejects the reasonableness of SGA “unless the [atheist's] claim to special grounds can be upheld.” After all, it is not likely that the atheist is in a “privileged evidential position” to the theist with regard to evil. The theist is aware that much evil exists, and that much of it appears to be gratuitous. The atheist and the theist have access to the same evidence concerning evil, but the theist interprets it differently than the atheist does. Andre concludes:

Consequently, whereas the atheist sees suffering as evidence for his position, the theist sees it as a phenomenon whose significance is easily misunderstood and can only be fully grasped within the overall context of theistic belief.

Thus, the atheist does not have special grounds for his atheism with regard to evil. Both the atheist and the theist know that much apparently gratuitous evil exists.

Notice that Andre’s objection rests on the assumption that SGA is the position that “the atheist is in a privileged evidential position vis-à-vis the theist with regard to evil.” But these last four words do not appear in Andre’s definition of SGA. Indeed, Andre himself refers to Rowe’s argument as but one contribution among many from non-believers who have tried to show that atheists “speak from a superior evidential position to that of the theist.” And though Rowe’s original article appears to frame friendly atheism solely in the context of his argument from evil (“If one is persuaded by [this] argument for atheism, [then] what position should the atheist take concerning the rationality of the theist’s belief?”), it seems natural to interpret friendly atheism in broader terms, as a position the atheist may take whatever his justification for rejecting theism.

Rowe himself has affirmed that he intended to frame friendly atheism in response to a broader question, namely:

If the atheist’s nonbelief is justified (by whatever atheistic arguments may succeed), then what position should the atheist hold regarding the rationality of the theist?2

In this expanded context, it is easy to think of an example of reasonable SGA. Consider a teenage girl, Beth, who is raised in Alabama. She knows no unbelievers. She reads only Christian magazines, watches only Christian movies, and attends a private Christian school. She seems to have personally experienced God on many occasions, and is unaware of how the brain may produce these effects without divine intervention. Moreover, she has read some popular books arguing for theism, and is unaware of any books arguing for atheism. Surely Beth is rational to believe in God, even if today’s atheist is rational to reject theism on the basis of evidence unavailable to Beth: for example, the long history of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones. So SGA is reasonable.

Here, one might claim that we still do not avoid Andre’s objection, for Beth could see any supposed evidence for atheism as “a phenomenon whose significance is easily misunderstood and can only be fully grasped within the overall context of theistic belief.” In fact, we might expect her to say so with regard to any supposed evidence for atheism presented. If the atheist’s special grounds for nonbelief had been his knowledge of the long history of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones, then Beth, upon being made aware of this evidence, could say that even though lightning and disease and thousands of other phenomena are no longer best explained by the acts of gods and demons, nevertheless the remaining mysteries of the universe may yet be best explained by divine intentions. Or if the atheist’s special grounds for nonbelief had been his knowledge that billions of people disbelieve in the God of classical theism, forming the basis of an argument from unbelief for atheism, then Beth, upon being made aware of this evidence and argument, could say that demons afflict all those who reject theism, and that this explains unbelief without casting doubt on God’s loving nature. And so on. As Andre notes, “large-scale metaphysical theories may be so underdetermined by the facts that an ingenious thinker can, with sufficient patience and determination, weave a ‘likely account’ to preserve any of them from clear cut refutation.” But in this case, the objection to SGA rests on the uninteresting point that it may always be possible to save a theory from “clear cut refutation” if one is willing to interpret the evidence implausibly enough.

(Let us assume the reader does not accept that my examples could justify atheism. But recall, friendly atheism is proposed as a position the atheist may take if the atheist’s nonbelief is justified. It is not hard to generalize what I have said above to other potential justifications for atheism.)

More importantly, this objection ignores what Andre means when he refers to “privileged evidential position” in his definition of SGA. Andre writes:

Let us say that one person A is in a privileged evidential position vis-à-vis another person B if A, in addition to having B’s evidence for believing that P, has evidence not available to B which justifies A, as it would justify B if he had it, in believing that not-p.

Now let us put Beth’s story into Andre’s formula: “The atheist is in a privileged evidential position vis-à-vis Beth if the atheist, in addition to having Beth’s evidence for believing that God exists, has evidence not available to Beth which justifies the atheist, as it would justify Beth if she had it, in believing that God does not exist.”

Is this plausibly correct? It is, for we may easily suppose that the atheist was familiar with Beth’s unsurprising reasons for believing that God exists, and we have already supposed that the atheist has evidence for atheism unavailable to Beth. Finally, this evidence for atheism would also justify Beth, if she had it, in believing that God does not exist. For though the long history of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones does not prove atheism, it would seem to make either the atheist or Beth (if she knew of it) at the very least reasonable to suspect that current mysteries might, like so many past mysteries, turn out to have natural explanations, and that there might therefore be little use for a supernatural explanatory hypothesis. So the story about Beth shows that SGA is, in the expanded context (beyond Rowe’s 1979 argument from evil) for friendly atheism, reasonable.

Paradoxical Atheism

What about PA? Can the atheist who is rational to reject theism nevertheless believe some theists are rational to accept it?

Rowe illustrates something like PA by imagining two people who add up a list of numbers. The first person adds them by hand and gets sum x. The second person adds them with a calculator and gets sum y. The first person knows the second person’s calculator is broken, but the second person doesn’t know that. So the first person is rational to believe the sum is x, the second person is rational to believe the sum is not-x, and the first person is reasonable to believe the second person is rational to believe the sum is not-x.

But in this illustration, the first person is in a privileged evidential position compared to the second person. The first person knows the calculator is broken while the second person does not. So this is really a case akin to SGA, not PA. Thus, Andre writes, Rowe “fails to establish the general possibility of a position such as PA.”

While I agree that Rowe’s illustration fails, perhaps the possibility of PA can still be established.

First, let us consider whether there can be such a thing as reasonable disagreement. Then we will consider whether there can be reasonable  disagreement about the existence of God.

In affirming the possibility of reasonable disagreement, I have in mind something similar to a remark made by Gideon Rosen:

It should be obvious that reasonable people can disagree, even when confronted with a single body of evidence. When a jury or a court is divided in a difficult case, the mere fact of disagreement does not mean that someone is being unreasonable. Paleontologists disagree about what killed the dinosaurs. And while it is possible that most of the parties to this dispute are irrational, this need not be the case. To the contrary, it would appear to be a fact of epistemic life that a careful review of the evidence does not guarantee consensus, even among thoughtful and otherwise rational investigators.3

Now let me be more specific. Erik Baldwin offers the following example of apparently reasonable disagreement in science:

Two physicists consider the same body of evidence and each accepts the standard criteria of scientific theory selection: explanatory power, fecundity, simplicity, scope, empirical fit, elegance or beauty, and the like. Each has a comparable grasp of the same evidential considerations and they agree about what counts as evidence. Each is equally well-trained and equally familiar with the same relevant background information. On the grounds that theory 1 is slightly simpler than theory 2, the first physicist reflectively and conscientiously concludes that the evidence best supports theory 1. The second, on the grounds that theory 2 has a slightly higher degree of empirical adequacy than theory 1, reflectively and conscientiously concludes that the evidence best supports theory 2. Both physicists are equally reasonable despite their [disagreement].4

As Baldwin observes, the history of science is littered with actual cases of apparently reasonable disagreement. Consider the disagreement between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr about the ramifications of quantum physics. Consider the disagreement between David Sloan Wilson and Richard Dawkins over whether natural selection operates in a mostly group-centric way or a mostly gene-centric way. Consider the disagreement among sociologists of religion about the merits of competing theories of the causes of secularization.

Often, these apparent cases of reasonable disagreement arise when there is little information available with which to compare theoretical models, and when it is difficult to discern by which criteria we should choose a best explanation for observed phenomena. But this is precisely the case with the God hypothesis. God is posited to be – just like dark matter, dark energy, and multiverses – something quite unlike everything of which we have ordinary knowledge. So it may not be surprising that reasonable disagreement would arise over the question of God’s existence.

Consider the following scenario. Two philosophers, Cleanthes and Philo, consider the same body of evidence:

(i) the apparent fine-tuning of universal constants for intelligent life
(ii) the apparent origins of spacetime from a singularity at the Big Bang
(iii) the currently mainstream theories about cosmic inflation and galaxy formation

Each philosopher accepts the standard criteria of theory selection: explanatory power, fecundity, simplicity, explanatory scope, empirical fit, elegance, and the like. Each is equally well-trained in cosmology and astrophysics, and each is equally familiar with the same relevant background information.

Cleanthes proposes T1, that he evidence is best explained by the intentional action of an as yet unknown powerful being. Philo proposes T2, that the evidence is best explained by the mechanical function of an as yet unknown natural process. At this point it may well be unclear which theory has better explanatory power, fecundity, simplicity, and so on. It may also be unclear which explanatory criteria should be given most weight when choosing one theory over another. Here we seem to have an example of reasonable disagreement over the existence of God. Thus, PA can be reasonable.

Recently, this line of argument is how I defended friendly atheism. Now I’m not so sure. The whole field of epistemology of disagreement has exploded around me.

  1. For example, Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith, page 72, “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them ‘religious’; otherwise they are likely to be called ‘mad,’ ‘psychotic,’ or ‘delusional.’” []
  2. Personal communication, March 7, 2010. []
  3. Gideon Rosen, “Nominalism, Naturalism, Philosophical Relativism” in Philosophical Perspectives 15 (2001), pp. 71-72. []
  4. Baldwin, Erik. Rationality Pluralism and Tradition-Based Perspectivalism (University of Notre Dame, forthcoming), chapter 1. []

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{ 192 comments… read them below or add one }

mister k February 7, 2011 at 5:29 am

But surely in the case where I have two “rationalists” with equal knowledge who can argue well for T1 and T2, and its truly unclear which is correct, the correct position is to say “Given the current evidence and state of knowledge T1 and T2 are the most plausible explanations for the information, but we require more information to discern between them.” Arguing for a theory might be useful in a sense of gaining information on it, so its not necessarily irrational for A to defend T1 and B to defend T2, but their belief should be that both are equally plausible.

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Martin February 7, 2011 at 6:23 am

Mister K,

I agree. That is exactly the position I take on theism. Both sides make an all-right case, but they have both failed to overcome the other. There simply isn’t enough evidence to make one side more powerful than the other.

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Reginald Selkirk February 7, 2011 at 6:23 am

But this is precisely the case with the God hypothesis. God is posited to be – just like dark matter, dark energy, and multiverses – something quite unlike everything of which we have ordinary knowledge. So it may not be surprising that reasonable disagreement would arise over the question of God’s existence.

Except; the God hypothesis seems to shift with every argument. It seems to boil down to “God is that which has not yet been disproven.”

Consider the following scenario. Two philosophers, Cleanthes and Philo, consider the same body of evidence:
(i) the apparent fine-tuning of universal constants for intelligent life…

Sounds like Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which was written in an earlier era of science, notably before Darwin proposed his theory of evolution via natural selection. Evidence for biological design admitted by Philo, the skeptic, included that no species of animals were known to have gone extinct. The availability of evidence and our understanding of it is much improved since that time.

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Garren February 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

An Atheist may have special grounds by virtue of knowing she is not lying about her own belief. This is relevant against certain Christian theologies which claim that everyone knows the Christian God is real or — slightly more cautious — that no one who was a true believer could ever stop believing. If a Christian insists either of these must be true because divine revelation says so, such an Atheist has privileged evidence for rejecting the legitimacy of this divine revelation. Meanwhile, the Christian is likely to believe the Atheist is lying before believing ‘God’ is lying.

Regarding Beth-the-Christian-in-a-bubble, it’s not just a matter of whether Beth could respond to any new information with clever dodging. The fact is not every ‘Beth’ will dodge indefinitely. Some will respond to new information with struggle and eventual surrender of earlier belief. Let’s call these categories of Christians invincible-Beth (IB) and vulnerable-Beth (VB) respectively. (Before anyone thinks the former is being complimented, invincibility to new information is not a virtue.)

After sufficient exposure to new information, IB and VB are clearly separated. But this isn’t random. IB and VB already operated in different ways as true believing Christians. I would say that VB held her faith in a reasonable way because she was drawing the best conclusion from her prior experience. Though she was confident in her current beliefs, she was also in a state of being vulnerable to contrary evidence. If this isn’t rationality, I don’t know what the term means.

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Garren February 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

“After sufficient exposure to new information, IB and VB are clearly separated.”

Yes, I’m making the assumption here that any well-informed, rational Christian will deconvert. No, I don’t think this this actually holds true across all forms of Christian faith. Feel free to limit my statement to Young Earth Creationism, KJV Only-ism, Mormonism, etc.

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Tony Hoffman February 7, 2011 at 8:04 am

But in this illustration, the first person is in a privileged evidential position compared to the second person. The first person knows the calculator is broken while the second person does not.

I wouldn’t be so quick to abandon this analogy. It appears to me that neither party in the analogy is privileged regarding the evidence (the numbers are the numbers).

I am not so sure that knowledge of a superior method for evaluating the same evidence puts one in a special evidential position. I’d say it puts one in a special evaluative position. So I suppose that it would still be reasonable to disagree with a theist, for instance, knowing that their method used to evaluate the evidence is faulty, and having no way to convince them otherwise.

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Thomas February 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

I agree. That is exactly the position I take on theism. Both sides make an all-right case, but they have both failed to overcome the other. There simply isn’t enough evidence to make one side more powerful than the other.

I kind of agree (I tend to think that one side is just a bit powerful than the other), but I can´t see why this is a genuine problem. Whether we are talking about philosophy, politics or even science, there are rearly arguments and theories which are accepted by every rational person. So if this is the case also in religious issues, then what´s the problem? If reasonable and well-informed people can disagree in politics and science, then why not in theism-atheism -debate? Why the double standards?

Moreover, from the theistic perspective, if there really were knock-down proofs for the existence of God, that would be theologically problematic. In order for human beings to have the possibility of a genuine choice between unselfish love in God and rejecting God, there must be ‘epistemic distance’ between human beings and God. So the arguments for theism must be, using C. Stephen Evans’ terminology, easily resistible (‘The Easy Resistibility Principle’). God must be hidden enough. Evans makes a powerful case for this in his new book Natural Signs and Knowledge of God.

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Kevin February 7, 2011 at 8:53 am

I think the final conflict between the physicists is like the conflict between Beth and the atheist. The theist physicist sees the hand of God in biology, ethics, etc. and thinks the cause of the universe is a similar case. The atheistic physicist sees natural mechanisms behind evolution, empathy, etc. and thinks the cause of the universe is a similar case. Here, one physicist thinks supernatural explanation prevail in other fields, and one thinks that natural explanations have replaced supernatural explanations every single time.

The atheist physicist may agree that fine-tuning may point in the theistic direction or the other but may conclude that it is still highly improbable due to the extremely poor track record of supernatural (a prior the theist physicist disagrees with) explanations in other fields that while preliminarily plausible, further information showed them to be false. Just like the different between Beth and the atheist, they may be operating on different priors so this could be yet another case of SGA. The question is, is this a difference of priors, or are they similarly knowledgeable of other fields?

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Garren February 7, 2011 at 9:07 am

@Thomas

“Moreover, from the theistic perspective, if there really were knock-down proofs for the existence of God, that would be theologically problematic. In order for human beings to have the possibility of a genuine choice between unselfish love in God and rejecting God, there must be ‘epistemic distance’ between human beings and God.”

That line of thinking assumes determinism about love for God, given unblemished belief that God exists. It seems you’re the one denying the possibility of genuine choice to love God.

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Martin February 7, 2011 at 9:18 am

Thomas,

But many topics are heavily weighed in favor of one side. Biological evolution, for instance, has so much overwhelming evidence in favor of it that it completely crushes opposition.

Theism on the other hand seems to be pretty evenly balanced between the two sides.

Interesting theory about “The Easy Resistibility Principle”. I’ll have to read up on that.

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Steven R. February 7, 2011 at 9:31 am

Honestly, not sure what to think on this. Really, all of these arguments for the existence of God I keep on hearing seem to boil down to “God did it” which brings us no closer to having any insights than positing the Unicorn from Dimension X to explain things.

I agree with Luke on what he posted and that it applies to people who never fully had access to Atheistic Arguments, but once we get into the realm of scholarships, I’m much more reluctant to say “oh well, both sides have a decent case and it’s hard to tell which side has the stronger argument” for, unless we’re talking about a fully fleshed-out philosophical system that absolutely requires God to explain reality itself (some variants of idealism or Berkeley’s Immaterialism, perhaps), God just seems like something to fill in the gaps or personal incredulity.

For example, take the Cosmological Argument. We’re told that “something cannot come from nothing” is too big a thing to suppose, and thus, God is a better explanation. And yet, when you think about it, all that does is say “God made something out of nothing”–it gets us absolutely nowhere. And then there’s stuff like the “natural theology” involved in explaining evolutionary things like “morals” and “religious experiences”. As I joked to my friend the other day:

Consciousness?
God did it.
Morals?
God did it.
Love?
God did it.

Why should we call those sort of responses (and yes, after saying “God did it” we usually go in-depth about how much God loves us, blah blah blah, but all of that is quite besides the point as we still have an explanation no better than gnomes telepathically communicating with us resulting in what we perceive as “morals”) reasonable or presenting a case stronger than “I do not know as of yet” or a more complex understanding of evolutionary developments? Unless we’re talking about the farthest reaches of philosophy, the case for God is rather weak and I don’t think it merits much consideration.

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Thomas February 7, 2011 at 9:32 am

Martin,

what about, say, some issues in theoretical astrophysics and cosmology? Surely there are vast disagreements among well-educated people out there. Even more so in politics and history, for example.

Yes, I highly recommend Evans´s book. It´s a bit pricy but well worth it.

Garren,

I don´t understand why this assumes determinism about love for God..?

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Tony Hoffman February 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

That is exactly the position I take on theism. Both sides make an all-right case, but they have both failed to overcome the other. There simply isn’t enough evidence to make one side more powerful than the other.

What tripe. We are literally overwhelmed with evidence that the God of each of the monotheistic religions does not exist. The theist side is buttressed by a poor evaluative method (the system of human biases) that insulates it from understanding the evidence, and the atheist side possesses a superior method (science) in which to evaluate the evidence. To say that both have equal evidence in their favor is to confuse the term evidence with analysis.

The real question, I think, is how does one inform the user of a defective calculator that their device is broken? I do not accept that both sides are on equal footing here, because, as in the case of the calculator analogy, both sides should presumably be able to come to agreement with a method for resolving a difference of addition.

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Martin February 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thomas,

Gah! $56 used for a book that is 150 pages in length?! Well, it’s on my wish list now, but let’s just say that this kind of crap is exactly what drives the new ebook piracy industry.

what about, say, some issues in theoretical astrophysics and cosmology?

Yes, there are plenty of areas where it is probably best to withhold judgment. There are 12 different interpretations of quantum mechanics right now, and I think the only rational response is to just sit back and remain neutral.

Same goes for God.

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Martin February 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

What tripe. We are literally overwhelmed with evidence that the God of each of the monotheistic religions does not exist.

Thanks for calling my opinion tripe. What, pray tell, is this overwhelming evidence that God does not exist? The best argument I know of is Rowe’s evidential argument from evil, which is a perfectly reasonable reason to think that such a being does not exist. However, theists have perfectly reasonable responses to it. Followed by perfectly reasonable retorts from atheists, and so on, ad infinitum.

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Martin February 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

Steven R,

…all of these arguments for the existence of God I keep on hearing seem to boil down to “God did it”

Not a single one of them is like that. They are all valid arguments with the only weakness being that it can be difficult to tell if the premises are true or not. For instance, Kalam is a simple categorical syllogism:

1. All A are B
2. C is A
3. Therefore, C is B

This is logically valid. Throw in true premises, and the argument works. There is nothing god-of-the-gaps about it at all.

Fine tuning is a disjunctive syllogism:

1. Either A, B, or C
2. Not A or B
3. Therefore, C

Again, logically valid, and so if the premises are true the conclusion goes through. Not a single god-of-the-gaps about it.

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Steven R. February 7, 2011 at 10:11 am

Steven R,Not a single one of them is like that. They are all valid arguments with the only weakness being that it can be difficult to tell if the premises are true or not. For instance, Kalam is a simple categorical syllogism: 1. All A are B2. C is A3. Therefore, C is BThis is logically valid. Throw in true premises, and the argument works. There is nothing god-of-the-gaps about it at all. Fine tuning is a disjunctive syllogism:1. Either A, B, or C2. Not A or B3. Therefore, CAgain, logically valid, and so if the premises are true the conclusion goes through. Not a single god-of-the-gaps about it.  (Quote)

I didn’t say they were gods of the gaps (though I did say that sometimes the arguments used to justify God’s existence were god of the gaps). But let’s look at the Fine-Tuning Argument. It basically says, it seems so amazing to say that our world is fine-tuned for life, therefore, *wait for it* God did it! That’s what I’m getting at. It just fills the void of personal incredulity that life came about without anyone intending it to.

I mean, sure, we can make logically valid arguments for inane things, didn’t the FSM prove that? I said the arguments were weak, not that they were necessarily invalid because of their logical structure.

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Tony Hoffman February 7, 2011 at 10:52 am

We have overwhelming evidence that gravity exists. We have nothing like it for the gods of the various monotheistic religions. All we have are explanations for why something must exist that has no meaningful (does not relate to our senses, fails to predict, cannot be falsified, etc.) interaction or effect on reality. It is a stunning lack of evidence, made only more breathtaking by the claim that this vacuum is somehow filled with what it does not contain.

The evidence that none of the Gods of the monotheistic religions exists is accumulated through every imperfection, every random event, every example of needless suffering, every failed prediction, every failure to appear in real life, etc. This is data against the existence of a theistic God, and it overwhelms the typical claims that evidence for God exists. If you are going to talk about evidence, you must include all of the evidence. And each of the gods of the various monotheisms literally drowns in a sea of data that screams he does not exist. (Now a deistic God, that’s a more open question.)

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Patrick February 7, 2011 at 10:58 am

Thomas

As for the ‘Easy Resistibility Principle’ the problem is that in the Bible we find instances, when God’s existence was extremely obvious. This applies to the Exodus or Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is possible that God’s existence could be more obvious, but people’s unbelief prevents this (see e.g. Mark 6,1-6).

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Patrick February 7, 2011 at 11:12 am

On the one hand atheists accuse theists of not presenting evidence for the existence of God, on the other hand if theists do present evidence for the existence of God, they are accused of committing the God of the gaps fallacy. Unless atheists present clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not, this charge makes atheism non-falsifiable. As far as I know no atheist has so far identified such criteria.

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DaVead February 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

Plantinga does an excellent job in Warranted Christian Belief explaining how theistic and Christian belief can be reasonable, rational, and justified, to the point where the answer to the question is trivially “Yes.” His analysis is fruitful to this discussion because he meticulously distinguishes rationality of different kinds, justification of different kinds, etc., and gets explicit about the conditions and epistemic virtues of each. Importantly, he criticizes the widely assumed Mackiean idea that the epistemic respectability of a belief rests on the soundness of arguments for a belief.

Now, because an affirmative answer to the question of justification or reasonableness seems so trivially easy (and if you’re wondering how that could possibly play out, I can only refer you to the book), Plantinga does not take the question to be philosophically interesting. He narrows the question down to whether theism and Christianity can be warranted. This is a very different question, and according to Plantinga, it is inseparable from the question of the truth of theism and Christianity. Now, though there are many points along the dialectic at which the atheist can disagree, his analysis has radically reframed this whole question, which is demonstrable in the literature. So, it’s notable that the question at issue, framed as it is in the papers being discussed here, is a bit passé. Contemporary discussion on disagreement has indeed shaken things up to the same in similar ways.

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Bill Snedden February 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

@Thomas:

Moreover, from the theistic perspective, if there really were knock-down proofs for the existence of God, that would be theologically problematic. In order for human beings to have the possibility of a genuine choice between unselfish love in God and rejecting God, there must be ‘epistemic distance’ between human beings and God. So the arguments for theism must be, using C. Stephen Evans’ terminology, easily resistible (‘The Easy Resistibility Principle’). God must be hidden enough.

Pardon me, but I find this absolutely nonsensical. First, it’s predicated upon a highly dubious assumption: namely, that absolute knowledge of God’s existence renders impotent our ability to love him freely. I’m sure I’m not alone in calling this not only absurd, but so obviously false. In fact, I’d argue that it’s simply not possible to love anyone EXCEPT that it be a free choice; you just can’t be forced to love anyone anymore than you can be forced to believe in something.

Secondly, who cares? Accepting that assumption arguendo, God would surely be able to differentiate those who love him freely and those whose “love” stems only from a fear of reprisal due to lack of the same and bestow His reward appropriately.

The real fact of the matter is that this is no more than epistemic sleight-of-hand on the part of the theist.

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cd February 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

We have a substantial number of historical cases in which the best answer is synthesis of supposedly irreconcilable sides. Communism vs Capitalism. Democracy vs Republicanism. The particle/wave problem. Ethical codes.

Synthesis of theism and atheism means collapse of the metaphysical phantasmagoras of theism. It assigns extraordinary but subjective value to proper peak experiences of consciousness.

That seems to me the common ground which increasing numbers of people in the West are finding and on which they choose to live.

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Patrick February 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm

From the view there are no clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not it follows that both ways of interpreting phenomena are equally reasonable. But then one has to draw the conclusion that atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

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Jacopo February 7, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Graham Oppy talks about this at length in the introductory chapters of Arguing About Gods. He concludes that theists and atheists can rationally disagree. I don’t have the time to outline his conclusions here, but they essentially hinge on the fact that a philosophical argument (in this case, for or against atheism) has a very high bar to reach to be ‘successful’, such that one would have to be outright irrational to not accept it; additionally, there aren’t any arguments for or against atheism that are just convincing, by themselves, independent of the other beliefs you have.

Luke’s Conversations with him talks a bit about this. Anyway I’m inclined to agree with him about the tri-omni God. It’s like disagreeing on realism vs anti-realism in science, or two vs one box in Newcomb’s paradox, and so on. However, IMO, when it comes to anthropomorphic sky-daddies of the kind found in certain old books, the balance swings greatly in the favour of atheism being the only rational position.

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Reginald Selkirk February 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Patrick: On the one hand atheists accuse theists of not presenting evidence for the existence of God, on the other hand if theists do present evidence for the existence of God, they are accused of committing the God of the gaps fallacy.

If you actually understood what the “God of the gaps fallacy” was, you wouldn’t say that.

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Tony Hoffman February 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Shoot. Reginald beat me to the punch there.

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Steven R. February 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

On the one hand atheists accuse theists of not presenting evidence for the existence of God, on the other hand if theists do present evidence for the existence of God, they are accused of committing the God of the gaps fallacy. Unless atheists present clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not, this charge makes atheism non-falsifiable. As far as I know no atheist has so far identified such criteria.  

As far as I understand, God of the Gaps is applied to things as of yet unexplained by science, not any argument for God per se. Of course, there isn’t much “spiritual” proof for a monotheistic God given how easily it applies to other conceptions of God, so the Theist is left to look at nature and find the “holes” in our understanding. This is why God previously explained animal adaptation and then why planets didn’t fall before we knew about gravity and so on.

At any rate, it speaks more to how flawed the Theistic Thesis is when

~~~~

I’m getting so tired of people just saying X person completely made the topic of conversation obsolete without ever providing a reason for it. Sure, they may or may not have succeeded in whatever it is they do or attempted to prove, but I fail to see why I or anyone on this blog should care if we have no way of analyzing what was said without having to spend considerable time pursuing this one post telling us that this or that was completely revolutionized.

As for Christian belief being “warranted” in any way, all I have to say is “bring me physical proof that the whole world flooded for 40 days and 40 nights” and I may begin considering it. But when Christianity can’t even overcome this hurdle, the question is “Is Theism real” not “Is Christianity real?”

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Steven R. February 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Oops, forgot to finish a sentence.

At any rate, it speaks more to how flawed the Theistic Thesis is when it’s incredibly hard to come up with an argument that even comes close to establishing God and not some other unknown entity (say, invisible gnomes, etc.) that it’s the Theist’s problem to sort it all out, not the skeptics.

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Tony Hoffman February 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm

From the view there are no clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not it follows that both ways of interpreting phenomena are equally reasonable. But then one has to draw the conclusion that atheists and theists can reasonably disagree. 

No. It is not the fault of the atheist that the theists’ god hypothesis fails, or that it must be constructed so as to not be meaningful. Theists can take their pick: wrong, or irrelevant. On neither option is their choice reasonable.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Jacopo,

Yup, good comment.

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Henry February 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I’d propose two other, related, forms of friendly atheism. 1) Rashomon Friendly Atheism — if you and I view the same event from different angles, in different lighting conditions or with different obstructions, we might come to completely different, yet rational conclusions about what happened; and 2) M.C. Escher Friendly Atheism — two people can view the same optical illusion and rationally conclude that the picture represents different things … maybe the theist sees the duck and the atheist sees the rabbit, or the theist sees the dolphins and the atheist sees the lovers, but it’s the same picture.

In the first case, there is an intrinsic underlying reality to which neither viewer has adequate enough access to claim definitive knowledge. In the second case, the representation of reality is indeterminable. In both cases, the observers would be forced to respectfully agree to disagree.

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Vlastimil Vohánka February 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

Tim McGrew has nice relevant comments on ir/rationality of disagreement in his entry to the fresh Routledge Companion to Epistemology (in section “Evidentialism and the Objectivity Constraint” of the entry). Here’s a draft: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~mcgrew/Evidence.htm

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H Springer February 8, 2011 at 6:03 am

I am a lifelong atheist ( I chose atheism at age 6 ) who has spent decades seeking the roots of theistic belief. Isolated from most of existent reality, no human can make a rational choice either way. The evidence is unavailable to both sides, post-Feynman physics notwithstanding.

Then what is such an expressed choice?

One may suppose that all immanent possibility within humanity has already been exposed. In that case, we need not look for more unfolding. We stand pat, trust our given historical sources, and claim (like the patent office in 1885) that nothing more is to be found. Superficially “knowing”, yet wishing not to know. Atheist.

Or, we may wishfully entertain the delusion that there is more to existence than meets the eye, and in an effort to remain open to what is not yet known, intentionally deify the immanent tao of becoming as worthy of respect, or even obeisance. In doing so, we will have exercised the genetically imprinted human need to give obeisance, in the process freeing ourselves from self-worship, thus attaining greater mental/moral health. Unknowing, yet craving to know. Theist.

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H Springer February 8, 2011 at 6:28 am

The largest single reality of which humankind is aware is the gargantuan neutrino flux coursing through our bodies, this planet, and every celestial object virtually 100% undetected by us and our science. This massive phenomenon has no effect on anything we can see, hear, taste, or become aware of via instrumentation, and yet it outweighs our seen energy budget by perhaps thousands (perhaps millions) of orders of magnitude. Likewise dark matter, and dark energy. All that science can see, is the puny scraps, ashes, & rinds left accidentally behind by the radiation epoch, … and only that subset of ashes radiating in detectable EM wavelengths…. now thought to be perhaps less than 1% of what really exists.

From this perspective of knowing next-to-nothing about reality, is it wisdom or is it hubris, to claim that one has now amassed enough data to reject a-priori any heretofore unsuspected organizing attractors?

Is the atheist god, an invisible scientism juju?

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Luke Muehlhauser February 8, 2011 at 6:53 am

H Springer,

But that’s a fully generalizable objection.

You can say just as well:

“From this perspective of knowing next-to-nothing about reality, is it wisdom or is it hubris to claim that one has amassed enough data to reject fairies? Is the fairy unbeliever omniscient?”

Also, the statement “amassed enough data to reject a-priori” is confused. A priori means without experience.

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PDH February 8, 2011 at 7:36 am

The largest single reality of which humankind is aware is the gargantuan neutrino flux coursing through our bodies, this planet, and every celestial object virtually 100% undetected by us and our science. This massive phenomenon has no effect on anything we can see, hear, taste, or become aware of via instrumentation, and yet it outweighs our seen energy budget by perhaps thousands (perhaps millions) of orders of magnitude. Likewise dark matter, and dark energy. All that science can see, is the puny scraps, ashes, & rinds left accidentally behind by the radiation epoch, … and only that subset of ashes radiating in detectable EM wavelengths…. now thought to be perhaps less than 1% of what really exists.From thisperspective of knowing next-to-nothing about reality, is it wisdom or is it hubris, to claim that one has now amassed enough data to reject a-priori any heretofore unsuspected organizing attractors?Is the atheist god,aninvisiblescientismjuju?  

Was it hubris to believe in Newtonian Gravitation before the discovery of General Relativity?

No. It was the most probable explanation at the time and it would have been irrational to believe anything else (unless one’s epistemic circumstances were sufficiently impoverished). Likewise, it is perfectly rational to believe in General Relativity at the moment even if it proves to be superseded later on.

If you treat probability as being subjective and something that is constantly updated in light of new evidence then this all makes perfect sense. By knowledge we simply mean something that has a very high probability, always subject to future revision.

What is the probability that you will be attacked by a dragon when you leave your house? People clearly don’t regard it as 50/50 or else they’d never go outside. Yet, they can’t disprove it. Nonetheless, we can infer that they assign it a very low probability. Low enough to just dismiss out of hand. They’re not agnostic about this. They’re not reserving judgement. They believe it strongly enough to bet their lives on it. If I said that it was an unfalsifiable dragon, that wouldn’t make it any more probable (quite the opposite, in fact). It would just make it harder to test. But this cannot have been the basis of the dismissal since I have never once performed a scientific experiment to falsify dragon attacks, nor do I know of anyone who has.

If certain interpretations of religions like Christianity and Islam are true then the vast majority of the world’s population will be tortured for eternity if they don’t believe. Agnostics will suffer the same fate as everyone else. Yet, these people don’t seem very worried and it seems to me that they would be if they considered themselves to be a coin toss away from endless torment. They must regard it as having a very low probability and that won’t change just because you add more crap onto the hypothesis to place it beyond falsification. You can interpret the afterlife differently if you want but you can no longer pretend that you actually believe in it because we know that even if the penalties for not believing were severe you would still act is if you thought it was a load of bollocks and live your life accordingly.

So, if a low probability is enough for people to risk eternal damnation, the situation shouldn’t change even if the theists move the goalposts until it is completely unfalsifiable. We need to account for the reasoning behind our dismissal of dragon attacks and I can’t think of any suitable criteria that wouldn’t also dispose of most major religions. Theists have to provide evidence and arguments. There are too many alternate hypotheses of equal or greater probability.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

Henry: In the first case, there is an intrinsic underlying reality to which neither viewer has adequate enough access to claim definitive knowledge. In the second case, the representation of reality is indeterminable. In both cases, the observers would be forced to respectfully agree to disagree.

I liked the two cases you introduced.

I think the first is a pretty good analogy for the present state of affairs. I disagree in your conclusion that both sides should respectfully agree to disagree — I think that it’s obvious that the various theistic interpretations offered have such low probabilities of being correct that they should be dismissed until there is more evidence. (Let’s also not forget in these analogies that theistic claims are also about present and future affairs – the theists’ arguments are also inductive arguments, and their continued failure to provide hypotheses they do not fail should count against them.)

The second case is more interesting to me in that it presents an analogy where respectful disagreement can exist. I think that the analogy breaks down (as all do in some way) when one considers that the theistic and naturalistic interpretations are not compatible (they can’t both be right), whereas the Escher interpretations are both correct, depending on what state of interpretation you use.

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Patrick February 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

A good example of empirical evidence in favour of God’s existence presented by theists is the fine-tuning of the universe. So far no conclusive naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon has been presented.

It has been suggested that physical proof that the whole world was flooded for 40 days and 40 nights would constitute legitimate empirical evidence for the existence of God. But then again I ask the question what criterion such a case would meet that the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe doesn’t meet. If such a criterion cannot be identified the point I made in my previous comment is still valid.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 10:49 am

A good example of empirical evidence in favour of God’s existence presented by theists is the fine-tuning of the universe. So far no conclusive naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon has been presented.

Um, no. The conclusive natural explanation for the apparent fine tuning of the universe is presented in the form of the universe. This seems as conclusive to me as my presenting the fine tuned unitary value of the first integer value after 0 to be that of 1.

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Steven R. February 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

A good example of empirical evidence in favour of God’s existence presented by theists is the fine-tuning of the universe. So far no conclusive naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon has been presented.It has been suggested that physical proof that the whole world was flooded for 40 days and 40 nights would constitute legitimate empirical evidence for the existence of God. But then again I ask the question what criterion such a case would meet that the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe doesn’t meet. If such a criterion cannot be identified the point I made in my previous comment is still valid.  (Quote)

You misunderstand. I said that Christianity would deserve consideration as a belief system if there was proof that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. In and out of itself, even if that claim could be proven, it doesn’t even come close to proving the existence of God. Even when coupled with the Biblical account, the mere “fact” that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights still does nothing to prove God’s existence. The point was that Christianity makes a claim for which there is no evidence for, even when the nature of the claim would mean overwhelming natural evidence for this event. As such, when Christianity cannot even prove that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, we have absolutley no reason to even begin to consider the belief system. It’s as if I claimed a dragon had burned down my house and, when you come to investigate my house minutes after I said the event occured, my house is there, intact and without the slightest trace of there being a dragon or even a fire. After that, we shouldn’t even begin to consider whether dragons really exist where I live. There’s no reason to.

I also don’t see how the Fine-Tuning Argument is conclusive proof for God. It may be good proof that some entity controls certain variables that are important to life but whether it’s a gnome with such powers or a disembodied mind with transcendental powers that wants intelligent life, I cannot tell. I also think that no explanation is required if it was merely by chance, just like no explanation is required as to why you got a royal flush IF the cards were given out randomly. Good for you, no need to ask for a natural explanation or look to genie’s that control how the hand was dealt to explain it.

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Eric February 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Patrick –
A good example of empirical evidence in favour of God’s existence presented by theists is the fine-tuning of the universe. So far no conclusive naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon has been presented.

But this IS a god of the gaps fallacy. In fact it is a textbook argument from ignorance. You say that because we have no natural explanations of fine tuning (which i disagree, ex: chance), then the explanation MUST not be natural. It is a false dichotomy and simply does not follow. Remember that you are claiming that the explanation is supernatural and thus have the burden. You have to show that the explanation CAN
NOT POSSIBLY BE NATURAL to at least show that the explanation must be natural. After that, you have to show that the explanation is probably God (enough to outweigh any low prior probability). That is how you get around the “God of the Gaps” problem.

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Patrick February 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Steven R.

I don’t say that the fine-tuning is conclusive proof for the existence of God, but an argument in favour of it.

You argue that even if the fine-tuning of the universe points to some supernatural being, this being needn’t be the God of the Bible. I agree with you although the alternatives you suggest are not really alternatives, because a gnome with such extraordinary powers would certainly be a God-like being and a disembodied mind with transcendental powers is totally compatible with the Biblical concept of God. As a matter of fact I think that any being that is able to create a universe out of nothing must have properties that more or less are those that the Bible ascribes to God.

But I think this point is irrelevant in this respect. What really matters here is whether or not some supernatural explanation is as reasonable as a naturalistic one.

I don’t see that the truth of Christianity depends on the question whether or not the occurrence of a worldwide flood lasting 40 days and 40 nights can be proven. Despite the lack of such a proof the Christian claims concerning Jesus can be true.

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Eric,

You have to show that the explanation CAN
NOT POSSIBLY BE NATURAL

This is exactly what the fine tuning argument attempts to do.

1. Fine tuning is due to chance, physical necessity, or design
2. It is not due to chance or necessity
3. Therefore, it is due to design

A slew of argumentation is offered in support of premise 2. It isn’t just assumed. And while it may (or may not) fail as an argument, it isn’t argument from ignorance (god-of-the-gaps).

After that, you have to show that the explanation is probably God

And it never attempts to reach that far. If the argument succeeds, the most it does is score one point in favor of theism (or Matrix, or deism), and one point against metaphysical naturalism.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm

I don’t say that the fine-tuning is conclusive proof for the existence of God, but an argument in favour of it.

I think you need to straighten out how you use the term proof, argument, and evidence. You seem to be using them willy nilly, and I can’t quite follow what it is you’re saying.

But you also need to understand what an argument from ignorance is. An argument from ignorance basically points to an unexplained phenomenon, and instead of saying, “There’s an unexplained phenomenon,” says “Because that phenomenon is unexplained, therefore, this.” This is a known fallacy, and you should strive to know it when you see it. At the very least you should stop imagining that it constitutes a valid argument.

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Kevin February 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm

“2. It is not due to chance or necessity
A slew of argumentation is offered in support of premise 2. It isn’t just assumed. ”

Can you point to 0ne? I’ve seen it offered by many people and all they do to demonstrate its not by chance is to say its not very likely, which does nothing to demonstrate that its not due to chance.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

A slew of argumentation is offered in support of premise 2 [ that it is impossible that we should observe fine tuning due to chance or necessity]. It isn’t just assumed. And while it may (or may not) fail as an argument, it isn’t argument from ignorance (god-of-the-gaps).

Okay, then it should be easy for you to pick from among the slew of arguments for premise 2 to offer us one that is not an argument from ignorance.

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Well, for instance, in Craig’s version, he argues that it is not due to physical necessity because these are independent variables: speed of the expansion, amount of entropy, etc. There is nothing about any candidate for a Theory of Everything that predicts our universe and its constants specifically.

As for chance, he argues that the numbers are inconceivably huge; that in any situation where you have that many numbers, and the single correct one is picked out, that it is reasonable to conclude that something is going on.

As for a multiverse, he argues that on those models the universe is already in a state of complete entropy and hence our universe is just a random fluctuation of energy and should be a lot smaller than it is.

It’s not argument from ignorance to use a disjunctive syllogism. Even cosmologist Luke Barnes agrees that the fine tuning is a clue that something more is going on: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

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Patrick February 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm

If an appeal to the God of the gaps is an argument from ignorance so is an appeal to a naturalism of the gaps. So atheists and theists are on a par and from this it follows that theism is just as reasonable as atheism.

Besides, in order to assume that a phenomenon may have a supernatural cause, to me it is not enough that the phenomenon is unexplained. In addition to that it must appear designed in one way or another. This idea is very well explained in a paper entitled “Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps”, written by Jack Collins. It can be read in the following link:

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF3-03Collins.pdf

In the case of the fine-tuning of the universe the element of design can be drawn from the fact that the physical constants, which for the time being seem to be totally unconnected with each other, nevertheless have the values necessary for the existence of a life-permitting universe, although the probability that they have just these values seems to be extremely low.

I don’t say that the explanation for this phenomenon must not be natural but that it needn’t be natural and therefore it can be supernatural. For a point of view to be regarded as reasonable it needn’t be proven, it just mustn’t be disproven or at least appear to be extremely improbable. You certainly agree that the view that there is extraterrestrial life is reasonable although it hasn’t been proven.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Well, for instance, in Craig’s version, he argues that it is not due to physical necessity because these are independent variables: speed of the expansion, amount of entropy, etc. There is nothing about any candidate for a Theory of Everything that predicts our universe and its constants specifically.

Right. And because we don’t currently have a theory of everything, must be God. This appears to be an argument from ignorance.

Also, how does Craig know that the constants of our universe do not follow from the brute fact of its existence? The fact that they are independent of one another seems irrelevant, as they could each be independently dependent on the brute fact contained within the particular instance of our universe’s existence.

As for chance, he argues that the numbers are inconceivably huge; that in any situation where you have that many numbers, and the single correct one is picked out, that it is reasonable to conclude that something is going on.

What are the odds that that a universe like ours could exist? In order to know, we’d have to be able to observe other universes. We have not done this, so Craig would like to use God as an explanation for something we haven’t been able to observe. This appears to be an argument from ignorance.

As for a multiverse, he argues that on those models the universe is already in a state of complete entropy and hence our universe is just a random fluctuation of energy and should be a lot smaller than it is.

Hmm. I’m not familiar with this argument. This seems like throwing speculation upon guesswork, but I could be wrong about that. Do you have a reference for this argument? (I’m not a big multiverse fan, but you do have my curiousity piqued here.)

But even a valid multiverse objection (which I consider to be a version of the chance argument, btw) doesn’t change the problems I outlined above.

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Tony Hoffman February 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm

If an appeal to the God of the gaps is an argument from ignorance so is an appeal to a naturalism of the gaps. So atheists and theists are on a par and from this it follows that theism is just as reasonable as atheism.

No. Please read and try to read more and understand the God of the Gaps fallacy, and the concept of the burden of proof. I think we are all tired of trying to explain it to you.

I don’t say that the explanation for this phenomenon must not be natural but that it needn’t be natural and therefore it can be supernatural.

Please define the term “supernatural,” and please explain how the supernatural is detected.

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

And because we don’t currently have a theory of everything, must be God.

No, because any theory of everything even in principle will not predict our universe specifically, therefore “not physical necessity.” One of the three points on the dilemma eliminated.

Stephen Hawking agrees: “Hawking argues that string theory is unlikely to predict the distinctive features of the Universe.”

What are the odds that that a universe like ours could exist? In order to know, we’d have to be able to observe other universes.

Luke Barnes, a cosmologist, argues that the fine tuning argument is a sound argument except that he thinks it favors a multiverse: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

And he lists cosmologists who agree: Carter, Carr, Hawking, Penrose, Rees, Wilczek, Wheeler, Tegmark, Linde, Vilenkin, Smolin, Weinberg, Deutsch

So if you want to say that fine tuning is an argument from ignorance (which it isn’t), than you have to be fair and accuse all those cosmologists from arguing from ignorance as well.

As for deeper discussions of the multiverse, Robin Collins’ version in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology is probably one of the more vigorous and up to date versions of fine tuning, but I have yet to barely dive into it myself.

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Patrick February 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

In my view a phenomenon can be regarded as supernatural if it appears to be designed but at the same time it seems to be impossible or at least very improbable that a human being is capable of bringing about such a phenomenon.

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Kevin February 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm

“Hmm. I’m not familiar with this argument. This seems like throwing speculation upon guesswork, but I could be wrong about that. Do you have a reference for this argument? (I’m not a big multiverse fan, but you do have my curiousity piqued here.)”

It appears to be a misconception about randomness. Some people have a bias that makes them think that random events must not have long strings of ordered clusters. For example, if someone were to start flipping coins, they would expect something along the lines of HTHHTHHTHTHHTHTHHTTHTHTHTHHTHTHHTHTHHTHHTTHHTHTHHT. However, this is not what we would expect if it were by chance. In the above, there is no sequence of heads or tails 3 or longer. In a trial of 50 flips, we should expect more series of “ordered” clusters. Expand the number of trials and you would expect to see, by chance, longer and more clusters of ordered events (not shorter ones). But, as studies have shown, humans are bad at dealing with randomness, and WLC is just another illustration of that here (if he has been accurately portrayed by Martin).

For an example of a random sequence of 50 coin flips (courtesy of Excell): HTTTHTTTTTTHHHTHTHHTHTTTTHTHTTHHTHTTHHTTTTTTTTHTTT

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Kevin,

Clearly I didn’t accurately paraphrase his argument. He argues that chance, when huge numbers are involved, allows us to infer design. As we would if a stage magician predicted a lottery number. We would most likely conclude that there is a trick, not that an improbable event has occurred.

Craig also offers criticisms of the multiverse possibilty as a way of skirting around the chance problem. Luke Barnes, a cosmologist, agrees that his criticisms are worthy of attention.

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Steven R. February 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Steven R.I don’t say that the fine-tuning is conclusive proof for the existence of God, but an argument in favour of it.

I know, I’ve seen your criticisms of it. I was speaking in more general terms (I was under a huge time constraint when I wrote my comment today, so forgive how confusing it came out).

You argue that even if the fine-tuning of the universe points to some supernatural being, this being needn’t be the God of the Bible. I agree with you although the alternatives you suggest are not really alternatives, because a gnome with such extraordinary powers would certainly be a God-like being and a disembodied mind with transcendental powers is totally compatible with the Biblical concept of God.

Well yeah, if we define “God” as an extremely powerful being then a gnome capable of fine-tuning the universe to its whims would indeed qualify. This, however, isn’t what I meant by God. I meant something along the lines of a transcendental disembodied mind with supreme powers and utmost knowledge, something that doesn’t necessarily apply to our gnome friend and why I said the Fine-Tuning Argument, at most, only proves some sort of powerful agent. Nothing more.

As a matter of fact I think that any being that is able to create a universe out of nothing must have properties that more or less are those that the Bible ascribes to God.But I think this point is irrelevant in this respect. What really matters here is whether or not some supernatural explanation is as reasonable as a naturalistic one.I don’t see that the truth of Christianity depends on the question whether or not the occurrence of a worldwide flood lasting 40 days and 40 nights can be proven. Despite the lack of such a proof the Christian claims concerning Jesus can be true.  

Yes, but even if Jesus rose from the dead, we would have no reason to believe that the Old Testament, a portion of the Bible very significant to Jesus’ doctrines, is true. Christianity, at least most of the mainstream versions, rely on the validity of both Testaments to the extent that if one is not real, then the other isn’t either. Thus, I say that if we can’t even prove the validity of the foundation of Christianity (the Old Testament) we have no reason to believe it. Even if Jesus had supernatural powers, if we have no proof of an Old Testament event that we REALLY should have LOTS of proof of, we have good reason to believe that Jesus isn’t as presented by the Christian religion. In other words, if the OT is wrong, our understanding of the NT Jesus is radically changed and would force a very different interpretation of Biblical events.

At any rate, none of this really interests me since none of us really think Christianity is correct. So, to focus back on what I intended to say: proving a personal, transcendent, immaterial, benevolent and omnipotent being (what I meant when I said “God”) is EXTREMELY hard to do with Natural Theology and quite a number of arguments from Natural Theology just fill in gaps in our understanding with the idea that “God did it” is a valid explanation, even if the arguments are structured in a logically sound manner.

@ Martin:

How is that showing it’s not chance? That’s precisely what makes the Fine-Tuning Argument an argument from personal incredulity. “I cannot imagine how something with such low odds can come about, therefore, it CANNOT be that.” Yeah, you haven’t actually shown anything or disproved chance.

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Steven R. February 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

To Martin:

On second thought, I shouldn’t have said “you” since I have no idea whether you agree with WLC, so I’ll just rephrase my last comment to read “Yeah, Craig, you haven’t actually shown anything or disproved chance as a viable option.”

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Steven R,

How is that showing it’s not chance? That’s precisely what makes the Fine-Tuning Argument an argument from personal incredulity.

I’ll just quote cosmologist Luke Barnes, interviewed here on this blog:

“Stenger’s argument is that sometimes we cannot draw interesting conclusions from low probabilities. The most obvious problem with Stenger’s argument is that sometimes we do, in fact, draw interesting conclusions from low probabilities. For example, British illusionist Derren Brown claimed that he could predict the lottery, and then appeared to do so on national television. From the extremely small probability that he would predict the correct numbers by chance alone, we rightly infer that he didn’t just guess and get lucky.

From: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

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Kevin February 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Concerning the lottery prediction example, we know the number of trials, and the probability space. With respect to the universe, we know neither of these. To make the example analogous, you would need to show that the constants have an equal probability of occurring and what the range is, as well as showing that there is only one universe. Good luck with that.

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Martin February 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm

To make the example analogous, you would need to show that the constants have an equal probability of occurring and what the range is, as well as showing that there is only one universe.

The constants have the possible range that physicists can theorize about. Barnes explains all this. If they can create a theory that is coherent (and they can), the those ranges are at least logically possible. But then the question is why does this particular universe obtain? Barnes uses fine tuning as an argument for a multiverse, and lists a number of cosmologists who do the same. They are reasoning exactly the same way as the theists, just ending up at a different conclusion.

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Eric February 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Martin –
This is exactly what the fine tuning argument attempts to do.

1. Fine tuning is due to chance, physical necessity, or design
2. It is not due to chance or necessity
3. Therefore, it is due to design

A slew of argumentation is offered in support of premise 2. It isn’t just assumed. And while it may (or may not) fail as an argument, it isn’t argument from ignorance (god-of-the-gaps).

This was not specifically what I was arguing against. It was how Patrick phrased the argument. However, The problem is that Premise 1 is an argument from ignorance (a subcategory of false dichotomy) because it assumes chance and physical necessity (depending on how it is defined) are the only kind of natural possibilities. This is the fallacy Patrick makes as well. However, if physical necessity is defined as “came about naturally without chance” then the first premise is does not fall victim to the argument from ignorance fallacy. Although refutations of this kind of physical necessity tend to fall under the category of the argument from Ignorance which puts the fallacy in the second premise in those cases. Or the arguments against this kind of physical necessity confuse it with the other kind (the kind of the necessity a state of changeless-ness). The second premises dismissal of chance though is a different fallacy all together, which I have addressed multiple times in comments on Luke’s posts on Fine Tuning and Intrinsic Value.

Martin-
And it never attempts to reach that far. If the argument succeeds, the most it does is score one point in favor of theism (or Matrix, or deism), and one point against metaphysical naturalism.

Then this is not the argument Patrick speaks of because he clearly does.

Martin –
Well, for instance, in Craig’s version, he argues that it is not due to physical necessity because these are independent variables: speed of the expansion, amount of entropy, etc. There is nothing about any candidate for a Theory of Everything that predicts our universe and its constants specifically.

This is an argument from ignorance. Because we have not found a naturalistic explanation for these things, they must be supernatural. It assumes that the current assumed potential models of “Theory of Everything” are the only way we could ever figure out that the values of these constants are physical necessities. We just have to figure out what these values are contingent upon. And it may be the case that what these values are contingent upon have a strikingly high probability of being what they are. Or may still necessarily be the way they are. In fact, these constants may themselves be brute facts (although I doubt it).

Martin-
As for chance, he argues that the numbers are inconceivably huge; that in any situation where you have that many numbers, and the single correct one is picked out, that it is reasonable to conclude that something is going on.

Not in the case of an arbitrary person winning the lottery or drawing an arbitrary hand of cards.

Patrick –
f an appeal to the God of the gaps is an argument from ignorance so is an appeal to a naturalism of the gaps. So atheists and theists are on a par and from this it follows that theism is just as reasonable as atheism.

No, an appeal to “naturalism of the gaps” can be defended using Bayesian Probability.

Martin -
(Luke Barnes says )

“Stenger’s argument is that sometimes we cannot draw interesting conclusions from low probabilities. The most obvious problem with Stenger’s argument is that sometimes we do, in fact, draw interesting conclusions from low probabilities. For example, British illusionist Derren Brown claimed that he could predict the lottery, and then appeared to do so on national television. From the extremely small probability that he would predict the correct numbers by chance alone, we rightly infer that he didn’t just guess and get lucky.”

Yes but once again this assumes life is not an arbitrary phenomenon, but rather a phenomenon with intrinsic value, just like the winning number in the lottery had intrinsic value to the game. I explained this in a previous post:

In fact there are many phenomena for which chance is an excellent explanation. If an arbitrary person wins the lottery, chance is an excellent explanation. If you draw an arbitrary hand in poker… chance is an excellent explanation….For example, take this poker analogy:
A: I draw a hand of a 3 of Diamonds (3D), 4C, AC, JS, 7H
B: I played the game fairly and drew those cards by chance
C: I cheated in order to draw those cards
Given a full deck:
P(A|B) =~ 1/(311 Million)
P(A|C)=~1

Pr (A/CI) >> Pr (A/B).
[Therefore, does this confirm the hypothesis that I cheated over the hypothesis that I played Fairly? ].

So for arbitrary phenomena, chance can be an excellent explanation. If life is an arbitrary phenomenon, then chance can be excellent explanation. That’s why we are asking you to show us why chance is NOT an arbitrary phenomena before we rule out chance. How is life similar to [picking the correct lottery number analogy] and not to drawing the random hand [analogy] mentioned earlier?? To prepare for what tends to be the usual response, lets pretend every possible hand you can draw has a name, and thus, independently specified parameters. I’ll call the hand from earlier “the dukes of hazzard.”

You should notice the last few sentences actually rebut Luke Barnes response.

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Eric February 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm

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Eric February 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Oh and by the way, this paper suggests that there is another option to premise 1 of the fine tuning argument:
“That the universe is not actually Fine Tuned”

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Peter Hurford February 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I think that deists and atheists can reasonably disagree because deism is basically unfalsifiable.

However, not too many people are deists. Many people make additional claims about God, such as “He wrote a completely inerrant Holy Book” or “Jesus’s resurrection is a provable, historic event”. Both these claims need to be individually proven in order to support the religion. Since they are definitely not, these religions are individually disprovable and have been disproved.

Sure there might be a good reason to think that God is a good explanation of the facts. But how do you go from this God to a God who writes Bibles, a God that reincarnates souls, or a Holy Spirit that lives within everyone? There’s simply no good reason to believe these ideas are true.

I’m still unsure of the friendly atheist distinction, however. Perhaps people are justified in believing their claims because they have never encountered arguments for atheism. But once they have, they should realize that while there may be reason to believe in a god, there is no reason to believe in souls, inerrant texts, historical resurrections, reincarnations, heavens, or all-good gods.

If they don’t, they better do a good job of justifying themselves. Otherwise, they end up with William Lane Craig who either repeats the same refuted arguments over and over again or retreats to the “Holy Spirit tells me so” line of defense.

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Steven R. February 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm

@ Martin:

*Sigh* That’s the problem. We already know the psychic is an intelligent agent but what the Fine-Tuning Argument attempts to do is PROVE the existence of an intelligent agent. In the context of the analogy, the only evidence we have is that a number out of many combinations was chosen and AFTER it was chosen, it was called the lucky number. How does that even come close to proving the need for an intelligent agent? That’s how the Fine-Tuning Argument works. And no, even with the probabilities set so highly against the psychic, we cannot discount chance.

But we’re going WAY off topic here. The point still remains that “Because I cannot believe X ‘God did X’ is a better explanation.”

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Patrick February 9, 2011 at 4:41 am

Eric

That a naturalism of the gaps is not more reasonable than the God of the gaps becomes obvious if we look at the argument that is put forward in favour of it and which can be called “argument from the history of science”. This argument is seriously flawed as can be seen from the following link:

http://www.skepticalchristian.com/argumentfromthehistoryofscience.htm

I don’t see how a naturalism of the gaps can be defended using Bayesian probability. Whatever such a defence looks like the absurdity of the argument from the history of science can also be seen by the fact that it could be used to argue for the view that there are no actual diseases. The argument may run as follows:

“From the phenomenon of psychosomatics we know that there can be illnesses or disorders without any physical cause, just caused by mental states. As people in the past didn’t know this explanation for the cause of illnesses, they took imagined illnesses for actual illnesses. We know this and as some illnesses have turned out to be caused psychosomatically we can be quite confident that in the end all illnesses will turn out to be caused this way.”

If my suspicion is correct that atheists are not in a position to present clear criteria when it is legitimate to suggest a supernatural explanation for a phenomenon and when it is not, a naturalistic explanation is not even in principle falsifiable. Therefore with respect to the fine-tuning of the universe the naturalistic explanation may even be less reasonable than the supernatural one, as the latter is clearly falsifiable.

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Patrick February 9, 2011 at 4:46 am

Peter Hurford

If atheists cannot identify any objective criterion that decides when it is legitimate to attribute the cause of a phenomenon to God and when it is not atheism is also unfalsifiable. It’s because any empirical evidence that is put forward in favour of the existence of God can be dismissed as a case of the God of the gaps fallacy.

As for the historicity of the Resurrection one might disagree whether or not it has been proven, but it certainly has not been disproven. The same applies to the other Christian claims you mention. A special case is the issue about Biblical inerrancy, which is contentious even among Christians.

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Patrick February 9, 2011 at 4:48 am

In a paper entitled “Seeing and Believing: The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail” (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/3574) atheist Jerry Coyne makes the following statement:

“… if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City, as he supposedly did to the evangelist Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, and this apparition were convincingly documented, most scientists would fall on their knees with hosannas.”

Why don’t scientist act this way in view of the fine-tuning of the universe? Can any criterion be identified that the former case meets but not the latter? If no such criterion can be identified it is in both cases an arbitrary decision whether you attribute the respective phenomenon to God or to some unknown naturalistic cause. But if that’s the case both views are equally reasonable and therefore atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 4:56 am

@Martin

What makes predicting the lottery number remarkable is that it happens before the fact!

It is not remakable at all to ‘predict’ the lottery number of yesterday.

You are committing the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

The Texas sharpshooter is a fabled marksman who fires his gun randomly at the side of a barn, then paints a bullseye around the spot where the most bullet holes cluster.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 5:28 am

@Patrick

Why don’t scientists act this way [falling on their knees with hosannas] in view of the fine-tuning of the universe?

Because the fine-tuning argument is an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

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Martin February 9, 2011 at 5:50 am

Larkus and Steven R,

It’s not that lottery was predicted before the fact, but independently of it. Luke Barnes explains here: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

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Tony Hoffman February 9, 2011 at 6:15 am

In my view a phenomenon can be regarded as supernatural if it appears to be designed but at the same time it seems to be impossible or at least very improbable that a human being is capable of bringing about such a phenomenon.

This is an obviously flawed definition. By it, we would describe any new technology as supernatural — a wireless radio, lighter, camera, etc., would all be deemed “supernatural” by humans who had never previously been exposed to them. Also, it is likely that AI will be able to develop imagined and unimagined technologies either faster than human minds could conceive or that our minds might never be able to conceive. Also, any alien sophisticated enough to arrive on our planet would, under your system, be deemed “supernatural.”

If atheists cannot identify any objective criterion that decides when it is legitimate to attribute the cause of a phenomenon to God and when it is not atheism is also unfalsifiable. It’s because any empirical evidence that is put forward in favour of the existence of God can be dismissed as a case of the God of the gaps fallacy.

You appear to be stubbornly resistant to understanding the burden of proof and the meaning of the “god of the gaps” fallacy. Until you can demonstrate that you do, I will try to remind the audience that time spent conversing with you is probably time wasted.

What I think would be helpful, in that regard, is if you adopted a more descriptive name — you might want to go with “Supernatural Patrick,” or something like that; there are other Patricks who, I think, comment here, and it would be less confusing if you helped distinguish yourself.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 7:26 am

Larkus and Steven R, It’s not that lottery was predicted before the fact, but independently of it. Luke Barnes explains here: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/  

Let’s take an example of this blog post, that you linked to.

“Let me illustrate the difference another way. I shoot an arrow at a huge wall, 100 metres away. When the impact zone is inspected, we find that the arrow has hit the centre of a small red spot. The probability of hitting this point on the wall is tiny. Am I a talented archer? It depends. If I proclaimed: “watch me hit that red spot” before firing the arrow, then I’m the new Robin Hood. However, if I shot the arrow and then took some red paint and painted the spot around my arrow’s impact point, then you can’t reach any conclusion about my archery skills.”

And there’s another possibility. The red spot was already there, but he didn’t announce beforehand, that he would hit the red spot (as opposed to, for example, the blue spot some inches to the right, the tiny Y-shaped crack far to the left, the n-th atom from the top or any other “independently specified target” on the wall), then you can’t reach any conclusion about his archery skills either.

Luke Barnes, just like you, commits the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

This reminds me of this conjurer’s trick where you have to pick a number between one and ten, then I tell you to look under an object, where you find a note with the number you just picked. Of course I prepared a note for every number and hid them each under a different object.

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Tony Hoffman February 9, 2011 at 7:30 am

It’s not that lottery was predicted before the fact, but independently of it.

How so? How can we both observe apparent fine tuning and predict it independently? This seems like equivocation.

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Martin February 9, 2011 at 8:06 am

Larkus,

I wonder why Stephen Hawking uses the fine tuning argument, then, to argue for a multiverse? “…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.”

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Tony Hoffman February 9, 2011 at 8:38 am

I wonder why Stephen Hawking uses the fine tuning argument, then, to argue for a multiverse? “…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.”

Actually, I think you got that exactly wrong. Hawking uses the multiverse to explain apparent fine tuning to those who think that the universe could not have a natural explanation.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

@Martin

I wonder why Stephen Hawking uses the fine tuning argument, then, to argue for a multiverse? “…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.”

A = multiverse concept

B = need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit to explain the fine-tuning of physical law

From A → ¬B doesn’t follow ¬A → B.

In any case, instead of opening a new line of argument (by making an appeal to authority), how about first finishing the old line of argument?

Would you adress the content of my last post?

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Martin February 9, 2011 at 10:11 am

Appeal to authority is perfectly reasonable and non-fallacious if the authority is in the proper field. I have not read up enough on fine tuning to continue. If Hawking and Penrose and Vilenkin think that fine tuning is good evidence of a multiverse, then by proxy that suggests that a) fine tuning is not argument from ignorance, and b) the fine tuning does require explanation.

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Tony Hoffman February 9, 2011 at 10:17 am

Martin: If Hawking and Penrose and Vilenkin think that fine tuning is good evidence of a multiverse, then by proxy that suggests that a) fine tuning is not argument from ignorance, and b) the fine tuning does require explanation.

Where does Hawking argue that fine tuning is evidence of a multiverse? You haven’t responded to this question yet.

Is fine tuning evidence, or is it an argument? You seem to be using the term “fine tuning” for both.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

@Troy

You still haven’t adressed my post before last.

I quote it here for your convenience:

“@Troy

Larkus and Steven R, It’s not that lottery was predicted before the fact, but independently of it. Luke Barnes explains here: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

Let’s take an example of this blog post, that you linked to.

“Let me illustrate the difference another way. I shoot an arrow at a huge wall, 100 metres away. When the impact zone is inspected, we find that the arrow has hit the centre of a small red spot. The probability of hitting this point on the wall is tiny. Am I a talented archer? It depends. If I proclaimed: “watch me hit that red spot” before firing the arrow, then I’m the new Robin Hood. However, if I shot the arrow and then took some red paint and painted the spot around my arrow’s impact point, then you can’t reach any conclusion about my archery skills.”

And there’s another possibility. The red spot was already there, but he didn’t announce beforehand, that he would hit the red spot (as opposed to, for example, the blue spot some inches to the right, the tiny Y-shaped crack far to the left, the n-th atom from the top or any other “independently specified target” on the wall), then you can’t reach any conclusion about his archery skills either.

Luke Barnes, just like you, commits the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

This reminds me of this conjurer’s trick where you have to pick a number between one and ten, then I tell you to look under an object, where you find a note with the number you just picked. Of course I prepared a note for every number and hid them each under a different object”

It would be nice, if you would respond to my points.

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Larkus February 9, 2011 at 10:59 am

@Martin

My last post adresses you, and not Troy.

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Martin February 9, 2011 at 11:11 am

Larkus,

There is a long discussion of just this issue in the comments: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/#comment-1116

I don’t answer your post because I don’t have time to read it, paraphrase it, and write it out. Read it there instead.

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Tony Hoffman February 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

I don’t answer your post because I don’t have time to read it, paraphrase it, and write it out. Read it there instead.

Sorry, asking someone to read something that you don’t have the time to read yourself marks you as lazy and insincere. If you have a point, you should make it; the rest of us are capable of browsing those sections of the Interweb that interest us all by ourselves.

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Steven R. February 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

Nooo, this was not supposed to turn into a discussion about, of all things, the validity of the Fine-Tuning Argument. It’s supposed to be about A). whether a friendly atheist position can be held B). implictly if there is any valid point of contention where it is reasonable to agree to disagree.

If anybody’s comments should be receiving replies, it’s Patrick, not Martin.

Peter HurfordIf atheists cannot identify any objective criterion that decides when it is legitimate to attribute the cause of a phenomenon to God and when it is not atheism is also unfalsifiable. It’s because any empirical evidence that is put forward in favour of the existence of God can be dismissed as a case of the God of the gaps fallacy. As for the historicity of the Resurrection one might disagree whether or not it has been proven, but it certainly has not been disproven. The same applies to the other Christian claims you mention. A special case is the issue about Biblical inerrancy, which is contentious even among Christians.  (Quote)

Well, first we need to determine a few things. Suppose, for example, that some metaphysical plain of spiritual existence was found and in this plane of existence, we know that a transcendental, all-powerful being exists. This sort of phenomenom, would, by nature, be impossible to explain with naturalism and it would make the Atheist position impossible to rationally hold. Thus, we have a scenario where it is 100% valid to attribute a phenomenon to God or at least use it to prove God’s existence. This makes Atheism very falsifiable if such a realm of existence were shown to exist.

What you’re doing in saying that Atheism is unfalsifiable is saying that an explanation of God MUST be found in nature, but that certainly isn’t the case and if the Natural Theologian can come up with no good reason why God is a good explanation or even when God can be attributed to a phenomenon, then that is his problem. Now, I understand that the problem is determining whether a phenomenon is really natural or supernatural in nature. Thing is, however, what the God of the Gaps argument says is “hey, just because we don’t quite understand X doesn’t mean that X all of a sudden provides good reason to belive in a hypothesis that completely flies in the face of all our other experiences.” For example, if we just found two magnetic objects, one positive and one negative and we had never encountered them, would it be reasonable to say “Well, this object moves without anything pushing them. Surely this bolsters the Theistic hypothesis that God sometimes intervenes in nature!” No, because God is not providing a real explanation, but only filling in gaps in our knowledge. The god-of-the-gaps fallacy doesn’t apply when God is shown to “necessarily” exist, such as in some versions of the Cosmological Argument because such arguments don’t just use God to fill a void in our understanding, but say that to not do so creates an illogical infinite regress. So, there you have it, Atheism is fully falsifiable, even with god-of-the-gaps used to object to some claims.

The website that you linked to Eric exemplifies this sort of faulty reasoning. Speaking on the origins of life, the author writes “this [the disproving of spontaneous creation] is one powerful example of scientific finds supporting theistic contentions rather than naturalistic theories.” Uh, no. Nothing about our lack of understanding about the origins of life or the problems associated with Biogenesis make “God created life” any more likely or credible. It just means we don’t have enough information to have a naturalistic explanation, but merely because Theism provides an explanation doesn’t mean that this scientific advance is a powerful example of Theism gaining ground, it’s no different than attributing lightning to Zeus and YES, the argument that God can fill in voids in our knowledge IS flawed, just as it was back with Zeus and now with the origins of life.

Oh, and as for the 900-foot Jesus…well, we can’t explain a person resurrecting from the dead without and gaining such height with nature alone, which is what differentiates it from the Fine-Tuning Argument.

Despite how egregious the logic is, I did get a chuckle at Science being kind to Christianity. So far, no findings that women are made out of ribs and that all organisms were created in the way Genesis describes.

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Steven R. February 9, 2011 at 11:40 am

I should add, for clarification purposes, that when I said “This sort of phenomenom, would, by nature, be impossible to explain with naturalism and it would make the Atheist position impossible to rationally hold,” nature obviously didn’t mean natural phenomenom’s but by definition.

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Peter Hurford February 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

@Patrick:

I disagree. There’s a big difference between empirical evidence of God and the “God is the best explanation for phenomenas A, B, and C”. Neither atheism or theism are even close to empirical.

I also think that atheism is falsifiable in a sense — it is logically possible for proof of God to exist in a satisfying sense. God could reveal himself dramatically, for example. You may think that atheists are unreasonably denying the evidence that already exists for the God hypothesis, but that doesn’t make it unfalsifiable.

God, however, is definitely unfalsifiable, because there is no logically possible evidence that would disprove him.

Furthermore, if Christianity has not been disproven in any of its claims, then neither has any other religion. The Koran is just as inerrant as the Bible, and the evidence for Joseph Smith’s golden plates is as strong as the Resurrection.

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Fine tuning proceeds by calculating P (FTU|A) by taking the total number of logically possible finely tuned universes under atheism, and then dividing by the total number of logically possible universes under atheism.

If the argument wants to proceed, it then needs to calculate P (FTU|T) by taking the total number of logically possible finely tuned universes under theism, and then dividing by the total number of logically possible universes under theism.

It never does.

This is why I don’t respect its intellectual credibility.

Everything in the argument is hand waved away by pointing at P (FTU|A) and claiming that its so unlikely that whatever objection is raised must be subsumed by the incredibly small value of P (FTU|A).

But that stops working if P (FTU|T) is similarly low.

But the number of logically possible universes under theism (assuming a desire to create life on the part of the deity was calculated in the priors rather than in this piece of the equation) includes all logically possible universes that 1) contain life, and 2) can be possibly imagined by any logically possible being.

Which would be an astronomically high number in the denominator of P (FTU|T).

Which… is probably why fine tuning advocates never address this part of the equation.

And the really cheap, dishonest ones just move to P (LPU) halfway through the equation, in contravention of math they should have learned in 7th grade.

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Actually, the number of logically possible universes under theism would vastly exceed those that can be possibly imagined by any logically possible being. I don’t know why I wrote that.

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melior February 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I think that fine tuning arguments are much more interesting and problematic when applied to religion than to the universe. After all, we only have observations for one single universe, rendering any conclusions based on statistical sampling highly dubious. (Really, how much would you be willing to bet on whether my coin was a fair one, if I only let you flip it once?)

On the other hand, we have “scriptural evidence” for literally hundreds of different gods, goddesses, and assorted creator-animals. Many of these were written in ancient tongues! Many of them were believed in by numerous people who were willing to die for their faith! And not a single one has ever been disproven by atheists to the standards required by the theists arguing in support of a fine-tuned universe as somehow justifying their particular faith.

Now, can anyone tell me what the odds are that the Jehovah of the Christian bible is the actual, one and only creator of the universe? Or the YHWH of the Jewish tradition, or the Zeus of the ancient Greeks? By the exact same logic as the fine-tuning argument presented for theism, the odds seem to be very much against any one of them.

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Eric February 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Patrick –
“From the phenomenon of psychosomatics we know that there can be illnesses or disorders without any physical cause, just caused by mental states. As people in the past didn’t know this explanation for the cause of illnesses, they took imagined illnesses for actual illnesses. We know this and as some illnesses have turned out to be caused psychosomatically we can be quite confident that in the end all illnesses will turn out to be caused this way.”

This is absurd. We have one situation where we can confirm a disease is psychogenic or not and another where we have never actually confirmed the existence of the supernatural. I have explained this to you over and over before in previous posts. Because we have never had an even thought to be supernatural objectively confirmed to be supernatural, but we have had numerous events once thought to be supernatural objectively confirmed to be natural, the prior probability that a given even will turn out to be supernatural is very low. On the other hand, we have had numerous diseases actually confirmed to be actual physiological diseases. Depending on the disease, only small amounts of diseases have ever been confirmed to be psychogenic. Your assessment has completely ignored Bayesian probability.

Patrick –
If my suspicion is correct that atheists are not in a position to present clear criteria when it is legitimate to suggest a supernatural explanation for a phenomenon and when it is not, a naturalistic explanation is not even in principle falsifiable.

If we have a situation where the probability of an event, given a condition is so low on naturalism that it outweighs the initially very low probability of that event being supernatural, then yes, we can conclude the event is supernatural. We cannot be absolutely certain but this does give the prior probability of a given event a chance to be supernatural much higher.
Say that God appeared to the world in the sky and we had numerous eyewitness testimonies, video, SPECIFIC predictions that came to pass with SPECIFIC deadlines, etc… This is just an example. Overwhelming the initially low prior probability is an example of confirmation.

Patrick –
Therefore with respect to the fine-tuning of the universe the naturalistic explanation may even be less reasonable than the supernatural one, as the latter is clearly falsifiable.

Why don’t scientist act this way in view of the fine-tuning of the universe? Can any criterion be identified that the former case meets but not the latter? If no such criterion can be identified it is in both cases an arbitrary decision whether you attribute the respective phenomenon to God or to some unknown naturalistic cause. But if that’s the case both views are equally reasonable and therefore atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

Because there are a whole host of problems with the fine tuning argument. Ive outlined one problem and posted a paper from two Christian apologists outlining another.

Martin
It’s not that lottery was predicted before the fact, but independently of it.

And I have independently chosen names for each specified hand that could pop up in my poker analogy, just as there are independent specified parameters for any kind of phenomena that could exist in the universe. Luke’s analogy fails because life isn’t the only phenomena with independently specified parameters. The phenomena of life is one of many possible phenomena, which is better displayed in Stenger’s analogy,which I pointed out to him in his comments. His analogy would work if the independently specified parameters for the existence of life were not arbitrary and had some intrinsic value to the universe, just like the winning lottery ball has intrinsic value to the game. It is the WINNING ball, and winning is the point of that particular game. He still hasn’t responded, btw.

Tony –
You appear to be stubbornly resistant to understanding the burden of proof and the meaning of the “god of the gaps” fallacy. Until you can demonstrate that you do, I will try to remind the audience that time spent conversing with you is probably time wasted.

I spent a lot of time trying to make this point clear to him under Luke’s post “Naturalism of the gaps.” Other than learning a bit about how theists argue, it was a spectacular waste of time. He ignores what you say and continually raises red herrings while completely failing to grasp even the most basic logical concepts in philosophy.

Martin –
Larkus,

I wonder why Stephen Hawking uses the fine tuning argument, then, to argue for a multiverse? “…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.

It doesn’t sound like hes using fine tuning to argue for a multiverse. Instead he’s saying the multiverse could explain the phenomena of fine tuning. However. I see nothing in the quote that suggests he thinks fine tuning needs an explanation. I have also explained this to ayer that scientists will seek explanations, regardless if there is a true logical need for an explanation. This is their job.

Peter Hurford –
God, however, is definitely unfalsifiable, because there is no logically possible evidence that would disprove him.

Carl Sagan once suggested that logically a hypothetical discovery that the universe was eternal would disprove a creator God. But I’m not sure because:
1. The discovery that the universe is eternal would have to be in the form of a scientific model, which is not necessarily metaphysical.
2. Theists could argue that God just made the universe look eternal or possibly use some kind of pseudo-time-philosophy…
3. Evolution disproved the kind of God that creates humans directly, yet theists still think this can be reconciled.
Any thoughts?

Patrick who is not Patrick –
Actually, the number of logically possible universes under theism would vastly exceed those that can be possibly imagined by any logically possible being. I don’t know why I wrote that.

And if the theist chose his particular God (one that WOULD create THIS universe), then his use of Bayes Equation to go from P(FTU|T) to P(T|FTU) would suffer more as a result because he would need an argument to show that this particular God is probable without succumbing to circular logic. Prior probability is a bitch to the theist ;)

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Peter Hurford February 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm

“Carl Sagan once suggested that logically a hypothetical discovery that the universe was eternal would disprove a creator God.”

On the lines of 2, the idea that God, who is completely outside of time, created all of time and space (infinite or not) seems to diffuse it easily enough. God remains undisproven.

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Steven R. February 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

“Carl Sagan once suggested that logically a hypothetical discovery that the universe was eternal would disprove a creator God.”On the lines of 2, the idea that God, who is completely outside of time, created all of time and space (infinite or not) seems to diffuse it easily enough.God remains undisproven.  

Key word: CREATOR God. Sure we can still posit a transcendental being, it just wouldn’t explain the creation of the universe.

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Eric February 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Peter H –
On the lines of 2, the idea that God, who is completely outside of time, created all of time and space (infinite or not) seems to diffuse it easily enough. God remains undisproven.

Although it sounds, at surface level, a bit confused, that is pretty much what I was talking about with pseudo-time-philosophy. Of course, I always ask Theists what it would take to disprove God. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to an answer would be a natural explanation for every phenomenon. Of course, 2 problems with this:
1. It sets up God as being necessarily a God-of-the-gaps
2. I do not know how it could possibly be done, due to the problem of contingency:
1. If there is an infinite regress of explanation, then it is in principle impossible to have every explanation.
2. If the base of contingency is the existence of brute facts, there seems to be no way in which we could tell that a given fact is a brute fact.
Of course some theists agree with this and are comfortable with having an idea that is in principle not disprovable.

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm

I’m less enamored with worrying about whether there’s anything that would disprove god, and more interested in whether theists believe that there is anything which would suggest to them that god is less likely than they presently believe him to be.

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Citizen Ghost February 10, 2011 at 3:34 am

Couldn’t a form a “Friendly Atheism” be defended on subjectivist grounds (William James, etc.) ?

If you had an experience or vision in which a deity revealed himelf to you and perhaps spoke to you, what would you do? Would you check yourself into a mental hospital? Would you dismiss it, secure in your knowledge that the human brain is suscpetible to all kinds of delusions and hallucinations. You can’t know how you would process this sort of experience because, in all likelihood, you haven’t experienced it.

But let’s say you have. I can offer up various rational and naturalistic explanations of what it was you probably experienced. But, if, because of that experience, you believe in God, can I declare that you are irrational to do so? I’m not sure. But I WOULD say that it is irrational for you to expect anyone else to believe it.

The problem here is that we are outside of the realm of rational argument here. This is about revelation. Perhaps there’s an irony: Revelation is a more rational defense of theism than any reason-based argument for God’s existence.

Thoughts?

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Tony Hoffman February 10, 2011 at 6:16 am

Patrick who is not Patrick, thanks for the posting clarification. It makes it much easier (and faster) to scan which comments to read.

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Patrick February 10, 2011 at 7:59 am

Tony Hoffman: “This is an obviously flawed definition. By it, we would describe any new technology as supernatural — a wireless radio, lighter, camera, etc., would all be deemed “supernatural” by humans who had never previously been exposed to them.”

It would indeed be a reasonable conclusion for a person unfamiliar with modern technology that there could be anything supernatural about these things. This would be a good example of a “special grounds atheism”.

Tony Hoffman: “Also, it is likely that AI will be able to develop imagined and unimagined technologies either faster than human minds could conceive or that our minds might never be able to conceive.”

That machines created by men could develop technologies that would appear supernatural is to me an unrealistic idea.

Tony Hoffman: “Also, any alien sophisticated enough to arrive on our planet would, under your system, be deemed “supernatural.””

You may be right. In fact Coyne’s example of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus that for him obviously would count as proof for the existence of God could naturalistically be accounted for by some sophisticated technology created by aliens.

Tony Hoffman: “You appear to be stubbornly resistant to understanding the burden of proof and the meaning of the “god of the gaps” fallacy. Until you can demonstrate that you do, I will try to remind the audience that time spent conversing with you is probably time wasted.”

My point is that even if theists accept the burden of proof and try to present evidence for the existence of God they are charged with committing the God of the gaps fallacy.

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Troy February 10, 2011 at 8:01 am

It seems to me as if the interesting question isn’t whether theists and atheists can disagree and both be maximally rational (for what it’s worth, I think that if they both have the same evidence, then the answer to that question is no), but whether either this disagreement is any less reasonable than disagreement on other philosophical matters. I take it that most people, even strong evidentialists like myself, would agree that philosophical disagreement is usually much more reasonable than disagreement about, say, evolution or the Holocaust. If religious disagreement is on a par with that, I’d say that’s enough to ground “friendly atheism” (and “friendly theism,” for that matter)–theists/atheists are not necessarily any more irrational than people on the opposite side of your favorite philosophical issue (e.g., compatibilists, externalists, deontologists, etc.).

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Patrick February 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

Steven R.: “Suppose, for example, that some metaphysical plain of spiritual existence was found and in this plane of existence, we know that a transcendental, all-powerful being exists. This sort of phenomenom, would, by nature, be impossible to explain with naturalism and it would make the Atheist position impossible to rationally hold. Thus, we have a scenario where it is 100% valid to attribute a phenomenon to God or at least use it to prove God’s existence. This makes Atheism very falsifiable if such a realm of existence were shown to exist.”

I must admit that I don’t know what a “metaphysical plane of spiritual existence” could be.

Steven R.: “Thing is, however, what the God of the Gaps argument says is “hey, just because we don’t quite understand X doesn’t mean that X all of a sudden provides good reason to belive in a hypothesis that completely flies in the face of all our other experiences.” For example, if we just found two magnetic objects, one positive and one negative and we had never encountered them, would it be reasonable to say “Well, this object moves without anything pushing them. Surely this bolsters the Theistic hypothesis that God sometimes intervenes in nature!” No, because God is not providing a real explanation, but only filling in gaps in our knowledge.”

Your example of the two magnetic objects does not correspond to my definition of the supernatural, as the element of design is lacking. If the magnetic objects only moved on Sundays or only when Christians are present then one might reasonably conclude that there is something supernatural about them.

Steven R.: “The god-of-the-gaps fallacy doesn’t apply when God is shown to “necessarily” exist, such as in some versions of the Cosmological Argument because such arguments don’t just use God to fill a void in our understanding, but say that to not do so creates an illogical infinite regress. So, there you have it, Atheism is fully falsifiable, even with god-of-the-gaps used to object to some claims.”

The charge to commit the God of the gaps fallacy obviously only applies to empirical arguments about the existence of God, such as the Teleological argument or the Argument from Religious Experience. It’s interesting to learn that atheists are prepared to accept theism if purely logical arguments for the existence of God are successful. But isn’t it more realistic to assume that if there is such an argument, atheists may conclude that the argument somehow must be flawed, even if they can’t tell in what way?

Steven R.: “The website that you linked to Eric exemplifies this sort of faulty reasoning. Speaking on the origins of life, the author writes “this [the disproving of spontaneous creation] is one powerful example of scientific finds supporting theistic contentions rather than naturalistic theories.” Uh, no. Nothing about our lack of understanding about the origins of life or the problems associated with Biogenesis make “God created life” any more likely or credible. It just means we don’t have enough information to have a naturalistic explanation, but merely because Theism provides an explanation doesn’t mean that this scientific advance is a powerful example of Theism gaining ground, it’s no different than attributing lightning to Zeus and YES, the argument that God can fill in voids in our knowledge IS flawed, just as it was back with Zeus and now with the origins of life.”

In the website it is argued against the notion that in the History of Science theistic claims have constantly been disproved, and the fact that there is no conclusive naturalistic explanation of the origin of life clearly supports the argument. Of course, this is not proof that life came about supernaturally, but the article doesn’t make such a claim.

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Patrick February 10, 2011 at 8:07 am

Peter Hurford: “I also think that atheism is falsifiable in a sense — it is logically possible for proof of God to exist in a satisfying sense. God could reveal himself dramatically, for example.”

Is there any objective criterion determining how “dramatic” God’s revelation would have to be to falsify atheism? My suspicion is that there is no such criterion, and what for one person would be “dramatically” enough need not necessarily be the case for another person.

Peter Hurford: “Furthermore, if Christianity has not been disproven in any of its claims, then neither has any other religion. The Koran is just as inerrant as the Bible, and the evidence for Joseph Smith’s golden plates is as strong as the Resurrection.”

Although I’m convinced that there is stronger evidence for the truth of Christianity than for the truth of Islam I concede that neither religion has been conclusively proven or disproven. Therefore I think that also Christians and Muslims can reasonably disagree.

As for Joseph Smith’s golden plates, if the evidence for their existence is as strong as the evidence for the Resurrection I might conclude that it’s reasonable to believe that they exist.

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Steven R. February 10, 2011 at 8:45 am

To “Christian?” Patrick:

I must admit that I don’t know what a “metaphysical plane of spiritual existence” could be.

That’s quite besides the point. The point was that God could be proved through other, non-natural means without committing the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, making atheism very falsifiable indeed.

Your example of the two magnetic objects does not correspond to my definition of the supernatural, as the element of design is lacking. If the magnetic objects only moved on Sundays or only when Christians are present then one might reasonably conclude that there is something supernatural about them.

Design? Do explain since your examples of what would make you believe that these objects were supernatural (moved only on Sundays or only when Christians are present) do not hint at design at all. The latter example does hint at some sort of personal agent controlling the magnets, I suppose, but that is not indicative of design. Other than that, I don’t see why the supernatural must be “designed” at all. Please explain how you got to that conclusion too.

The charge to commit the God of the gaps fallacy obviously only applies to empirical arguments about the existence of God, such as the Teleological argument or the Argument from Religious Experience.

It only applies to arguments that relegate as of yet unexplained phenomena to God and insist that this is a proper explanation. Read all of the comments posted here. They more than explain why this is faulty reasoning. Oh, and by the way, it would be highly unreasonable to say that technology is supernatural if you had no prior knowledge of it because that’s simply not even attempting to explain the phenomenon it’s just saying “oh gosh, I have no clue. I guess that makes this defy the laws of nature, even though I never had a full understanding of them in the first place and didn’t even take the time to investigate the source of this new mysterious object.”

It’s interesting to learn that atheists are prepared to accept theism if purely logical arguments for the existence of God are successful. But isn’t it more realistic to assume that if there is such an argument, atheists may conclude that the argument somehow must be flawed, even if they can’t tell in what way?

Wouldn’t that also apply to Theists? Hell, it probably wouldn’t because God allows the nice escape of “God is beyond logic!” or “How do you know that God can’t override this physical rule at will?” I also fail to see how that is even remotely pertinent to our discussion.

In the website it is argued against the notion that in the History of Science theistic claims have constantly been disproved, and the fact that there is no conclusive naturalistic explanation of the origin of life clearly supports the argument. Of course, this is not proof that life came about supernaturally, but the article doesn’t make such a claim.  

Yes it does. It says it greatly bolsters the Theistic argument and leads us to Theistic conclusions. That’s more or less making the claim. Rather subtly, but it is there nonetheless. See? Even you reject the claim that because we don’t know X supernatural claims are now reasonable to accept. It’s because it’s terrible argumentation and whoever wrote that article did more to explain the God-of-the-gaps fallacy and why we should distance ourselves from such “logic” than make a really good case for anything.

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Steven R. February 10, 2011 at 10:51 am

Peter Hurford: “I also think that atheism is falsifiable in a sense — it is logically possible for proof of God to exist in a satisfying sense. God could reveal himself dramatically, for example.”Is there any objective criterion determining how “dramatic” God’s revelation would have to be to falsify atheism? My suspicion is that there is no such criterion, and what for one person would be “dramatically” enough need not necessarily be the case for another person.

I fail to see how this is a problem for Atheism. Different people have different standards, atheists are a huge group and it is irrational to expect everyone to have the same standards of what constitutes as something dramatic enough to believe in God. Not only that, but this is also a problem for Theists. Different theists will have different standards of when God is so improbable, it is best to discard the idea.

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Eric February 10, 2011 at 10:59 am

Patrick –
Is there any objective criterion determining how “dramatic” God’s revelation would have to be to falsify atheism? My suspicion is that there is no such criterion, and what for one person would be “dramatically” enough need not necessarily be the case for another person.

I’m assuming you are ignoring me because I gave a clear criterion for a “dramatic” revelation. It uses Bayes’ theorem. If the likelihood of an event given theism is enough to outweigh the initially low prior probability of theism, then such an event is “dramatic” as well as confirmation of theism, so long as it is not arbitrary. This would falsify atheism. Tim and Lydia McGrew have attempted this with Jesus’ Resurrection. Now they haven’t succeed because they have dramatically underestimated the probabilities of these events happening given naturalism, but that is a different discussion. The point is that they are attempting the right strategy from empiricism. Do the other atheists commenting on this blog agree with me in principle?
Now I understand this is a difficult task. It would be easier if Theists would find a clear way to confirm an event as supernatural without committing a fallacy or using a criteria that would confirm natural events as supernatural.

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Eric February 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

Patrick –
It’s interesting to learn that atheists are prepared to accept theism if purely logical arguments for the existence of God are successful. But isn’t it more realistic to assume that if there is such an argument, atheists may conclude that the argument somehow must be flawed, even if they can’t tell in what way?

This sounds like pure speculation. Now someone may think any argument that shows an extraordinary claim true may be flawed. But, upon investigation of the argument and its premises, if the argument is sound, the premises true, and the conclusion not arbitrary, then that person would be irrational to discard it. Now theists, such as William Lane Craig, are actually admitting they are using the mentality you speak of.

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Tony Hoffman February 10, 2011 at 11:11 am

I think it’s helpful sometime to change a critical word and see how it would read with some of the loaded portion excised. Like:

“I also think that agravitism is falsifiable in a sense — it is logically possible for proof of gravity to exist in a satisfying sense. Gravity could reveal itself dramatically, for example.”

Followed by: Is there any objective criterion determining how “dramatic” Gravity’s evidence would have to be to falsify agravitism? My suspicion is that there is no such criterion, and what for one person would be “dramatically” enough need not necessarily be the case for another person.

I don’t think that God’s existence need be dramatic at all. It need only have an effect. Like gravity, whose effects can be both subtle and dramatic, our recognition of a thing’s existence is not based on how spectacular its appearance, but that it’s appearance have an effect. And whether gravity’s effect be tiny or spectacular, there are no agravitists. Imagining that some people would require spectacular proof of God’s existence does not seem true, in that we all accept gravity without requiring that great objects be dropped from 10,000 feet prior to our assenting to its existence.

I think the theist should ask herself why it is that God denies us the simplest observable evidence of his existence — a noticeable effect — that we expect from every other component of reality.

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Tony Hoffman February 10, 2011 at 11:17 am

The point is that they are attempting the right strategy from empiricism. Do the other atheists commenting on this blog agree with me in principle?

Yes. Of course. Theists will pule that you are demanding scientism, but you (and I) are not; we are asking for something observable, an effect, meaningfulness. It’s amazing how very large and very quiet the room becomes when this stipulation is made most clear.

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Eric February 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

@Tony
The main reason we accept Gravity as defined by Newton (or in more precise cases, Einstein) is because we can make specific predictions. For instance, we can predict with a high level of accuracy, how far a cannonball will shoot given a specific starting velocity, distance from the ground, and wind resistance. All of this would be very unlikely if gravitational laws were false. Given multiple experiments in all sorts of different situations and we further decrease the probability that gravity isn’t true given these experiments. This is the power of prediction, experimentation, and the scientific method! At some point, it becomes rational to accept gravity and arguably irrational to not. If theists could devise experiments that fit this kind of criteria, they would have a chance. Of course, theists have defined God out of all possible empirical testing. But who’s fault is this? Clearly the theist’s!

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H. Springer February 10, 2011 at 11:28 am

The human mind constructs delusions. Your chair only “exists” to you, a human, because you subscribe to the delusion that you name “chair”. A spider, or a colony of termites, or a strain of wood-mold would have their own take on what your chair is, as empirically correct as yours. The scientistic attempt to categorize reality is a delusion. Newton’s delusive static space, with gravity-as-a-distant-force was debunked by the Einstein delusion of curved higher dimensions & co-location. We have not had the definitive debunking of Einstein, but it’s coming.

Is truth attained by positing ever more fine tuned delusions?
Can the truth of 1642 be “no longer true” in 1905?
Is reality so malleable ?

No. It is the delusions which are malleable.

In history, scientism stands in the guise of debunking more primitive learning methods, but the stance as “purveyor of truth” is in itself another delusion.The older learning modes of empathy, mime, & sympathetic ritual gave us everything mankind attained before 1650, and that attainment was significant. I put it to you, that without the accomplishments of primitive humanity, Pythagoras, and the alchemists… Newton , Einstein, & Feyman would have had nothing upon which to work, and would have died in obscurity.

The sympathetic adept attempts to “become one” with his study/worship object. Learning in this mode is ecstasy, & mimery. To find the “best” qualities to express as a human, a delusive construct or “god” is posited, possessing those qualities the adept wishes to increase. Thus “God- the concept” is only a “person”, in order to grant greater personhood to the obeisant adept. The adept projects his own intuition outward onto the god, who embodies it, and gives it back, increased in power. Thus, the ascribing of “personhood” to an imagined god, is done only to shape the juju more closely to the needs of the adept, who is indeed, only a person. If followers miss the niceties of this shaping, and wrongly begin to think their god is “real” in some concrete sense, it can only help to feed & clothe the adept, who knows better.

The use of a god is mankind’s earliest, most central learning modality, and a source of personal power. For these functions it is absolutely effective, …effective in ways the scientistic delusion can not begin to match. Reject “God-the-notion” and allow your own psyche to weaken. The greater part of your being resonates to divinity, ecstasy, and oneness with the all, but……. first you must find your god.

Or….wither away among your experimental data sheets.

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PDH February 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Theists simply have to show that theism is the most probable hypothesis that fits the data.

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Patrick February 11, 2011 at 3:08 am

Steven R.: “That’s quite besides the point. The point was that God could be proved through other, non-natural means without committing the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, making atheism very falsifiable indeed.”

Are there really non-natural means proving God that could not possibly be accounted for naturalistically?

Steven R.: “The latter example does hint at some sort of personal agent controlling the magnets, I suppose, but that is not indicative of design.”

If there is a personal agent controlling the movement of the magnets, then this is clearly an example of design.

Steven R.: “Other than that, I don’t see why the supernatural must be “designed” at all. Please explain how you got to that conclusion too.”

I don’t say that it must be designed. It’s just my definition. But as far as I can see such a concept of the supernatural is the one that has been primarily held in the Christian tradition. Your example of magnetic objects can illustrate this very well. The great medieval theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote about this phenomenon and explained it naturalistically, as can be seen from the following quote (source: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Saint_Thomas_Aquinas.aspx):

“Aquinas took up the problems of the magnet, of tidal variations, and of other “occult” phenomena in a letter entitled De occultis operationibus naturae (“On the Occult Workings of Nature”), whose very title shows his preoccupation with reducing all of these phenomena to natural, as opposed to supramundane, causes.”

Steven R.: “It only applies to arguments that relegate as of yet unexplained phenomena to God and insist that this is a proper explanation.”

If that’s the case then the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe or my definition of the supernatural do not fall into this category, as they don’t appeal to our ignorance, but to what we know about phenomena, namely that they appear to be designed.

Steven R.: “Oh, and by the way, it would be highly unreasonable to say that technology is supernatural if you had no prior knowledge of it because that’s simply not even attempting to explain the phenomenon it’s just saying “oh gosh, I have no clue. I guess that makes this defy the laws of nature, even though I never had a full understanding of them in the first place and didn’t even take the time to investigate the source of this new mysterious object.””

This reproach only applies if the person holding such a view has been shown how the phenomenon can be accounted for naturalistically but nevertheless clings to his supernatural view.

Steven R.: “Wouldn’t that also apply to Theists? Hell, it probably wouldn’t because God allows the nice escape of “God is beyond logic!” or “How do you know that God can’t override this physical rule at will?” I also fail to see how that is even remotely pertinent to our discussion.”

If this also applies to theists, it confirms the point I make. If theists are as unwilling to accept arguments against their point of view as atheists, then theism is as unfalsifiable as atheism, but then these two views are on a par and consequently atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

Steven R.: “Yes it does. It says it greatly bolsters the Theistic argument and leads us to Theistic conclusions. That’s more or less making the claim. Rather subtly, but it is there nonetheless. See? Even you reject the claim that because we don’t know X supernatural claims are now reasonable to accept. It’s because it’s terrible argumentation and whoever wrote that article did more to explain the God-of-the-gaps fallacy and why we should distance ourselves from such “logic” than make a really good case for anything.”

The article is not about the God of the gaps fallacy but about the “argument from the history of science”. The fact that despite long lasting and thorough research there still is no conclusive naturalistic explanation for the origin of life supports the argument put forward in this article.

Steven R.: “I fail to see how this is a problem for Atheism. Different people have different standards, atheists are a huge group and it is irrational to expect everyone to have the same standards of what constitutes as something dramatic enough to believe in God. Not only that, but this is also a problem for Theists. Different theists will have different standards of when God is so improbable, it is best to discard the idea.”

That’s exactly the point I make. There are different standards and there is no objective criterion to judge the reasonableness of the respective standards.

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Patrick February 11, 2011 at 4:36 am

Eric: “I’m assuming you are ignoring me because I gave a clear criterion for a “dramatic” revelation. It uses Bayes’ theorem. If the likelihood of an event given theism is enough to outweigh the initially low prior probability of theism, then such an event is “dramatic” as well as confirmation of theism, so long as it is not arbitrary. This would falsify atheism. Tim and Lydia McGrew have attempted this with Jesus’ Resurrection. Now they haven’t succeed because they have dramatically underestimated the probabilities of these events happening given naturalism, but that is a different discussion. The point is that they are attempting the right strategy from empiricism.”

Here again we have the same problem: Is it possible to evaluate objectively the prior probability of theism? If it’s not possible it is as reasonable to assume a high prior probability, as it is to assume a low one.

Eric: “It would be easier if Theists would find a clear way to confirm an event as supernatural without committing a fallacy or using a criteria that would confirm natural events as supernatural.”

My definition of the supernatural meets all these requirements. As for the latter, in my view you ask of theists an unreasonably high standard for the confirmation of an event as supernatural. You cannot ask for criteria that would guarantee the truth of the hypotheses where they are applied. This can be seen from the fact that two scientists using the same criteria can arrive at different conclusions, which means that at least in one case the criteria have led to a false conclusion.

Eric: “This sounds like pure speculation. Now someone may think any argument that shows an extraordinary claim true may be flawed. But, upon investigation of the argument and its premises, if the argument is sound, the premises true, and the conclusion not arbitrary, then that person would be irrational to discard it.”

Maybe you are right. But the issue may actually be irrelevant, as, for all I know, neither atheism nor theism have conclusively been disproven by a logical argument.

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Patrick February 11, 2011 at 5:47 am

Tony Hoffman: “I think the theist should ask herself why it is that God denies us the simplest observable evidence of his existence — a noticeable effect — that we expect from every other component of reality.”

There have indeed been noticeable effects pointing to God’s existence, which meet the requirements for reliable historical evidence. A good example is the Resurrection, whose historicity Tim and Lydia McGrew demonstrated in the article mentioned above by means of a Bayesian analysis. Another such attempt can be found in a paper entitled “A Bayesian Analysis of the Cumulative Effects of Independent Eyewitness Testimony for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, written by John M. DePoe. It can be read in the following link:

http://www.johndepoe.com/Resurrection.pdf

Another example of well-documented miracle accounts can be found in the following biography of the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Blumhardt):

Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

Tony Hoffman (to Eric): “Yes. Of course. Theists will pule that you are demanding scientism, but you (and I) are not; we are asking for something observable, an effect, meaningfulness. It’s amazing how very large and very quiet the room becomes when this stipulation is made most clear.”

To me there seems to be a contradiction between this statement and the following statements, of which the first was made by Eric, the second by Tony Hoffman. For them strong historical evidence obviously is not enough, they ask for scientific proof. But according to the Christian concept of God, God is not like a natural law, whose effect can be demonstrated scientifically.

“The main reason we accept Gravity as defined by Newton (or in more precise cases, Einstein) is because we can make specific predictions. For instance, we can predict with a high level of accuracy, how far a cannonball will shoot given a specific starting velocity, distance from the ground, and wind resistance. All of this would be very unlikely if gravitational laws were false. Given multiple experiments in all sorts of different situations and we further decrease the probability that gravity isn’t true given these experiments. This is the power of prediction, experimentation, and the scientific method! At some point, it becomes rational to accept gravity and arguably irrational to not. If theists could devise experiments that fit this kind of criteria, they would have a chance. Of course, theists have defined God out of all possible empirical testing. But who’s fault is this? Clearly the theist’s!”

“I don’t think that God’s existence need be dramatic at all. It need only have an effect. Like gravity, whose effects can be both subtle and dramatic, our recognition of a thing’s existence is not based on how spectacular its appearance, but that it’s appearance have an effect. And whether gravity’s effect be tiny or spectacular, there are no agravitists. Imagining that some people would require spectacular proof of God’s existence does not seem true, in that we all accept gravity without requiring that great objects be dropped from 10,000 feet prior to our assenting to its existence.”

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Tony Hoffman February 11, 2011 at 6:06 am

“But according to the Christian concept of God, God is not like a natural law, whose effect can be demonstrated scientifically.

Total and compete bollocks. The Bible is filled with empirical evidence for God’s existence — from every command to every parting sea, talking bush, donkey, snake, prediction, zombie, etc. You can’t have it both ways — the Christian God either has an observable effect on our world, or he doesn’t.

Take a deep breath. Reload. And try and hold all of your thoughts together. If you’re not completely deluded, what you are experiencing is called cognitive dissonance.

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Steven R. February 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

Steven R.: “That’s quite besides the point. The point was that God could be proved through other, non-natural means without committing the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, making atheism very falsifiable indeed.”Are there really non-natural means proving God that could not possibly be accounted for naturalistically?Steven R.: “The latter example does hint at some sort of personal agent controlling the magnets, I suppose, but that is not indicative of design.”If there is a personal agent controlling the movement of the magnets, then this is clearly an example of design.Steven R.: “Other than that, I don’t see why the supernatural must be “designed” at all. Please explain how you got to that conclusion too.”I don’t say that it must be designed. It’s just my definition. But as far as I can see such a concept of the supernatural is the one that has been primarily held in the Christian tradition. Your example of magnetic objects can illustrate this very well. The great medieval theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote about this phenomenon and explained it naturalistically, as can be seen from the following quote (source: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Saint_Thomas_Aquinas.aspx):“Aquinas took up the problems of the magnet, of tidal variations, and of other “occult” phenomena in a letter entitled De occultis operationibus naturae (“On the Occult Workings of Nature”), whose very title shows his preoccupation with reducing all of these phenomena to natural, as opposed to supramundane, causes.”Steven R.: “It only applies to arguments that relegate as of yet unexplained phenomena to God and insist that this is a proper explanation.”If that’s the case then the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe or my definition of the supernatural do not fall into this category, as they don’t appeal to our ignorance, but to what we know about phenomena, namely that they appear to be designed. Steven R.: “Oh, and by the way, it would be highly unreasonable to say that technology is supernatural if you had no prior knowledge of it because that’s simply not even attempting to explain the phenomenon it’s just saying “oh gosh, I have no clue. I guess that makes this defy the laws of nature, even though I never had a full understanding of them in the first place and didn’t even take the time to investigate the source of this new mysterious object.””This reproach only applies if the person holding such a view has been shown how the phenomenon can be accounted for naturalistically but nevertheless clings to his supernatural view.Steven R.: “Wouldn’t that also apply to Theists? Hell, it probably wouldn’t because God allows the nice escape of “God is beyond logic!” or “How do you know that God can’t override this physical rule at will?” I also fail to see how that is even remotely pertinent to our discussion.”If this also applies to theists, it confirms the point I make. If theists are as unwilling to accept arguments against their point of view as atheists, then theism is as unfalsifiable as atheism, but then these two views are on a par and consequently atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.Steven R.: “Yes it does. It says it greatly bolsters the Theistic argument and leads us to Theistic conclusions. That’s more or less making the claim. Rather subtly, but it is there nonetheless. See? Even you reject the claim that because we don’t know X supernatural claims are now reasonable to accept. It’s because it’s terrible argumentation and whoever wrote that article did more to explain the God-of-the-gaps fallacy and why we should distance ourselves from such “logic” than make a really good case for anything.”The article is not about the God of the gaps fallacy but about the “argument from the history of science”. The fact that despite long lasting and thorough research there still is no conclusive naturalistic explanation for the origin of life supports the argument put forward in this article.Steven R.: “I fail to see how this is a problem for Atheism. Different people have different standards, atheists are a huge group and it is irrational to expect everyone to have the same standards of what constitutes as something dramatic enough to believe in God. Not only that, but this is also a problem for Theists. Different theists will have different standards of when God is so improbable, it is best to discard the idea.”That’s exactly the point I make. There are different standards and there is no objective criterion to judge the reasonableness of the respective standards.  (Quote)

Really? Your argument boils down to “Can we get all the Atheists to agree on one standard?” and it’s quite obvious we cannot get so many people to agree on something like this, but NO this does not make any disagreement reasonable.This is just (I’m tempted to say willful but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you didn’t think this through very well) obfuscating the matter. No, just because many people have different standards doesn’t mean that all disagreement is reasonable. It just means that some people have unreasonable standards, others have lower standars, etc. and trying to lump all Atheists into on standard for which there will be consensus is insane. No, just because this also applies to Theists doesn’t mean that it is no “rational to agree to disagree” with irrational standards.

Yes, I realize the link didn’t deal with the God-of-the-gaps argument, but in the section of the origin of life, it used that fallacy and clearly illustrated why it’s godawful logic. No, just because we don’t have any 100% conclusive explanation as of yet does NOT support a Theistic conclusion. If we still couldn’t explain design in animals, would that support the argument from design? Would that make the fact of evolution any less true? No! Using the article’s own logic of “you must take each argument by its own merit”, the argument from design is just a horrible explanation of things and the argument is flawed in itself. I’m not sure why you linked me to Aquinas trying to explain things naturally since you’re only proving my point. All the god-of-the-gaps does is fill a hole in our knowledge with “God did it!” which provides no explanation, is a classic example of making the theory fit the facts, etc.

Lastly, yes Patrick, as we’ve been saying for the past 3 days now, there ARE ways of proving God without nature! That’s why you can’t whine about Natural Theology being called out for the fallacy it is, because, if a spiritual metaphysical world could be proven to exist, and God was a part of it, then that would be it. Atheism would be disproved. Or if you could prove that something outside of nature exists. But just filling in holes in our knowledge with God is fallacious AND all the arguments for it are horrible, so, going by the article’s own logic, because the merits of arguments like “God is responsible for the origin of life” have next to no merit, they should be chucked out.

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

Patrick –
Here again we have the same problem: Is it possible to evaluate objectively the prior probability of theism? If it’s not possible it is as reasonable to assume a high prior probability, as it is to assume a low one.

I already justified this. We have a multitude of events that have once been thought to be supernatural that have been confirmed as natural. But we have never had one single event once thought to be supernatural that has been CONFIRMED as supernatural. So as a result, the prior probability an event will be explained by the supernatural, which includes theism, is incredibly low. Outside of arguments showing a Theistic god must exist Theism is just one of a near infinite set of possible logical worlds.

Patrick –
My definition of the supernatural meets all these requirements. As for the latter, in my view you ask of theists an unreasonably high standard for the confirmation of an event as supernatural. You cannot ask for criteria that would guarantee the truth of the hypotheses where they are applied. This can be seen from the fact that two scientists using the same criteria can arrive at different conclusions, which means that at least in one case the criteria have led to a false conclusion.

In the case two scientists come to different conclusions (with the exception of the fringe, such as ID), then that is not a case where a specific natural cause has been confirmed. But neither has a supernatural cause. It is still in the “unknown” pile. But yet we can confirm events as natural, even if not all events have been confirmed as natural. I gave an example of this with gravity earlier. Yet theists have not found a way to confirm events as supernatural. And no, your criteria has failed. i previously (on a prior post) gave you the example of DNA replication. I also suggest you look at fractals and figure out how they are generated. They definitely look very designed (top-down) but they are not (unless you include bottom-up, which requires no designer in nature). Humans are notoriously bad design detectors, which explains why humans once thought lightning was caused by the gods and why we thought God made specific laws regarding the rotations and paths of the heavenly bodies. Specific laws that govern individual bodies, imposed by God, have been explained by universal natural laws. Design in species has been explained by evolution. Supernatural explanations have consistently failed.

Patrick –
There have indeed been noticeable effects pointing to God’s existence, which meet the requirements for reliable historical evidence. A good example is the Resurrection, whose historicity Tim and Lydia McGrew demonstrated in the article mentioned above by means of a Bayesian analysis. Another such attempt can be found in a paper entitled “A Bayesian Analysis of the Cumulative Effects of Independent Eyewitness Testimony for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, written by John M. DePoe. It can be read in the following link:

This article suffers from the same problem of the McGrew’s. it completely under-estimates the chances of these testimonies happening naturally. For the formula to work, the eyewitness testimonies MUST BE FULLY INDEPENDENT, which they are not. But this is a very in depth issue.

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Patrick February 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Tony Hoffman: “The Bible is filled with empirical evidence for God’s existence — from every command to every parting sea, talking bush, donkey, snake, prediction, zombie, etc. You can’t have it both ways — the Christian God either has an observable effect on our world, or he doesn’t.”

I don’t deny that the Christian God has an observable effect on our world. I just pointed out that it might not be possible to demonstrate this effect by means of the scientific method. But the same applies to the effect people’s actions have on our world and which only can be shown by means of the historical method.

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Patrick February 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Steven R.: “No, just because many people have different standards doesn’t mean that all disagreement is reasonable. It just means that some people have unreasonable standards, others have lower standars, etc. and trying to lump all Atheists into on standard for which there will be consensus is insane. No, just because this also applies to Theists doesn’t mean that it is no “rational to agree to disagree” with irrational standards.”

Are there any objective criteria to distinguish “reasonable” standards on the one hand from “unreasonable” or “irrational” ones on the other hand? If the answer is no, my point is still valid.

Steven R.: “If we still couldn’t explain design in animals, would that support the argument from design? Would that make the fact of evolution any less true? No! Using the article’s own logic of “you must take each argument by its own merit”, the argument from design is just a horrible explanation of things and the argument is flawed in itself.”

When I speak of “design” here I mean “design-imposed”, which Jack Collins in the paper mentioned above defines as “the imposition of structure upon some object or collection of objects for some purpose, where the structure and the purpose are not inherent in the properties of the components but make use of these properties.” It is not clear to me what exactly you refer to when you speak of design in animals, but obviously not to what is called “design-imposed”. If atheists see this kind of design as a horrible explanation of things then atheism may indeed be unfalsifiable, at least empirically.

Steven R.: “I’m not sure why you linked me to Aquinas trying to explain things naturally since you’re only proving my point. All the god-of-the-gaps does is fill a hole in our knowledge with “God did it!” which provides no explanation, is a classic example of making the theory fit the facts, etc.”

The example of Aquinas shows that the claim that theists once attributed unexplained phenomena to supernatural causes may indeed be totally unfounded and be counted among the history myths. In fact Aquinas, although being a theist, didn’t attribute unexplained natural phenomena such as the magnet or the tidal variations to supernatural but to natural causes.

Steven R.: “Lastly, yes Patrick, as we’ve been saying for the past 3 days now, there ARE ways of proving God without nature! That’s why you can’t whine about Natural Theology being called out for the fallacy it is, because, if a spiritual metaphysical world could be proven to exist, and God was a part of it, then that would be it. Atheism would be disproved.”

Are you thinking of purely logical arguments such as the Ontological Argument? In the “Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” you can find such an argument, described by Robert Maydole.

Steven R.: “Or if you could prove that something outside of nature exists.”

I don’t see how such a proof could look like.

Steven R.: “But just filling in holes in our knowledge with God is fallacious AND all the arguments for it are horrible, so, going by the article’s own logic, because the merits of arguments like “God is responsible for the origin of life” have next to no merit, they should be chucked out.”

If a certain explanation despite long lasting and thorough investigations fails to become conclusive it is in my opinion not necessarily fallacious to arrive at the conclusion that this explanation may be false.

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Patrick February 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Eric: “We have a multitude of events that have once been thought to be supernatural that have been confirmed as natural.”

As I pointed out to Steven R., this might be a history myth.

Eric: “We have a multitude of events that have once been thought to be supernatural that have been confirmed as natural. But we have never had one single event once thought to be supernatural that has been CONFIRMED as supernatural. So as a result, the prior probability an event will be explained by the supernatural, which includes theism, is incredibly low. Outside of arguments showing a Theistic god must exist Theism is just one of a near infinite set of possible logical worlds.”

With respect to my definition of supernatural phenomena the prior probability of the supernatural character of such a phenomenon only depends on the number of such phenomena (e.g. the fine-tuning of the universe) that have been confirmed as natural, and as far as I can see no such phenomenon has ever conclusively confirmed as natural. Therefore the prior probability of the supernatural character of such an event is by no means low. The number of the phenomena that once were thought to be supernatural but have been confirmed as natural is totally irrelevant in this respect.

Eric: “In the case two scientists come to different conclusions (with the exception of the fringe, such as ID), then that is not a case where a specific natural cause has been confirmed. But neither has a supernatural cause. It is still in the “unknown” pile. But yet we can confirm events as natural, even if not all events have been confirmed as natural. I gave an example of this with gravity earlier. Yet theists have not found a way to confirm events as supernatural.”

If you don’t accept my definition of a supernatural event my charge that atheism is unfalsifiable is obviously justified.

Eric: “And no, your criteria has failed. i previously (on a prior post) gave you the example of DNA replication. I also suggest you look at fractals and figure out how they are generated. They definitely look very designed (top-down) but they are not (unless you include bottom-up, which requires no designer in nature).”

As I’m not familiar with these phenomena I don’t know if their design conforms to the kind of design I refer to here, which Jack Collins in the paper mentioned above calls “design-imposed”.

Eric: “Humans are notoriously bad design detectors, which explains why humans once thought lightning was caused by the gods and why we thought God made specific laws regarding the rotations and paths of the heavenly bodies. Specific laws that govern individual bodies, imposed by God, have been explained by universal natural laws.”

The examples you present here are clearly irrelevant with respect to the kind of design I refer to here. Moreover, the idea that lightning is caused by the gods is not a falsified scientific claim but an unfalsifiable religious claim, which in fact nobody has ever refuted. It seems to me that in connection with the argument from the history of science these two kinds of claims are often confused.

Eric: “Design in species has been explained by evolution.”

Again, as I pointed out to Steven R., this may be irrelevant with respect to the kind of design I refer to here.

Eric: “Supernatural explanations have consistently failed.”

This is again an example of the “argument from history of science”, which is seriously flawed. Moreover this argument may be wrong, no matter whether you refer to religious claims or to scientific claims. The former are unfalsifiable, and of the latter there are hardly any I know of. The example of the specific laws that govern individual bodies, which, as far as I know, was suggested by Isaac Newton, is one of the obviously rare examples.

Eric: “This article suffers from the same problem of the McGrew’s. it completely under-estimates the chances of these testimonies happening naturally.”

In my view the chances of these testimonies happening naturally are very low. My reasons for such a view can be seen in the following links:

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/werewolves-evil-demon-possessions.html

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10150

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Patrick –
As I pointed out to Steven R., this might be a history myth.

Despite the fact that I gave specific examples.

Patrick –
With respect to my definition of supernatural phenomena the prior probability of the supernatural character of such a phenomenon only depends on the number of such phenomena (e.g. the fine-tuning of the universe) that have been confirmed as natural,

How can you justify this without committing the fallacy of the argument from ignorance? It assumes there are only 2 possibilities: It has either been confirmed as natural or it is supernatural. There is another possibility that it has yet to be confirmed as anything.

Patrick
and as far as I can see no such phenomenon has ever conclusively confirmed as natural.

Except gravity, the origin of phenomena such as lightning, rain, clouds, complexity of life, magentism, chemical and physical reactions, the rising of the sun and the moon, the stability of the universe, hallucinations… need I go on? In fact, in the case of gravity, I gave specific criteria that was used to show the event conformed to a specific natural description and explanation.

Patrick –
Therefore the prior probability of the supernatural character of such an event is by no means low. The number of the phenomena that once were thought to be supernatural but have been confirmed as natural is totally irrelevant in this respect.

Let me give you this analogy:
I have a tub of colored balls. There are only two logically possible colors in this instance; red and blue (just to help this analogy fit). But i cannot see inside the tub so I have no idea how many balls of each color are in the tub. I reach into the tub and pull out a ball. Suddenly, a monkey comes and snatches it out of my hand and runs off before I can see the color. So I do it again and WHOA ANOTHER MONKEY! Damn monkeys! I do this a bunch of times but monkeys keep snatching them away. So finally, I decide to go look for the monkeys. After a while I find a few of them. And each one has a blue ball. I don’t find them all but i do find a few. So I go back to the tank and pull out another ball. OMG its blue! I continue to do so many many many many many times. Each time I do this, the ball is blue. Lets say I do this hundreds of times, not just taking them from the top. Sometimes I dig down deep to find one and pull it up. Guess what, either 1. I get a blue ball or 2. A monkey comes and snatches it away before I can see the color.
1. If I were to reach into the tank and pull out a ball, the prior probability I will pick out a blue ball is very very high. I may even be justified in wondering if ANY red balls exist in the first place.
2. The fact that some monkeys have grabbed the balls away from me and now I have to find them doesn’t seem to increase the prior probability that there are red balls in the tank. Once again, I have never seen one so I cannot even be sure they exist. I just know that, logically, if a ball is not blue, it must be red. At least, I can assume red balls are probably incredibly rare. (I can go into more detail about this but I think this will suffice)
3. Would it be rational to say “The number of the balls that were once thought to be red or blue but have been confirmed as blue is totally irrelevant in this respect?”

Now, think of these balls as confirmed explanations of an event. Blue balls are natural and red balls are supernatural. Monkeys stealing the balls away are examples of events that have been observed but not confirmed. Therefore, just as in the ball analogy, the prior probability that you will draw a blue ball is exceedingly high, as well as the prior probability the ball you find in the monkey’s paws will be blue, the prior probability that a given explanation will be natural is very high, or a given explanation that has yet to be confirmed will be natural will be high. Hopefully this analogy will help you understand how absurd your statement was.

Patrick –
If you don’t accept my definition of a supernatural event my charge that atheism is unfalsifiable is obviously justified.

Except that I gave you an example of a situation that is sufficient BUT NOT NECESSARY to falsify atheism. Keep in mind that I have alluded to it before many times. Let me give you another analogy to help you realize how absurd your statement was:
Lets say that I have a blue box with speaker wire coming out of both sides. You wire one side to a speaker and another to an amplifier and notice that, no matter how high of frequencies the amp gives to the speakers, only low frequencies come out. So you say, well an inductor in the box would cause this. So you say that if many frequencies come in and only low frequencies come out, that this shows there must be an inductor in the box. But I point out to you that a capacitor in the box could also cause this effect, and actually does in many situations. Would it be rational for you to say:
“If you don’t accept my definition of a box-inductorism my charge that the box-capacitorism is unfalsifiable is obviously justified. ”

Now lets take your definition:
“In my view a phenomenon can be regarded as supernatural if it appears to be designed but at the same time it seems to be impossible or at least very improbable that a human being is capable of bringing about such a phenomenon.”
The problem is that you have to show that if a phenomena appears designed, it cannot be natural. Else we have two true statements:

If an event shows design, then the event can be considered supernatural – As you have said

however, if an even shows design, then the even can be considered natural – As I have demonstrated (think bottom-up design)
So we have a case where:
If an even shows design then the event can be considered natural or supernatural:
So in other words. The appearance of design tells us nothing about whether the event is supernatural or natural and cannot be used to confirm an event as either. You need separate evidence.

I’ll continue my responses in a second…

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Patrick –
As I’m not familiar with these phenomena I don’t know if their design conforms to the kind of design I refer to here, which Jack Collins in the paper mentioned above calls “design-imposed”. The examples you present here are clearly irrelevant with respect to the kind of design I refer to here.

I gave you the link to the wikipedia article on a previous post. Go look for it there.
However, lets look at this “design imposed” criteria:
“the imposition of structure upon some object or collection of objects for some purpose, where the structure and the purpose are not inherent in the properties of the components but make use of these properties.”
Two thoughts on this:
1. One could say that there is a purpose to DNA Replication in, for example, reproduction. Yet DNA replication is explained chemically. One could also say that there is an intended purpose to the complexity of life, such as the shape of the eye. The purpose is that the creature is able to survive in its environment. Of course this is also natural.
2. Purpose can be very question begging. Lets take fine-tuning for example. It soudns as if the kind of purpose you speak of is similar to the physical constants being fine-tuned for the purpose of life. Of course, one could easily ask, “why do you think they are fine tuned for the purpose of life?” to which the theist would probably respond along the lines of “because the chances of them coming out that way if they weren’t fine tuned for the purposes of life is very slim. To demonstrate the problem with this, take this analogy:
Lets say I win the lottery. I could argue that a divine guide ensured that the specific balls with specific numbers appeared to indicate my number for the purpose of me winning the lottery. Someone could ask why I thought the purpose of those balls turning out to be the way they are was so that I would win the lottery. If I responded “because the chances of me winning the lottery are so low that the divine hand is more probable,” you would rightly think me committing a fallacy. No matter who wins the lottery, this would be the case. No matter what phenomena exists given a certain configuration of constants in the universe, that phenomena will have just as much reason to “think” the purpose of those constants being the way they are was for it. So this shows another problem with a supposed purpose.
So the kind of design Jack Collins speaks of can exist without theism (or being cause by humans). And assigning purpose can be question begging, such as in the case of fine-tuning. So it seems we have the same problem I mentioned in my last comment.

Patrick –
Moreover, the idea that lightning is caused by the gods is not a falsified scientific claim but an unfalsifiable religious claim, which in fact nobody has ever refuted. It seems to me that in connection with the argument from the history of science these two kinds of claims are often confused.

Now it sounds as if you took the weakest interpretation of my argument. I wasn’t talking about “cause” in the sense of a continuum of contingency. I was talking about direct cause. For example, lightning was thought to be a weapon where Zeus basically “threw” lighting down on the countryside. We now know that lighting’s is caused by static in the air as a result of weather. So this could be explained as God making there be conditions for a thunderstorm. But we now know that thunderstorms are caused by weather patterns and climate, which is in turn caused by a whole list of other factors. So yes, the claim that lighting is caused by the Gods is not falsifiable if you can move back this cause to being more indirect, but with each step back, we are replacing supernatural explanations with natural ones.
Basically you say A is explained by supernatural event Z. Then later you find out A is actually explained by natural event B. So now you say that B is now explained by supernatural event Z.
You may be able to always say that Z is indirectly an explanation of A, but you forget that it was replaced by B. So now you are directly trying to explain B with Z and and A is only indirectly caused by Z. And if this continues to happen: B becomes explained by C which becomes explained by D, which becomes explained by E, etc… then it means Z has been replaced as an explanation multiple times. Now if you said that Z explains some event INDIRECTLY from the very start, then you are fine. But, in order to do this, you can never say “Because no natural explanation has currently been given to A, then the explanation must be Z.” When you do this, you are saying that there is no natural explanation for A, which shouldn’t ever matter if Z is an indirect explanation. So you have 2 choices:
1. Say that there is a supernatural explanation, but it is indirect so there could still be a direct natural explanation . In this case, supernatural and natural explanations are not mutually exclusive)
2. You can say that, because no natural explanation exists currently for an event, then the explanation is supernatural. In this case, the natural and supernatural explanations are mutually exclusive as argued. So, if a natural explanation does become confirmed, then the supernatural explanation has logically failed.

Patrick –
Eric: “Design in species has been explained by evolution.”

Again, as I pointed out to Steven R., this may be irrelevant with respect to the kind of design I refer to here.

See above…

Patrick –
Eric: “Supernatural explanations have consistently failed.”

This is again an example of the “argument from history of science”, which is seriously flawed.

See my analogy about pulling balls from a container. It is actually an exercise in probability.

Patrick –
Moreover this argument may be wrong, no matter whether you refer to religious claims or to scientific claims. The former are unfalsifiable, and of the latter there are hardly any I know of. The example of the specific laws that govern individual bodies, which, as far as I know, was suggested by Isaac Newton, is one of the obviously rare examples.

See the list I gave earlier of all the supernatural explanations that have failed. Also note what I said about continuing to move back explanations. Your kind of argument for the supernatural necessarily means every time the proposed supernatural explanation has been “moved back a level,” that supernatural explanation has failed at least once.

Patrick –
In my view the chances of these testimonies happening naturally are very low. My reasons for such a view can be seen in the following links:

And your explanations are incredibly speculative. You make bold assertions about Paul based on ONLY his own writings (people always tell the truth about themselves right?). You ignore how strongly someone can hold to a false conviction if they don’t know its false, especially if they think their eternal soul rides on it. Remember you have to overcome an incredibly low prior probability for the resurrection narrative being supernatural. You also have to overcome many indications of myth (reported extraordinary events that have no support in history). Of course, this topic is incredibly long and cumbersome. To say the least, it is far from settled.

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Patrick –
In my view the chances of these testimonies happening naturally are very low. My reasons for such a view can be seen in the following links:

By the way, just to reiterate what Matt McCormick said:
“Patrick, if someone is raises serious doubts about the reliability of the source, like I’m doing, it won’t be a sufficient response to quote the source to them like you’re doing. There are too many unknowns, and too many layers of unreliability that the Bible accounts have gone through to get to us for us to simply read I Corinthians and accept those claims as true as you’re doing.”
It is precisely these unknowns which lead me to say that you are waaaaay underestimating the probability of these events happening naturally.

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Steven R. February 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Despite the fact that I gave specific examples.How can you justify this without committing the fallacy of the argument from ignorance? It assumes there are only 2 possibilities: It has either been confirmed as natural or it is supernatural. There is another possibility that it has yet to be confirmed as anything.Except gravity, the origin of phenomena such as lightning, rain, clouds, complexity of life, magentism,chemical and physical reactions, the rising of the sun and the moon, the stability of the universe,hallucinations… need I go on? In fact, in the case of gravity, I gave specific criteria that was used to show the event conformed to a specific natural description and explanation.Let me give you this analogy:
I have a tub of colored balls. There are only two logically possible colors in this instance; red and blue (just to help this analogy fit). But i cannot see inside the tub so I have no idea how many balls of each color are in the tub. I reach into the tub and pull out a ball. Suddenly, a monkey comes and snatches it out of my hand and runs off before I can see the color. So I do it again and WHOA ANOTHER MONKEY! Damn monkeys! I do this a bunch of times but monkeys keep snatching them away. So finally, I decide to go look for the monkeys. After a while I find a few of them. And each one has a blue ball. I don’t find them all but i do find a few. So I go back to the tank and pull out another ball. OMG its blue! I continue to do so many many many many many times. Each time I do this, the ball is blue. Lets say I do this hundreds of times, not just taking them from the top. Sometimes I dig down deep to find one and pull it up. Guess what, either 1. I get a blue ball or 2. A monkey comes and snatches it away before I can see the color.
1. If I were to reach into the tank and pull out a ball, the prior probability I will pick out a blue ball is very very high. I may even be justified in wondering if ANY red balls exist in the first place.
2. The fact that some monkeys have grabbed the balls away from me and now I have to find them doesn’t seem to increase the prior probability that there are red balls in the tank. Once again, I have never seen one so I cannot even be sure they exist. I just know that, logically, if a ball is not blue, it must be red. At least, I can assume red balls are probably incredibly rare. (I can go into more detail about this but I think this will suffice)
3. Would it be rational to say “The number of the balls that were once thought to be red or blue but have been confirmed as blue is totally irrelevant in this respect?”Now, think of these balls as confirmed explanations of an event. Blue balls are natural and red balls are supernatural. Monkeys stealing the balls away are examples of events that have been observed but not confirmed. Therefore, just as in the ball analogy, the prior probability that you will draw a blue ball is exceedingly high, as well as the prior probability the ball you find in the monkey’s paws will be blue, the prior probability that a given explanation will be natural is very high, or a given explanation that has yet to be confirmed will be natural will be high. Hopefully this analogy will help you understand how absurd your statement was.

I don’t quite think your analogy works, Eric, though I think it DOES do a good job of setting up an excellent scenario to illustrate your point. The problem I have with your scenario is that there is indeed no real reason to believe that all the balls are blue.

However, I don’t think that’s a problem. let’s go back to the scenario and keep those “damn monkeys” that steal the balls, but with one major exception, we don’t know ANY of the colors that are in there, so there could be 999 blue balls and 1 pink one, for example. So, now the range of options is huge! Now in this case, it’s two people examining the results of randomly drawing out a ball. The monkey comes and steals it. Person 1 says, “oh well, we have no idea what color it was!” and Person 2 says “No it was red!” Wait a minute…why red? Why not blue, grey, black, lavender or green? We simply don’t know, and thus is is silly to try and derive any one particular color from something we don’t know.

Back to real life. The Theist is obviously the one claiming that it MUST be God because we don’t know what it is. But there’s tons of other supernatural and natural explanations. Maybe Aliens from outer-space created us. Maybe invisible gnomes fine-tuned the universe. Who knows? But simply because we don’t know doesn’t mean we can determine any particular quality or means of doing something to any given explanation. That’s what makes god-of-gaps so fallacious. You can’t just posit A as an explanation when you haven’t ruled out C, D, E, F or further information. Just like you can’t insist the ball taken by the monkey is red. It is, on the other hand, reasonable to say “I withhold judgment until I have more facts” and, due to the nature of supernatural claims, maybe no other facts can be provided. This doesn’t make the position of neutrality unfalsifiable, it just makes the position of supernaturalism, just like the position of the ball being red, unprovable and thus, de facto, justifying neutrality. And then, from this position of neutrality, we can take the position “we have no good reason to believe that any red balls exist because we have never come across them and thus, I have no reason to believe they are a part of the ball any more than pink, blue, etc. balls” which would be the position of most atheists.

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

@ Stephen R

Yeah. The main point I was trying to convey with that analogy is that, if you were to draw a ball, based on the fact that you have only ever drawn blue balls, that the probability you will draw a blue ball is very high. And remember I’m not saying we initially know anything about the number of balls that could exist. I’m just saying the only balls that COULD POSSIBLY EXIST in there are red or blue. We could have 999 blues and one red, half and half, etc…
Now it is possible that there may be tons of red balls in there. You just happened to not draw any. For only a few draws, this may indeed be rational possibility. But after a while, you would expect to draw a red ball at least once. The chance that you somehow blindly avoided all these red balls becomes very very low the more you draw. So a better explanation, the more you draw, is that there are probably very little, if any red balls. So in this case, red balls may exist, just as the supernatural may exist. But the probability a ball drawn of found will be red is very low, just as the probability that an event will be explained via the supernatural will be very low. The thought that there may be no red balls may actually need a more descriptive analogy to justify though. However, like i said, it is besides the point.
Now the reason I chose 2 balls was to distinguish between natural and supernatural explanations. The main point of my analogy was to give a simple model that would help Patrick understand the importance of prior probability. Expanding the analogy to include different colors can be helpful though to prove another point. Of course, If you require the theist to distinguish between every possible supernatural explanation, my Bayesian way of confirming Theism may not work. I have showed this in comments on the post “naturalism of the gaps.” Because theism or any other supernatural theory cannot make the specific predictions that naturalism can, one can easily find two or more competing super-natural explanations that both equally well explain the evidence. But, I’m not as worried about the theist justifying theism over any other supernatural explanation. I’m just concerned with what would convince me.

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Steven R. February 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

@ Stephen RYeah. The main point I was trying to convey with that analogy is that, if you were to draw a ball, based on the fact that you have only ever drawn blue balls, that the probability you will draw a blue ball is very high.And remember I’m not saying we initially know anything about the number of balls that could exist. I’m just saying the only balls that COULD POSSIBLY EXIST in there are red or blue. We could have 999 blues and one red, half and half, etc…
Now it is possible that there may be tons of red balls in there. You just happened to not draw any. For only a few draws, this may indeed be rational possibility. But after a while, you would expect to draw a red ball at least once. The chance that you somehow blindly avoided all these red balls becomes very very low the more you draw. So a better explanation, the more you draw, is that there are probably very little, if any red balls. So in this case, red balls may exist, just as the supernatural may exist. But the probability a ball drawn of found will be red is very low, just as the probability that an event will be explained via the supernatural will be very low. The thought that there may be no red balls may actually need a more descriptive analogy to justify though. However, like i said, it is besides the point.
Now the reason I chose 2 balls was to distinguish between natural and supernatural explanations. The main point of my analogy was to give a simple model that would help Patrick understand the importance of prior probability.Expanding the analogy to include different colors can be helpful though to prove another point. Of course, If you require the theist to distinguish between every possible supernatural explanation, my Bayesian way of confirming Theism may not work. I have showed this in comments on the post “naturalism of the gaps.” Because theism or any other supernatural theory cannot make the specific predictions that naturalism can, one can easily find two or more competing super-natural explanations that both equally well explain the evidence. But, I’m not as worried about the theist justifying theism over any other supernatural explanation. I’m just concerned with what would convince me.  

Well, I’ll just accept your explanation that statistically speaking, the ball would be blue, even if I don’t see how that is. Mostly because I’ve never studied statistics or Bayes or much of anything.

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Peter Hurford February 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Disclaimer: I’m jumping back into the conversation without having read all of the posts between me, responses to me, and this comment.

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@Patrick and “Objective Criteria for Revealation”:

I agree with the Baye’s approach. Any of the classic examples apply: such as God writing “Jesus Saves” into the Moon at a size readable via the unaided eye, God levitating the Empire State Building permanently, God giving an interview with Oprah where he conclusively resolves every disagreement among Christians, the Rapture happens, etc.

Those who think that there is no experience that can conclusively prove God are just not imaginative enough. If any of those three, or all three, were to occur, then I would convert immediately.

But doesn’t it seem really suspicious that God doesn’t ever manifest himself in an obvious manner? As far as I can tell, prayers are only answered as they would be by pure chance. Furthermore, why is there so much revelational inequality? Why is a person born in India so less likely to be a Christian than a person born in America, if everyone has a Holy Spirit testifying within them as Craig says they do?

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@Patrick and “Reasonable Disagreement Among Religions”:

I think there’s about as much evidence for the Golden Plates as there is for the Exodus — as in, none. The problem I see with asserting that “Yeah, other religions may have good evidence too” is that there isn’t really any attempt to resolve this dispute. I’m not really out to prove that the plates are real (although they are multiply attested to by several, very early independent witnesses!), but if your evidence threshold is low enough to accept the plates in addition to the Resurrection, you’re going to end up having to join a lot of religions.

If there was only one religion, or all the religions were not contradictory, I would agree that it is reasonable to believe in them — one would just have a lower threshold for evidence than me (on a gullibility vs. skeptic scale). However, if you adopt a threshold for evidence that doesn’t rule out Mormonism, but don’t become a Mormon, you end up being inconsistent.

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Eric February 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Peter Hurford –
But doesn’t it seem really suspicious that God doesn’t ever manifest himself in an obvious manner? As far as I can tell, prayers are only answered as they would be by pure chance. Furthermore, why is there so much revelational inequality? Why is a person born in India so less likely to be a Christian than a person born in America, if everyone has a Holy Spirit testifying within them as Craig says they do?

I think that is precisely the longest running reason I’ve had for not being a Christian, which would be along the lines of ~15 years. As Matt Dillahunty has said; (paraphrasing) “God Knows exactly what it would take to convince me.” If God wants to save me, which is what you would expect from an all loving God, then he would do just that…. Of course I could go on for a long time but this may be too off topic for this post.

Peter Hurford –
but if your evidence threshold is low enough to accept the plates in addition to the Resurrection, you’re going to end up having to join a lot of religions.

I think Patrick just incorporates it into his religion by calling it some kind of demonic trick of some kind…

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Henry February 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I disagree in your conclusion that both sides should respectfully agree to disagree — I think that it’s obvious that the various theistic interpretations offered have such low probabilities of being correct that they should be dismissed until there is more evidence.

Tony — I agree that once theists start making specific claims about nature that can be tested (or at least evaluated) — “the sun stood still in the sky”, “irreducible complexity” — they have strayed onto science’s turf and should be corrected. However, I was trying to put myself in their shoes with my proposed analogies. If I believed that God was behind all matter and energy, I would probably hear the naturalistic explanations as “blah blah blah” because the person talking would be ignoring the only point about the universe that means anything. That’s why I concluded that you would be forced to agree to disagree — there would be no way to stop talking past each other.

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Patrick February 14, 2011 at 6:42 am

Eric: “Despite the fact that I gave specific examples.”

It is certainly possible to find in the history of mankind examples of people who attributed unexplained natural phenomena to supernatural causes. The question is if this was a common pattern in the intellectual history of Christianity from Antiquity to the Early Modern Age. My example of Thomas Aquinas may indicate that this is not the case. As a matter of fact the concept of a miracle only makes sense if it is possible to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events.

As far as I can see the Biblical miracles can be characterized as examples of design-imposed. An example of this is the Gospel account of the miraculous catch of fish in John 21,1-14. From this you can also see that such a characterization of the Biblical miracles is more appropriate than the one based on Hume’s definition of miracles as violations of laws of nature. Quite obviously no natural law is violated here.

Eric: “How can you justify this without committing the fallacy of the argument from ignorance? It assumes there are only 2 possibilities: It has either been confirmed as natural or it is supernatural. There is another possibility that it has yet to be confirmed as anything.”

I don’t say that if it hasn’t been confirmed as natural it IS supernatural but that it COULD BE supernatural, if design-imposed can be detected. As for the statement that apart from these two explanations there could be a different explanation, this seems impossible to me. Either something is natural or it is supernatural, i.e. beyond nature. I don’t see what else it could be.

If you charge me with committing the fallacy of the argument from ignorance the same charge applies to atheist Jerry Coyne because of the following statement in the paper I mentioned earlier:

“In a common error, Giberson confuses the strategic materialism of science with an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism. He claims that “if the face of Jesus appeared on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath, geologists would still have to explain this curious phenomenon as an improbable byproduct of erosion and tectonics.” Nonsense. There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky.”

As a matter of fact all the hypothetical examples he gives are instances of design-imposed. Here too one could say that simply because we don’t know how all this phenomena came about naturalistically, one is not justified to attribute them to God.

Eric: “Except gravity, the origin of phenomena such as lightning, rain, clouds, complexity of life, magentism, chemical and physical reactions, the rising of the sun and the moon, the stability of the universe, hallucinations… need I go on? In fact, in the case of gravity, I gave specific criteria that was used to show the event conformed to a specific natural description and explanation.”

Your examples here do not correspond to my definition of supernatural events, as the element of design-imposed is lacking.

Eric: “Lets say I win the lottery. I could argue that a divine guide ensured that the specific balls with specific numbers appeared to indicate my number for the purpose of me winning the lottery. Someone could ask why I thought the purpose of those balls turning out to be the way they are was so that I would win the lottery. If I responded “because the chances of me winning the lottery are so low that the divine hand is more probable,” you would rightly think me committing a fallacy. No matter who wins the lottery, this would be the case. No matter what phenomena exists given a certain configuration of constants in the universe, that phenomena will have just as much reason to “think” the purpose of those constants being the way they are was for it. So this shows another problem with a supposed purpose.
So the kind of design Jack Collins speaks of can exist without theism (or being cause by humans). And assigning purpose can be question begging, such as in the case of fine-tuning. So it seems we have the same problem I mentioned in my last comment.”

You are committing here the same fallacy as Prof. Victor Stenger according to the following link:

http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

The fine-tuning of the universe cannot be compared to telling the outcome of a lottery after the event, but, as Martin pointed out earlier, independent of it.

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Patrick February 14, 2011 at 6:56 am

Tony and Steven R.

The analogy of a tub of coloured balls is a very good illustration in this connection. In the following I’m presenting my version of it:

According to my analogy there is not just one tub, but there are two tubs, namely tub A and tub B. The reason for assuming to tubs is that they represent two kinds of natural phenomena, namely those with design-imposed on the one hand and all other natural phenomena on the other hand. Blue balls stand for conclusive naturalistic explanations, red balls for cases when no such explanation could be found.

In tub A, representing all natural phenomena without design-imposed, all balls turn out to be blue. Now we turn to tub B and try to determine the prior probability that the colour of the balls in this tub is also blue. Is there really a high prior probability that the colour of the balls in tub B is blue?

My answer is no! As a matter of fact it may well be that tub A serves the purpose to contain blue balls and tub B red balls. But of course, one cannot rule out that the balls there are also blue. We are simply not in a position to know this and therefore to determine a prior probability.

But let’s assume that tub B has been opened and the first few balls that are taken from it turn out to be red. Wouldn’t this raise the prior probability that all balls in tub B are red? Of course, one might argue that the fact that some balls are red, doesn’t rule out the possibility that nevertheless the vast majority of the balls will turn out to be blue. But in my opinion such a conclusion is by no means more reasonable than the conclusion that all balls in tub B are red.

This analogy can also help to illustrate how fallacious the argument from the history of science is. Let’s assume that those who hold the view that all balls in tub B are red once were also convinced that all balls in tub A are red. Would it be reasonable to argue that since they were wrong with respect to tub A they are certainly also wrong with respect to tub B? In my opinion it wouldn’t.

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Patrick February 14, 2011 at 7:08 am

My latest post is not addressed to Tony but to Eric.

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Eric February 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Patrick –
It is certainly possible to find in the history of mankind examples of people who attributed unexplained natural phenomena to supernatural causes. The question is if this was a common pattern in the intellectual history of Christianity from Antiquity to the Early Modern Age. My example of Thomas Aquinas may indicate that this is not the case. As a matter of fact the concept of a miracle only makes sense if it is possible to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events.

I don’t see how this makes any difference.
1. Christianity is a relatively new religion. It didn’t appear until after many of the great Greek philosophical revolutions, including one that made most everyday phenomena explainable as natural, at its most observable level. To be fair, you would have to include Judaism, which was filled with all sorts of beliefs attributing normal everyday phenomena, such as storms, to supernatural causes. See John Loftus’ book “Why I Became an atheist.” He spends multiple chapters detailing out these superstitions.
2. We are talking about the prior probability of an event being confirmed as supernatural, to which Christian claims are merely a subset of these. Seeing as how no events have been confirmed as Christian supernatural, to my knowledge, the probability is not improved by singling out Christian claims.

Patrick –
As far as I can see the Biblical miracles can be characterized as examples of design-imposed. An example of this is the Gospel account of the miraculous catch of fish in John 21,1-14. From this you can also see that such a characterization of the Biblical miracles is more appropriate than the one based on Hume’s definition of miracles as violations of laws of nature. Quite obviously no natural law is violated here.

Another bible quote you think it a miracle but not supernatural. A few problems:
1. In the passages you gave, there is not mention over whether or not there were a lot of fish in the area anyway, but lets assume there usually were none.
     a. If the fish came there by chance, then this is not a Miracle
     b. If the fish were guided there, in order for them to sense this guide and be affected, something had to affect their brain chemistry in order to guide them to the area where they would be fished.
2. There is very little information to work with in this example.
So as you can see, there is no way to avoid the supernatural here. But you are on the right track over what can be probability confirmation of the supernatural, although I don’t think the term “Design Imposed” is the best description. We are talking about something that is so unbelievably rare and not arbitrary that it could not have happened by chance. If the fish had come there by chance and Jesus just happened to notice them, then it wouldn’t be any reason to assume the supernatural, so its not just about the context. I and other atheists on this thread have given examples (sufficient, not necessary) of the kind of miracle that would need to happen for them to be convinced the supernatural “occurred.”

Patrick –
I don’t say that if it hasn’t been confirmed as natural it IS supernatural but that it COULD BE supernatural, if design-imposed can be detected. As for the statement that apart from these two explanations there could be a different explanation, this seems impossible to me. Either something is natural or it is supernatural, i.e. beyond nature. I don’t see what else it could be.

But we are not talking about possibilities here, we are talking about probabilities. Saying that, if something could be supernatural, then it is confirmed supernatural, is a fallacy. It could also be natural. So is it confirmed as natural as well? This would result in a contradiction. Also, as I have said over and over before, the third option is that it hasn’t been confirmed.

Patrick –
If you charge me with committing the fallacy of the argument from ignorance the same charge applies to atheist Jerry Coyne because of the following statement in the paper I mentioned earlier:

“In a common error, Giberson confuses the strategic materialism of science with an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism. He claims that “if the face of Jesus appeared on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath, geologists would still have to explain this curious phenomenon as an improbable byproduct of erosion and tectonics.” Nonsense. There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky.”

As a matter of fact all the hypothetical examples he gives are instances of design-imposed. Here too one could say that simply because we don’t know how all this phenomena came about naturalistically, one is not justified to attribute them to God.

But these kind of examples are all kinds of examples where we use Bayes’ Theorem to decide it is so improbable that it could have happened given naturalism, that it cancels out the initially low prior probability of super-naturalism. This is not a fallcy. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with design and everything to do with probability. In the case that these probabilities given naturalism are so low (outside the trivial), that it overrides the initially low prior probability of super-naturalism, then you have evidence the event is supernatural beyond just the lack of a natural explanation. You have positive evidence. Now you can qualify confirmation as needing to appear design imposed, but that is different from saying this kind of design is sufficient.

Patrick -
[Patrick:Patrick -
and as far as I can see no such phenomenon has ever conclusively confirmed as natural."]
Eric: “Except gravity, the origin of phenomena such as lightning, rain, clouds, complexity of life, magentism, chemical and physical reactions, the rising of the sun and the moon, the stability of the universe, hallucinations… need I go on? In fact, in the case of gravity, I gave specific criteria that was used to show the event conformed to a specific natural description and explanation.”

Your examples here do not correspond to my definition of supernatural events, as the element of design-imposed is lacking.

The idea of “Design Imposed” is still very vague for the reasons I posted earlier. This may contribute to the reasons I am listing phenomena that you claim doesn’t fit your description. I gave examples of phenomena that could have been once considered design imposed but are actually natural. In fact, William Paley considered that various features of life appeared to be design imposed. Yet we have natural explanations for practically every example he gave.

Patrick –
You are committing here the same fallacy as Prof. Victor Stenger according to the following link:

http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-chances-me-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-1/

The fine-tuning of the universe cannot be compared to telling the outcome of a lottery after the event, but, as Martin pointed out earlier, independent of it.

Actually, if you’ll notice the comments, I pretty much debunked this. Luke misses the point of Victor’s claim. The point of the fine tuning argument, as argued by Luke Barnes, is that chance is not a good explanation for the existence of life because the chances are so low. However, Victor claims that chance cannot be ruled out just because it is low:
Luke – “Choose a different sperm, you get a different person. Choose a different universe, and you almost certainly do not get a different form of intelligent life. You get no intelligent life at all.”
Eric – You may not get intelligent life, but you’ll get some phenomena. Choose a different universe, you get a different phenomena. Your choosing of the parameters for intelligent life is like Victor stinger is choosing the parameters of a certain person. One is just on a different scale. You could say the parameters are a person with a specific dna sequence, blood type, first and last name, religion, favorite hobby, etc… Choose a different sperm and a different egg and you almost certainly do not get the same person. Getting the same person with a different sperm and different egg is not probable just like getting the same phenomenon, known as intelligent life, in a different universe is not probable.”

Notice how I point out that the independence of the parameters make no difference to the point Victor Stenger was making. Luke was basically constructing a straw man. And if you think I am making the same fallacy, ensure you are also not constructing a straw man. Obviously my use of probability as confirmation shows that probability CAN be used for confirmation, but as I have qualified many times, the results must not be trivial.
Now back to my lottery example:
There are independent parameters for every person to win the lottery; their lottery numbers. These people did not know the correct lottery number when they chose them. In fact, the person that won the lottery chose the right numbers without knowing them, just as Darren Brown did! The reason Luke’s analogy fails is because, in his analogies there was only one independently specified target. This is all fine and good if Life was the only possible phenomenon, or one with intrinsic value. However, there a large number of possible phenomena, known and unknown to us currently. That is why I pointed out that shifting those universal constants could result in a different phenomenon, just like changing the numbers drawn in the lottery results in a different winner. So just as the winner of that lottery is not necessarily justified in thinking chance is not satisfactory to explain their winning of the lottery, we are not necessarily justified in thinking chance cannot explain the configuration of the constants of the universe.
So, as you can see, Luke Barnes both constructs a Straw Man of Victor’s argument, and creates analogies that completely miss the point of his argument in the first place. By the way, Luke has still not responded to my comment, pointing this out (although in far fewer words).

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Eric February 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Patrick –
The analogy of a tub of coloured balls is a very good illustration in this connection. In the following I’m presenting my version of it:

According to my analogy there is not just one tub, but there are two tubs, namely tub A and tub B. The reason for assuming to tubs is that they represent two kinds of natural phenomena, namely those with design-imposed on the one hand and all other natural phenomena on the other hand. Blue balls stand for conclusive naturalistic explanations, red balls for cases when no such explanation could be found.

In tub A, representing all natural phenomena without design-imposed, all balls turn out to be blue. Now we turn to tub B and try to determine the prior probability that the colour of the balls in this tub is also blue. Is there really a high prior probability that the colour of the balls in tub B is blue?

My answer is no! As a matter of fact it may well be that tub A serves the purpose to contain blue balls and tub B red balls. But of course, one cannot rule out that the balls there are also blue. We are simply not in a position to know this and therefore to determine a prior probability.

But let’s assume that tub B has been opened and the first few balls that are taken from it turn out to be red. Wouldn’t this raise the prior probability that all balls in tub B are red? Of course, one might argue that the fact that some balls are red, doesn’t rule out the possibility that nevertheless the vast majority of the balls will turn out to be blue. But in my opinion such a conclusion is by no means more reasonable than the conclusion that all balls in tub B are red.

This analogy can also help to illustrate how fallacious the argument from the history of science is. Let’s assume that those who hold the view that all balls in tub B are red once were also convinced that all balls in tub A are red. Would it be reasonable to argue that since they were wrong with respect to tub A they are certainly also wrong with respect to tub B? In my opinion it wouldn’t.

But there is no reason to separate these two tubs for similar reasons given to separating out claims by Christian claims and the rest of the world. Explanations of apparently design imposed phenomena are but a subset of explanations in general. So they would exist in the same tub. Also, your analogy assumes we already know these design explanations are unique enough that they get their own tank. But this is a false dichotomy, as there are many many many many different conditions that different people would give as the kind of event that would confirm the supernatural. For example, someone could say that something that has the theme of black gets its own tank. So we would have to give tanks to every different set of conditions. We would have many many many different tanks. Even if we hadn’t chosen any balls out of your tank yet, we would still have to contend with the fact that the probability that only your tank has red balls is initially very low without some kind of evidence to think so. In your analogy, we had, say, 1:2 chance that all the red balls were in the other tank. Now we have a 1/(# of total tanks) chance a absolute best that all these balls are in that one tank. So we are justified in thinking the chance all the red balls are in that tank is very low.
Also, you are missing a color representing confirmed supernatural events. So the most this analogy could show, if it didn’t suffer from the false dichotomy, is that there may be a high chance an event won’t be confirmed as natural. All this would do is theoretically weaken the justification for naturalism of the gaps, but it would still not help the initially low probability that a given event is supernatural.
A better analogy would be, say choosing to reach for the balls at the bottom in the east corner of the tank where you have rarely drawn (or for charitable argument’s sake, never drawn). And none of these balls have yet been confirmed as red, because, as I pointed out, we have not confirmed any event as supernatural in origin. There is a chance the tub is configured in such a way as all those red balls are in that particular corner, but it is still one of a huge number of possible configurations, depending on the size of the tank. Now you may think you have a reason for thinking those balls are in the corner. You imagine the guy who filled the tank put all those red balls in that corner (God choosing a certain type of event as supernatural). But this is one theory among many (religious plurality). And you have no outside evidence that this particular ball filler chose that corner, so in all reality, the belief in this particular tank filler actually does nothing to actually affect the low probability that all the red balls just happened to be in that corner. So in other words, just to tackle another popular theist argument, just showing that there is a person who filled the tank tells us nothing about the construction of the tank! Maybe the person who filled the tank hates red balls (Deism), for instance. So merely giving a good argument for why this person must exist doesn’t actually do anything to help the low prior probabilities! Sorry, got carried away there… I kinda really like this analogy :)

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Patrick February 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Eric: “You ignore how strongly someone can hold to a false conviction if they don’t know its false, especially if they think their eternal soul rides on it.”

From 1 Corinthians 15,15 you can see that Paul’s concern about his eternal soul may have inclined him to doubt the Resurrection rather than to believe it.

Eric: “Remember you have to overcome an incredibly low prior probability for the resurrection narrative being supernatural.”

With respect to the Resurrection the concept of prior probability doesn’t apply to the narrative but to the event. According to DePoe’s paper mentioned above the prior probability of the Resurrection depends on the probability of there being a god. This means that a theist will suggest a much higher prior probability than the atheist. But here again it is impossible to offer objective criteria which prior probability is more reasonable.

Eric: “By the way, just to reiterate what Matt McCormick said:
“Patrick, if someone is raises serious doubts about the reliability of the source, like I’m doing, it won’t be a sufficient response to quote the source to them like you’re doing. There are too many unknowns, and too many layers of unreliability that the Bible accounts have gone through to get to us for us to simply read I Corinthians and accept those claims as true as you’re doing.”
It is precisely these unknowns which lead me to say that you are waaaaay underestimating the probability of these events happening naturally.”

If Prof. McCormick wants to cast doubt on the reliability of the text of the New Testament, he argues against the scholarly consensus in this field. Apart from this, he can only suggest “unknowns” that in one way or another may have resulted in the unreliability of Paul’s accounts about the Resurrection. But this is mere speculation. As for the reasons he presents why people reporting such events could be mistaken none of them really applies to Paul. Here again, I don’t see why the atheist’s point of view is supposed to be regarded as more reasonable than the theist’s.

Eric: “Of course, this topic is incredibly long and cumbersome.”

I agree with you that this topic is incredibly long and cumbersome, and it’s not the place here to go into all arguments for and against it.

Eric: “To say the least, it is far from settled.”

Just the fact that it is not settled justifies the view that it is not more reasonable to reject the historicity of the Resurrection than to accept it, and this means that also with respect to this topic, atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

Eric: “1. Christianity is a relatively new religion. It didn’t appear until after many of the great Greek philosophical revolutions, including one that made most everyday phenomena explainable as natural, at its most observable level. To be fair, you would have to include Judaism, which was filled with all sorts of beliefs attributing normal everyday phenomena, such as storms, to supernatural causes. See John Loftus’ book “Why I Became an atheist.” He spends multiple chapters detailing out these superstitions.”

I haven’t John Loftus’ book. But it seems to me that here again we have a case of a failure to distinguish between falsified scientific claims and unfalsifiable religious claims. If we read in Matthew 5,45 that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (NIV) this is an unfalsifiable religious claim and not a falsified scientific claim. So even if in the Bible apart from miracles also purely natural phenomena are attributed to God, this nevertheless doesn’t mean that people in Biblical times made no distinction between natural and supernatural events. So while we read that people were amazed in view of Jesus’ miracles, we certainly can assume that they didn’t regard the rising of the sun or the falling of rain as awe-inspiring miracles.

Although I’m not an expert concerning ethnology I simply can’t imagine that there has been any culture without a distinction between the notion of the natural and the notion of the supernatural. There must have been in all cultures an acknowledgment of the fact that there is lawful regularity in nature. The astronomical calendars created by the Maya in Central America are clear evidence of this.

Eric: “2. We are talking about the prior probability of an event being confirmed as supernatural, to which Christian claims are merely a subset of these. Seeing as how no events have been confirmed as Christian supernatural, to my knowledge, the probability is not improved by singling out Christian claims.

[…]

But these kind of examples are all kinds of examples where we use Bayes’ Theorem to decide it is so improbable that it could have happened given naturalism, that it cancels out the initially low prior probability of super-naturalism. This is not a fallcy. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with design and everything to do with probability. In the case that these probabilities given naturalism are so low (outside the trivial), that it overrides the initially low prior probability of super-naturalism, then you have evidence the event is supernatural beyond just the lack of a natural explanation. You have positive evidence. Now you can qualify confirmation as needing to appear design imposed, but that is different from saying this kind of design is sufficient.”

The problem is that the evaluation of probabilities is rather subjective. You however seem to assume that there are objective criteria determining such probabilities. However extraordinary an event may be there is always the possibility to assume a known or yet unknown naturalistic explanation. Prof. McCormick’s dismissal of Paul’s testimony about his experience of the risen Jesus may be a good example. To present another example, taken from Coyne’s paper, if there were faith healers who could restore lost vision, the naturalist could resort to saying that the person may not have been blind after all or that the blindness was psychogenic. That there is no limit to naturalists’ imagination to explain such phenomena seems obvious to me, when I hear that teenagers can overnight acquire the skills of a stage magician and use them to fake paranormal events.

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Patrick February 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Eric

As for the miraculous catch of the fish, the question whether or not this event was really or only seemingly a miracle isn’t relevant here. I used this account as an illustration for the Biblical concept of a miracle.

As I’m not an expert on the fine-tuning of the universe and as this topic has been treated in earlier post, I will not go into it any more.

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Eric February 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Patrick –
From 1 Corinthians 15,15 you can see that Paul’s concern about his eternal soul may have inclined him to doubt the Resurrection rather than to believe it.

But you look at Romans 8: 28-30, you can see that, if Paul suspected that what he experienced was real, then he would believe in Christianity. While there is very little mention of anything close to “eternal death” in the OT, his experience may have given him more reason to take the risk and accept what he experienced as real, especially without the skepticism caused nowledge of hallucinations and such that we have today.
He mentions many times in the NT, the rewards of a belief in Christ as the risen son of God.

Patrick-
With respect to the Resurrection the concept of prior probability doesn’t apply to the narrative but to the event. According to DePoe’s paper mentioned above the prior probability of the Resurrection depends on the probability of there being a god. This means that a theist will suggest a much higher prior probability than the atheist. But here again it is impossible to offer objective criteria which prior probability is more reasonable.

This is why I ended my last post with this comment:
“So in other words, just to tackle another popular theist argument, just showing that there is a person who filled the tank tells us nothing about the construction of the tank! Maybe the person who filled the tank hates red balls (Deism), for instance. So merely giving a good argument for why this person must exist doesn’t actually do anything to help the low prior probabilities! Sorry, got carried away there… I kinda really like this analogy :) “
So merely showing that a creator God exists does not increase the prior probability of the Resurrection. So even with an argument like the Kalam being successful, we have no idea what this God desires. You would have to show that this God would probably Create man, damn them to eternal hell for a test he HAD to know they would fail, then wait 100,000 years to save them using a very unnatural form of forgiveness. Btw, If you want to take the McGrew stance and compare this to the letter analogy, I have to note that, in order to make an accurate analogy, you would need multiple emails all saying contradictory things, and none of them actually say that person’s name.

Patrick –
If Prof. McCormick wants to cast doubt on the reliability of the text of the New Testament, he argues against the scholarly consensus in this field. Apart from this, he can only suggest “unknowns” that in one way or another may have resulted in the unreliability of Paul’s accounts about the Resurrection. But this is mere speculation. As for the reasons he presents why people reporting such events could be mistaken none of them really applies to Paul. Here again, I don’t see why the atheist’s point of view is supposed to be regarded as more reasonable than the theist’s.

Patrick –
If Prof. McCormick wants to cast doubt on the reliability of the text of the New Testament, he argues against the scholarly consensus in this field. Apart from this, he can only suggest “unknowns” that in one way or another may have resulted in the unreliability of Paul’s accounts about the Resurrection. But this is mere speculation. As for the reasons he presents why people reporting such events could be mistaken none of them really applies to Paul. Here again, I don’t see why the atheist’s point of view is supposed to be regarded as more reasonable than the theist’s.

I’m not sure there is a clear scholarly consensus that the texts are accurate sources of information:
1. There are clear, irreconcilable differences and contradictions between different stories in the Bible (when was jesus born?), as well as external conflicts (Quirinius’ world wide census).
2. There are no independent outside sources from disinterested parties concerning any extraordinary event. And you would expect SOME kind of source if there was a big day of walking zombies and such or an empire-wide census.
3. The people who wrote the bible had clear intentions to convert people. There were clear biases.
4. These stories were past down for 30+ years before they were ever written down.
5. None of the gospel writers were eye-witnesses, besides one who claimed to have witnessed a vision of him.
5. Only 8 of the Gospels are undistributed to have been written by who they are attributed to. We don’t know who almost any of these people were or whether or not they were honest, reliable, etc…
6. We don’t even have the original texts, just copied texts we know have been changed. So for such extraordinary events, we need much better evidence and historical reliability.
And. yes it is speculation in some sense, but it is also in regards to human nature. Humans are superstitious and were very much so during the time of the Resurrection. Humans are gullible. People have terrible memories. People will do risky things for bad reasons. If people are sure about something, they will risk their life, even if they are wrong. The point is that these all give possible alternate explanations, and since we are using OR in this probability, the probability of each alternate explanation continues to add together. And since we have so little information about the details outside these unreliable Gospels, its hard to discount these explanations so much that you can seriously give such a high improbability to have happened on naturalism. Like I said though, I could go on for much longer. I’m afraid I may have opened a whole can of worms…

Patrick –
Just the fact that it is not settled justifies the view that it is not more reasonable to reject the historicity of the Resurrection than to accept it, and this means that also with respect to this topic, atheists and theists can reasonably disagree.

I said its not settled that the chances of the bible saying what it does (etc…) is necessarily THAT low given naturalism. In order to accept such a highly improbable claim, you have to show that the probabilities are necessarily that low given naturalism. When I mean it hasn’t been settled, I mean Theists have not created a convincing explanation. It sounds like they are being delusional if they think those probabilities are so low. It reminds me of some saying “my friend would never lie! There’s a 1:10^squillions chance that my friend would lie.” Its just absurd!

Patrick –
I haven’t John Loftus’ book. But it seems to me that here again we have a case of a failure to distinguish between falsified scientific claims and unfalsifiable religious claims.

John Loftus talks about, for example, the storms for the ship in Jonah. Storms are caused by a long process of natural cause and event. They thought God directly caused the storms and that God could just remove the storms instantly if they Tossed Jonah overboard. This is falsifiable since there are natural explanations of storms.

Patrick –
If we read in Matthew 5,45 that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (NIV) this is an unfalsifiable religious claim and not a falsified scientific claim.

I’m not even sure exactly what the claim is here. I’m not even sure it is coherent outside some kind of symbolic meaning.

Patrick –
So even if in the Bible apart from miracles also purely natural phenomena are attributed to God, this nevertheless doesn’t mean that people in Biblical times made no distinction between natural and supernatural events.

But these events historically came about before the Greek’s came up with the idea of natural causes for everyday phenomena. There is very little (not sure if there is any) mention of natural explanations for everyday phenomena. Yet there is a lot of indication that these events were thought to be directly supernaturally caused.

Patrick –
So while we read that people were amazed in view of Jesus’ miracles, we certainly can assume that they didn’t regard the rising of the sun or the falling of rain as awe-inspiring miracles.
</blockquote

Jesus came after the golden age of Greek philosophy (Aristotle, Plato, etc…) so natural explanations for everyday phenomena were already accepted, although superstition was also pretty prevalent as well. For example, Acts 17:16-23 mentions Paul’s visit to the Greeks who were so superstitious they had a statue “To an Unknown God,” among a whole host of other statues. Even the KJV translation of this passage admits these people were superstitious.
For more examples, better explained and all, refer to Chapter 7: The Strange and Superstitious world of the Bible.

Patrick –
Although I’m not an expert concerning ethnology I simply can’t imagine that there has been any culture without a distinction between the notion of the natural and the notion of the supernatural. There must have been in all cultures an acknowledgment of the fact that there is lawful regularity in nature. The astronomical calendars created by the Maya in Central America are clear evidence of this.

This is a problem when investigating history known as “presentism.” Ancient cultures didn’t think the same way as us about regularity in nature. All they could directly assume was that it continued to happen, whether or not it was natural. Also, the astronomical calendars of the Maya are known precisely because they are so unique in the fact that they were surprisingly accurate. But, like I said, regularity in nature doesn’t necessarily equal “natural.” The direct causes could still be gods.

Patrick –
The problem is that the evaluation of probabilities is rather subjective. You however seem to assume that there are objective criteria determining such probabilities. However extraordinary an event may be there is always the possibility to assume a known or yet unknown naturalistic explanation.

There are 0bjective criteria: How often have these events been confirmed in the past by any objective means, such as the example I gave about gravity. Are you defending some kind of subjectivism? I gave you plenty of objective reasons for thinking the prior probability of the resurrection is low. I also now showed that believing in a God/Creator does nothing to help this.

Patrick –
Prof. McCormick’s dismissal of Paul’s testimony about his experience of the risen Jesus may be a good example.

What is subjective about that? If anything, he has presented objective reasons for why we should not assume such a low probability of Paul writing about these experiences given naturalism. As I wrote earlier in this comment, you have rejected them for reasons that ignore or too easily dismiss human nature, the unreliability of the texts, and the lack of information about many relevant parts of the story, and the lack of confirmation of crucial parts of the text from outside sources.

Patrick –
To present another example, taken from Coyne’s paper, if there were faith healers who could restore lost vision, the naturalist could resort to saying that the person may not have been blind after all or that the blindness was psychogenic.

It depends on the amount of information surrounding this event that can be investigated. If its just anecdotal, then yes. Would you believe me if I said I prayed to Vishnu and my sight was restored? Or that I had an intergalactic space ship? What If I documented a lot of it? I can write anything. It doesn’t need to be true. If we could investigate the situation and confirm the person was once blind and can now see, by means of a kind of testing that would eliminate other reasonable variables, etc…, then we have the kind of Bayesian confirmation I talked about earlier.

Patrick –
That there is no limit to naturalists’ imagination to explain such phenomena seems obvious to me, when I hear that teenagers can overnight acquire the skills of a stage magician and use them to fake paranormal events.

I gave you examples of the kind of things that would convince me. I guess I’m not as gullible as you… I’m not sure what exactly you are talking about with the stage magician stuff though…

Patrick –
As for the miraculous catch of the fish, the question whether or not this event was really or only seemingly a miracle isn’t relevant here. I used this account as an illustration for the Biblical concept of a miracle.

And my point was that, depending on what EXACTLY the miracle was, it had to be supernatural.

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Eric February 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Patrick –
As I’m not an expert on the fine-tuning of the universe and as this topic has been treated in earlier post, I will not go into it any more.

I’m not sure what I talked about has anything to do with expertise on fine tuning. Its a simple logical point that chance cannot be ruled out apriori. I took the time to spell it out as clearly as I could. But yes, the topic has been treated and hopefully I have given a fully satisfactory logical explanation of why I don’t consider it evidence of design.

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Patrick February 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

Eric: “The idea of “Design Imposed” is still very vague for the reasons I posted earlier. This may contribute to the reasons I am listing phenomena that you claim doesn’t fit your description. I gave examples of phenomena that could have been once considered design imposed but are actually natural. In fact, William Paley considered that various features of life appeared to be design imposed. Yet we have natural explanations for practically every example he gave.”

The only natural phenomena I know that at least look like cases of design-imposed are the fine-tuning of the universe and the concept of irreducible complexity as defined by the adherents of Intelligent Design. As far as I know for these phenomena no conclusive naturalistic explanations have been found. I can’t imagine what other cases of design-imposed Paley could have presented.

No case of design-imposed is gravity. Therefore the refutation of Isaac Newton’s explanation of its cause is irrelevant here.

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Patrick February 15, 2011 at 9:40 am

Eric

As for my analogy concerning the balls in my opinion it’s just not appropriate to lump all kind of claims together and put the balls, to use the analogy, all in one single tub.

My suggestion is that there would have to be even more than two tubs, as there are several kind of claims, each of which has to be looked at independent of the other ones. There are at least the following kinds of claims:

(1) There are natural phenomena showing lawful regularity.
(2) There are natural phenomena (seemingly) showing design-imposed.
(3) Unfalsifiable religious claims concerning natural phenomena.
(4) Interpretation of historical events as being supernatural.

With respect to the prior probability of the supernatural only (2) and (4) can be taken into account. As for (1) I don’t see that the undisputed fact that there is a huge number of such phenomena is of any relevance with respect to such a prior probability, especially if there is the assumption that miracles are rare events. As for (2), there is only a small number of such phenomena, and because of this their contribution to the prior probability of the supernatural is negligible. So even if the fine-tuning of the universe turns out to have purely naturalistic causes, this will be no real threat to the view that the supernatural exists. Therefore (3) too can be neglected here.

The vast majority of supernatural claims are in category (4) and therefore belong to the realm of History. Being aware what History is about, namely the reconstruction of acts performed by personal agents, and what supernatural events are supposed to be, namely acts performed by supernatural personal agents, it becomes clear why the vast majority of supernatural claims must fall into this category. Now confirmation in History is somewhat different from confirmation in Science, as the element of subjectivity is stronger in the former than in the latter. Even more than in Science in this area two experts can reasonably disagree.

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Eric February 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Patrick –
The only natural phenomena I know that at least look like cases of design-imposed are the fine-tuning of the universe and the concept of irreducible complexity as defined by the adherents of Intelligent Design. As far as I know for these phenomena no conclusive naturalistic explanations have been found. I can’t imagine what other cases of design-imposed Paley could have presented.

Okay I’m confused now about your definition of design. Remember it’s; “the imposition of structure upon some object or collection of objects for some purpose, where the structure and the purpose are not inherent in the properties of the components but make use of these properties.”
I’m not sure how irreducible complexity shows any kind of purpose that doesn’t also apply to lightning or gravity or apparent design in the species, such as the eye. And pointing out the fine-tuning of the universe is the example I gave about how the assumption of purpose can actually be “question-begging.” As I pointed out, you have to believe the universe was created by God to believe the universe was created for us. I have also justified this problem Ad nauseam. Also the claim of irrducible Complexity has been defeated when applied to multiple systems:
As defined by Behe; “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”
So logically, the negation of this statement is that the removal of at least one part will continue to keep the system functioning. One example Behe has given was the Bacterial Flagellum. However;
“About 10 well-conserved protein species make up the core of the type III export apparatus, which is used to export the axial components of bacterial flagella (rod, hook, filament, adaptor, and cap proteins).”Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum. 3.2.1. Type III secretion systems
So in other words, a system functions with at least one component removed. In fact there are multiple components that move. So this logically makes Behe’s statement about the bacterial flagella being irreducibly complex FALSE. (of course the intelligent design movement has tried to find ways around this but all are fallacies) And this is not the only system for which the explanation of irreducible complexity has failed. Others include the eye and the blood clotting cascade, to name a few:
Irreducible Complexity and Michael Behe
Do Biochemical Machines Show Intelligent Design?

In fact, before the discovery of the importance of the mechanism of natural selection, practically every biological system was considered irreducibly complex with regards to evolution.
Also, not that the eye has been used as an example of of purposeful design in nature (William Paley), as well as irreducible complexity.

Patrick –
No case of design-imposed is gravity. Therefore the refutation of Isaac Newton’s explanation of its cause is irrelevant here.

Once again, I’m not sure how irreducible complexity is somehow design imposed but the stabilization of the universe despite gravity is not… I cannot find anything in your definition that would suggest this. In fact, there is purpose in the stabilization of the universe: It is so that the universe doesn’t just collapse upon itself. How is this not purpose, yet irreducible complexity is?

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Eric February 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Patrick –
As for my analogy concerning the balls in my opinion it’s just not appropriate to lump all kind of claims together and put the balls, to use the analogy, all in one single tub.

And I will repeat myself. I am talking about all events/phenomena and you are specifying a subcategory of events/phenomena. In order to show they must “get their own tank,” you have to show that the probability of a given event being supernatural is raised by distinguishing between your kind of events and others. As I have pointed out, since you have no evidence the probability should be raised, then there is no reason to separate the tanks. The lack of any confirmed supernatural event, PERIOD, shows that the prior probability can’t be raised by making this kind of distinction.
In fact, if you were going to arbitrarily separate out the tanks, then you would have to contend with the prior probability of your specific kind of supernatural claim being low merely by default. It is low because it is one of a large set of possible supernatural claims.

Patrick –
My suggestion is that there would have to be even more than two tubs, as there are several kind of claims, each of which has to be looked at independent of the other ones. There are at least the following kinds of claims:

(1) There are natural phenomena showing lawful regularity.
(2) There are natural phenomena (seemingly) showing design-imposed.
(3) Unfalsifiable religious claims concerning natural phenomena.
(4) Interpretation of historical events as being supernatural.

(1) Is correct but, your example of irreducible complexity and fine-tuning may be examples of lawful regularity, depending on how you define it. So some people’s examples of “design imposed” may overlap with this category as well, just like yours.
One of the points I made about tubs is, depending on your definition of “design imposed,” there may be a very large set of different tubs, each filled with a different definition of design imposed in. For example, a storm may not have always been considered lawful regularity in nature, as my example with Jonah and the whale points out, because thunderstorms couldn’t be predicted prior to the modern period. Same thing with lightning. So, if thunderstorms haven’t historically been considered regular and lawful, then they would fall into some kind of “design-imposed” category. So unless you are willing to accept adding phenomena which would fall under anyone’s definition of design imposed, then you have to allow tubs for everyone’s different definition of design imposed. Also, people may have other interpretations of the supernatural, such as the belief that a person is the reincarnated soul of a past person, or that someone can talk to the dead, or that someone can have an out of body experience, that don’t necessarily fall into your definition of design imposed, but yet don’t fall into any other category. As a result, if someone has criteria for considering a claim as supernatural that includes these (as many people do), then each criteria must also have their own buckets.
As for (3), the only kind of claim that would work is the kind of claim that says “God is the indirect cause of something.” But this claim has historically rarely been made, outside of a Leibniz Cosmological argument or modern “Theistic Evolution.” I’m not even counting these kinds of claims because they don’t attempt to make any kind of direct explanation.
As for four (4), I’m not sure there should really be any kind of distinction between current and historical events. Each one supposes that a phenomena was supernatural in explanation. The criteria for determining an event was supernatural differs from person to person, but still applies regardless of whether or not it is presently happening or happened only in the past. However, if it only happened in the past, it is likely going to be significantly harder to confirm either way.

Patrick –
With respect to the prior probability of the supernatural only (2) and (4) can be taken into account. As for (1) I don’t see that the undisputed fact that there is a huge number of such phenomena is of any relevance with respect to such a prior probability, especially if there is the assumption that miracles are rare events. As for (2), there is only a small number of such phenomena, and because of this their contribution to the prior probability of the supernatural is negligible. So even if the fine-tuning of the universe turns out to have purely naturalistic causes, this will be no real threat to the view that the supernatural exists. Therefore (3) too can be neglected here.

As you can see above, the distinction between your categories if fuzzy at best, and ultimately arbitrary. So as a result, you sill haven’t justified the use of only two tubs as your specific parameters for what can be considered supernatural are arbitrary without any kind of evidence to be taken as special. Mostly, I covered the responses to this above.

Patrick –
The vast majority of supernatural claims are in category (4) and therefore belong to the realm of History. Being aware what History is about, namely the reconstruction of acts performed by personal agents, and what supernatural events are supposed to be, namely acts performed by supernatural personal agents, it becomes clear why the vast majority of supernatural claims must fall into this category. Now confirmation in History is somewhat different from confirmation in Science, as the element of subjectivity is stronger in the former than in the latter. Even more than in Science in this area two experts can reasonably disagree.

As I pointed out, the only difference between historical and current events your ability to confirm something as natural or supernatural. However, unless you consider the past special somehow, which flies in the face of the historical method, then there is no reason to distinguish between past and present claims. And since no past claims have been confirmed as supernatural, it shouldn’t increase the probability of an event being supernatural, given that it happened in the past. So as a result, the prior probability of a past event being supernatural is still low. So the burden of proving the event is still to establish that the event happening given naturalism is actually extraordinarily low.

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Patrick February 16, 2011 at 4:29 am

Eric: “But you look at Romans 8: 28-30, you can see that, if Paul suspected that what he experienced was real, then he would believe in Christianity. While there is very little mention of anything close to “eternal death” in the OT, his experience may have given him more reason to take the risk and accept what he experienced as real, especially without the skepticism caused nowledge of hallucinations and such that we have today.”

At least we both agree that Paul was not a fraud but that he was convinced that what he preached was real. That Paul suffered from some kind of mental disorder is mere speculation, and it is certainly as reasonable to assume that he didn’t.

From Isaiah 66,24 and Daniel 12,2 one can see that in the OT there was indeed mention of something close to “eternal death”.

Eric: “He mentions many times in the NT, the rewards of a belief in Christ as the risen son of God.”

But Paul could only be confident of these rewards if he already was a believer in Christ. While not being a believer in Christ it is rather unlikely that the promise of such rewards could attract him to this belief.

Eric: “So merely showing that a creator God exists does not increase the prior probability of the Resurrection. So even with an argument like the Kalam being successful, we have no idea what this God desires.”

I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a correlation between the probability of God’s existence and the prior probability of the Resurrection.

Eric: “I’m not sure there is a clear scholarly consensus that the texts are accurate sources of information:

1. There are clear, irreconcilable differences and contradictions between different stories in the Bible (when was jesus born?), as well as external conflicts (Quirinius’ world wide census).

2. There are no independent outside sources from disinterested parties concerning any extraordinary event. And you would expect SOME kind of source if there was a big day of walking zombies and such or an empire-wide census.

3. The people who wrote the bible had clear intentions to convert people. There were clear biases.

4. These stories were past down for 30+ years before they were ever written down.

5. None of the gospel writers were eye-witnesses, besides one who claimed to have witnessed a vision of him.

5. Only 8 of the Gospels are undistributed to have been written by who they are attributed to. We don’t know who almost any of these people were or whether or not they were honest, reliable, etc…

6. We don’t even have the original texts, just copied texts we know have been changed. So for such extraordinary events, we need much better evidence and historical reliability.

And. yes it is speculation in some sense, but it is also in regards to human nature. Humans are superstitious and were very much so during the time of the Resurrection. Humans are gullible. People have terrible memories. People will do risky things for bad reasons. If people are sure about something, they will risk their life, even if they are wrong. The point is that these all give possible alternate explanations, and since we are using OR in this probability, the probability of each alternate explanation continues to add together. And since we have so little information about the details outside these unreliable Gospels, its hard to discount these explanations so much that you can seriously give such a high improbability to have happened on naturalism. Like I said though, I could go on for much longer. I’m afraid I may have opened a whole can of worms…”

My remark about the reliability of the text of the New Testament referred to the question whether or not we can be confident that what we regard today as the text of the New Testament corresponds more or less to what the original documents looked like, and as I pointed out there is a general consensus among scholars working in this field, no matter what their respective religious or philosophical views are, that this is the case.

I think it would go too far to go into all the issues that you mention here. But I think it isn’t necessary to do so. What you point to here shows at best that theism in general or Christianity in particular could be false. But it is possible to reasonably hold a false belief. This is pointed out in the paper “Atheism and Miracles” (http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/mccormickm/Miracles%20Chapter.pdf), written by Matt McCormick. The following quote from the paper may be very informative in this respect:

“… I want to argue that despite being mistaken, Ptolemy was justified and reasonable in his belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.”

Eric: “When I mean it hasn’t been settled, I mean Theists have not created a convincing explanation.”

There are no objective criteria determining whether or not an explanation is convincing. For a person believing in God’s existence the traditional explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead may indeed be very convincing.

Eric: “John Loftus talks about, for example, the storms for the ship in Jonah. Storms are caused by a long process of natural cause and event. They thought God directly caused the storms and that God could just remove the storms instantly if they Tossed Jonah overboard. This is falsifiable since there are natural explanations of storms.”

The idea that storms are caused by God is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. As for the falsifiable part of the account it belongs to a different category, namely the one containing natural event showing design-imposed.

Eric: “… But, like I said, regularity in nature doesn’t necessarily equal “natural.” The direct causes could still be gods.”

This again is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. The important question here is not how the Maya interpreted the regularity they found in nature, but whether or not they made a distinction between such natural phenomena and phenomena showing design-imposed. Although not being an expert about this culture, assuming that they believed in magic they must have discerned the one from the other.

Eric: “There are 0bjective criteria: How often have these events been confirmed in the past by any objective means, such as the example I gave about gravity. Are you defending some kind of subjectivism? I gave you plenty of objective reasons for thinking the prior probability of the resurrection is low. I also now showed that believing in a God/Creator does nothing to help this.”

It is inappropriate to demand the same kind of confirmation for supernatural claims as for natural phenomena showing lawful regularity. As I pointed out earlier most supernatural claims belong to the realm of History, and therefore it suffices if the standard that is applied to such claims is the same that is applied to claims concerning accounts about historical events in general.

Eric: “What is subjective about that? If anything, he has presented objective reasons for why we should not assume such a low probability of Paul writing about these experiences given naturalism. As I wrote earlier in this comment, you have rejected them for reasons that ignore or too easily dismiss human nature, the unreliability of the texts, and the lack of information about many relevant parts of the story, and the lack of confirmation of crucial parts of the text from outside sources.”

As I pointed out before the texts are in general regarded as reliable. As for the lack of confirmation of crucial parts of the text from outside sources given the little importance Christianity had in the Roman Empire in the 1st century as well as the fact how little of what was written in Antiquity has survived the ages it is unreasonable to demand such confirmation. Finally, as for the “unknowns” Prof. McCormick speaks in reply to me one can of course engage in speculations, but as long as they have not been identified and can be evaluated it is in my opinion reasonable to ignore them.

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Patrick February 16, 2011 at 8:02 am

Eric: “I’m not sure how irreducible complexity shows any kind of purpose that doesn’t also apply to lightning or gravity or apparent design in the species, such as the eye.”

To illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity Michael J. Behe uses the mousetrap as an analogy. A mousetrap is a clear example of design-imposed. I don’t see how lightning, gravity or the eye can be illustrated by means of an analogy showing design-imposed.

Eric: “And pointing out the fine-tuning of the universe is the example I gave about how the assumption of purpose can actually be “question-begging.” As I pointed out, you have to believe the universe was created by God to believe the universe was created for us. I have also justified this problem Ad nauseam.”

I don’t think that purpose is a necessary element of the concept of design-imposed. That a phenomenon must have a purpose is in my opinion rather a conclusion that one can draw if he is faced with a case of design-imposed. Such a conclusion is subjective whereas for the identification of a phenomenon as a case of design-imposed objective criteria can be presented.

That design-imposed is not necessarily connected with purpose can be seen from the following example: Let’s assume that out of sheer boredom a person lines up stones so that they form his initials. What we have before us is a clear case of design-imposed but it doesn’t serve any purpose.

Eric: “Also the claim of irrducible Complexity has been defeated when applied to multiple systems:
As defined by Behe; “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”

So logically, the negation of this statement is that the removal of at least one part will continue to keep the system functioning. One example Behe has given was the Bacterial Flagellum. However;

“About 10 well-conserved protein species make up the core of the type III export apparatus, which is used to export the axial components of bacterial flagella (rod, hook, filament, adaptor, and cap proteins).”Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum. 3.2.1. Type III secretion systems

So in other words, a system functions with at least one component removed. In fact there are multiple components that move. So this logically makes Behe’s statement about the bacterial flagella being irreducibly complex FALSE. (of course the intelligent design movement has tried to find ways around this but all are fallacies) And this is not the only system for which the explanation of irreducible complexity has failed. Others include the eye and the blood clotting cascade, to name a few:
Irreducible Complexity and Michael Behe
Do Biochemical Machines Show Intelligent Design?

In fact, before the discovery of the importance of the mechanism of natural selection, practically every biological system was considered irreducibly complex with regards to evolution.

Also, not that the eye has been used as an example of of purposeful design in nature (William Paley), as well as irreducible complexity.”

I don’t deny that supposed cases of design-imposed can turn out not to be designed at all. Design-imposed is a matter of probabilities and there are borderline cases. Let’s assume that a person claims to be able to predict the correct lottery numbers. If he or she is successful once one might attribute this to pure chance, but if the numbers are predicted successfully time and again chance becomes a less and design-imposed a more probable explanation.

Eric: “Once again, I’m not sure how irreducible complexity is somehow design imposed but the stabilization of the universe despite gravity is not… I cannot find anything in your definition that would suggest this. In fact, there is purpose in the stabilization of the universe: It is so that the universe doesn’t just collapse upon itself. How is this not purpose, yet irreducible complexity is?”

The stabilization of the universe is a new phenomenon that so far hasn’t been treated here. I must admit that I’m not familiar enough with this phenomenon to make any substantial comments. I might suggest that there is another physical force that neutralizes the effect of gravity.

Eric: “And I will repeat myself. I am talking about all events/phenomena and you are specifying a subcategory of events/phenomena. In order to show they must “get their own tank,” you have to show that the probability of a given event being supernatural is raised by distinguishing between your kind of events and others. As I have pointed out, since you have no evidence the probability should be raised, then there is no reason to separate the tanks. The lack of any confirmed supernatural event, PERIOD, shows that the prior probability can’t be raised by making this kind of distinction.
In fact, if you were going to arbitrarily separate out the tanks, then you would have to contend with the prior probability of your specific kind of supernatural claim being low merely by default. It is low because it is one of a large set of possible supernatural claims.”

The probability of the fine-tuning of the universe or of the Resurrection to be supernatural phenomena is indeed raised if you don’t assume that their being supernatural is somehow linked to the probability of phenomena falling into categories (1) and (3) to be confirmed as supernatural. If you lump together scientific claims concerning natural phenomena showing lawful regularity on the one hand and historical claims on the other hand and assume that all these claims can only be regarded as justified if they are scientifically confirmed then historical claims will never be confirmed. But if you treat historical claims separately and apply only the standard of historical confirmation to them many of them will be confirmed. In my opinion several events can be regarded as being confirmed as supernatural if you apply the standard of historical confirmation to them. A good example is the Resurrection.

Eric: “(1) Is correct but, your example of irreducible complexity and fine-tuning may be examples of lawful regularity, depending on how you define it. So some people’s examples of “design imposed” may overlap with this category as well, just like yours.
One of the points I made about tubs is, depending on your definition of “design imposed,” there may be a very large set of different tubs, each filled with a different definition of design imposed in. For example, a storm may not have always been considered lawful regularity in nature, as my example with Jonah and the whale points out, because thunderstorms couldn’t be predicted prior to the modern period. Same thing with lightning. So, if thunderstorms haven’t historically been considered regular and lawful, then they would fall into some kind of “design-imposed” category. So unless you are willing to accept adding phenomena which would fall under anyone’s definition of design imposed, then you have to allow tubs for everyone’s different definition of design imposed.”

As I pointed out above it may well be that a specific phenomenon would have to be taken from one category and put into another one. But this doesn’t mean that the categories are not well defined. In my view thunderstorms can only fall into categories (1) and (3), but not into category (2).

Eric: “Also, people may have other interpretations of the supernatural, such as the belief that a person is the reincarnated soul of a past person, or that someone can talk to the dead, or that someone can have an out of body experience, that don’t necessarily fall into your definition of design imposed, but yet don’t fall into any other category. As a result, if someone has criteria for considering a claim as supernatural that includes these (as many people do), then each criteria must also have their own buckets.”

If a person just claims to be the reincarnated soul of a past person or to be able to talk to the dead or to have had an out-of-body experience without presenting any evidence then these claims fall into category (3). If on the other hand evidence showing design-imposed is presented they fall into category (4).

Eric: “As for (3), the only kind of claim that would work is the kind of claim that says “God is the indirect cause of something.” But this claim has historically rarely been made, outside of a Leibniz Cosmological argument or modern “Theistic Evolution.” I’m not even counting these kinds of claims because they don’t attempt to make any kind of direct explanation.”

I agree with you that these kinds of claims can be neglected. I only mentioned them because they usually appear in connection with the argument from the history of science.

Eric: “As for four (4), I’m not sure there should really be any kind of distinction between current and historical events. Each one supposes that a phenomena was supernatural in explanation. The criteria for determining an event was supernatural differs from person to person, but still applies regardless of whether or not it is presently happening or happened only in the past. However, if it only happened in the past, it is likely going to be significantly harder to confirm either way.

[…]

As I pointed out, the only difference between historical and current events your ability to confirm something as natural or supernatural. However, unless you consider the past special somehow, which flies in the face of the historical method, then there is no reason to distinguish between past and present claims. And since no past claims have been confirmed as supernatural, it shouldn’t increase the probability of an event being supernatural, given that it happened in the past. So as a result, the prior probability of a past event being supernatural is still low. So the burden of proving the event is still to establish that the event happening given naturalism is actually extraordinarily low.”

We do not only have miracle accounts from times that have long passed, but also from more recent times. Such miracle accounts can be found in the biography of Blumhardt I mentioned above.

Eric: “As you can see above, the distinction between your categories if fuzzy at best, and ultimately arbitrary. So as a result, you sill haven’t justified the use of only two tubs as your specific parameters for what can be considered supernatural are arbitrary without any kind of evidence to be taken as special. Mostly, I covered the responses to this above.”

You have failed to show that the distinction between my categories is arbitrary. In my view they are clear-cut and appropriate.

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Eric February 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

Patrick –
At least we both agree that Paul was not a fraud but that he was convinced that what he preached was real. That Paul suffered from some kind of mental disorder is mere speculation, and it is certainly as reasonable to assume that he didn’t.

Pau didn’t necessarily suffer from a mental disorder. Hallucinations are incredibly common. There are some estimates that nearly a third of the population will hallucinate at some point in their life. There is no reason to attribute it to mental disorders. Couple these hallucinations with the fact that Paul lived in a superstitious period long before the age of modern science and it’s not all that unbelievably unlikely he interpreted a hallucination as something supernatural.

Patrick –
From Isaiah 66,24 and Daniel 12,2 one can see that in the OT there was indeed mention of something close to “eternal death”.

I’m not sure Isaiah 66:24 speaks of hell or eternal death. It just sounds like all mankind will find their carcasses appalling. And Daniel sounds like it would also be a stretch. Although it does sound as if there is mainly punishment in the form of some kind of disgrace in the OT, a convincing experience (even if not by today’s standards) would have possibly overwhelmed that fear. In fact, I think it may be quite a stretch to call it that improbable, especially if believing in Jesus as the risen Christ could possibly mean such a greater reward. Christians can’t speak of the inherent risk in not accepting Jesus as one’s lord and savior in one breath and later say early Christians couldn’t have had this kind of attitude, although I’m not necessarily saying you ever do the former. Its just as casual observation.

Patrick-
But Paul could only be confident of these rewards if he already was a believer in Christ. While not being a believer in Christ it is rather unlikely that the promise of such rewards could attract him to this belief.

All that means is he had a convincing experience, which by the standards of the period, was not all that much.

Patrick –
I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a correlation between the probability of God’s existence and the prior probability of the Resurrection.

If there is, its nearly negligible because there could be any number of attributes to this God. For instance, this God could be Deistic. Further, if we had a God that somehow favored humans, the motivation for the resurrection seems like it doesn’t match a God who actually loves his creations. It took 100,000 years for God to perform the resurrection, for instance.
Here’s an analogy that may help:
Lets say you have a buncha people trying to sell you a used car, saying it belonged to some guy named Jerry Jones, who was supposedly really awesome. Each person has a story for why they claim the car belonged to him. Each car is different in many ways. Some are gas guzzlers. Some are hybrids. Some people say he denise global warming so he drives the gas guzzler. Some say he is an environmentalist so he drives the hybrid. Does merely finding out that Jerry Jones exists tell you anything about which car belonged to him? Maybe he likes sports cars. Maybe he likes Sedans. Maybe he hates cars and would rather be chauffeured everywhere. You need much more information before you can actually determine there is any kind of significant higher prior probability that any given car belongs to him.

Patrick –
My remark about the reliability of the text of the New Testament referred to the question whether or not we can be confident that what we regard today as the text of the New Testament corresponds more or less to what the original documents looked like, and as I pointed out there is a general consensus among scholars working in this field, no matter what their respective religious or philosophical views are, that this is the case.

So that tackles number 6, which honestly is the weakest. However, it should still cast some doubt on the overall idea that the probability of these texts existing given naturalism is at least slightly higher than we think.

Patrick –
I think it would go too far to go into all the issues that you mention here. But I think it isn’t necessary to do so. What you point to here shows at best that theism in general or Christianity in particular could be false. But it is possible to reasonably hold a false belief. This is pointed out in the paper “Atheism and Miracles” (http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/mccormickm/Miracles%20Chapter.pdf), written by Matt McCormick. The following quote from the paper may be very informative in this respect:

“… I want to argue that despite being mistaken, Ptolemy was justified and reasonable in his belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.”

I’m not saying the unreliability of these texts alone makes Christians irrational for accepting Christianity, at least directly. The problem is that all of these points lead us doubt that the probability of these texts existing, given naturalism, is somehow low enough to overcome the incredibly low prior probability of an event being supernatural. That’s all I’m saying.

Patrick –
There are no objective criteria determining whether or not an explanation is convincing. For a person believing in God’s existence the traditional explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead may indeed be very convincing.

Paul Almond has given some potential criteria: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9751
Luke has outlined some as well: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854
The problem is that, when you lower your criteria you have to:
1. Accept all sorts of contradictory claims
2. Selectively be more skeptical of some claims than others
3. Accept all sorts of claims and attempt to rationalize them into one claim, which is question begging at best. Which claim should be rationalized? Are the supernatural works of all other religions the results of Daemons from the Christian Religion, or is the resurrection the result of a Daemon from another religion, for instance?

Patick –
The idea that storms are caused by God is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. As for the falsifiable part of the account it belongs to a different category, namely the one containing natural event showing design-imposed.

Not in the way it was presented in the story. If throwing Jonah overboard was supposed to be able to stop a storm, then there is an assumption of instant reaction. However, storms are not stopped or started instantly. Once again, for the hundredth time, I’m not talking about any kind of Leibniz contingency of explanation. Those kind of explanations cannot, in practice, replace natural explanations because there’s no argument for the point when explanations go from natural to supernatural. We are talking about explanations that can be confirmed as natural or supernatural. So these Leibniz contingency explanations can have nothing to do with the prior probability that a given event is supernatural.

Patrick –
Eric: “… But, like I said, regularity in nature doesn’t necessarily equal “natural.” The direct causes could still be gods.”

This again is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. The important question here is not how the Maya interpreted the regularity they found in nature, but whether or not they made a distinction between such natural phenomena and phenomena showing design-imposed. Although not being an expert about this culture, assuming that they believed in magic they must have discerned the one from the other.

How is it unfalsifiable, outside the Leibniz context. If we find a natural explanation for regularity in nature, as we have countless times before, then it has been falsified. And I’m not sure what you mean by “interpreting the regularity in nature.”

Patrick –
It is inappropriate to demand the same kind of confirmation for supernatural claims as for natural phenomena showing lawful regularity. As I pointed out earlier most supernatural claims belong to the realm of History, and therefore it suffices if the standard that is applied to such claims is the same that is applied to claims concerning accounts about historical events in general.

That’s why we have Bayes Theorem. We can also scientifically test certain aspects of historical claims to see if they are possible given naturalism.

Patrick –
As I pointed out before the texts are in general regarded as reliable.


See above:

Patrick –
As for the lack of confirmation of crucial parts of the text from outside sources given the little importance Christianity had in the Roman Empire in the 1st century as well as the fact how little of what was written in Antiquity has survived the ages it is unreasonable to demand such confirmation.


It is hard to believe there is no mention of the curtain ripping in the temple when Jesus Died, or no reports of zombies either, or a worldwide roman census, or king Herod slaughtering the newborn, etc… For some of these events, if they really happened, it is entirely reasonable to suspect.

Patrick –
Finally, as for the “unknowns” Prof. McCormick speaks in reply to me one can of course engage in speculations, but as long as they have not been identified and can be evaluated it is in my opinion reasonable to ignore them.


But they are all possibilities, further creating scenarios where the texts of the NT were wrritten without an actual supernatural event. That’s the point. All of them are reasonable, given human nature and the superstitious period in which the texts were written. So we can’t just ignore them.

I need to goto class so ill reply to everything else later…

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Eric February 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Patrick –
To illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity Michael J. Behe uses the mousetrap as an analogy. A mousetrap is a clear example of design-imposed. I don’t see how lightning, gravity or the eye can be illustrated by means of an analogy showing design-imposed.

What about the mousetrap makes it so clearly design imposed? The possible answers to this question get to the heart of the issue.

Patrick –
I don’t think that purpose is a necessary element of the concept of design-imposed. That a phenomenon must have a purpose is in my opinion rather a conclusion that one can draw if he is faced with a case of design-imposed. Such a conclusion is subjective whereas for the identification of a phenomenon as a case of design-imposed objective criteria can be presented.

The definition of design imposed you provided includes purpose. What are these objective criteria then?

Patrick –
That design-imposed is not necessarily connected with purpose can be seen from the following example: Let’s assume that out of sheer boredom a person lines up stones so that they form his initials. What we have before us is a clear case of design-imposed but it doesn’t serve any purpose.

But there was purpose. He wanted to occupy himself. It was a solution to boredom.

Patrick –
I don’t deny that supposed cases of design-imposed can turn out not to be designed at all. Design-imposed is a matter of probabilities and there are borderline cases. Let’s assume that a person claims to be able to predict the correct lottery numbers. If he or she is successful once one might attribute this to pure chance, but if the numbers are predicted successfully time and again chance becomes a less and design-imposed a more probable explanation.

So if we have cases where you admit that design-imposed phenomena have been confirmed natural, and we have no confirmed cases of supernatural design-imposed, once again, how does the property of design-imposed improve the probability that a given phenomena/event is going to be supernatural beyond its already low prior probability.
And its starting to sound more like design-imposed is just a matter of probability.

Patrick –
The stabilization of the universe is a new phenomenon that so far hasn’t been treated here. I must admit that I’m not familiar enough with this phenomenon to make any substantial comments. I might suggest that there is another physical force that neutralizes the effect of gravity.

The stabilization of the universe has been an issue ever since Newton. I thought this was the Newton-gravity situation you were talking about. I gave you this as an example previously where Laplace figured out that the stabilization of at least the solar system was explainable via natural explanations when newton gave up a hundred years earlier and called it divine.

Patrick –
The probability of the fine-tuning of the universe or of the Resurrection to be supernatural phenomena is indeed raised if you don’t assume that their being supernatural is somehow linked to the probability of phenomena falling into categories (1) and (3) to be confirmed as supernatural.

Urgh. I will spell it out mathematically then:
Everything that falls into categories 1,2, and 4 are events/phenomena. If you are going to think that the probability is different then you have to show that:
E = an event will have a supernatural explanation
H = the event is historical
D = The Event is Design Imposed
L = The event is not lawful regularity in nature
P(E|H) > P(E)
P(E|D) > P(E)
P(E|L) > P(E)
In order to be able to separate these out to different tubs with different probabilities, you have to show all three of the previous statements are True. You do this using Bayes Theorem:
P(E|H) = P(H|E)*P(E)/P(H)
P(H) is very high since the overwhelming majority of events happened in the past.
So why would P(H|E) necessarily be any higher than P(H). Is there any argument? Else, the fact of E is arbitrary and makes P(H|E) = P(H). In that case, they cancel each other out and
P(E|H)=P(E)
So without an argument for why P(x|E) > P(x), x being an element of {H,D,L}, there’s no reason the probability should change. So to keep the analogy from being misleading, there’s no reason to separate out the tanks.
So the probability the event is supernatural doesn’t chance just because the event is Historical.
So you need to answer this question:
Why would it be more likely for supernatural explanations (metaphysically) to exist in the past, appear design imposed, or not be regular? Why would we expect supernatural explanations to fall into these categories. I’ll event Grant you the existence of the God of the Kalam or Leibniz contingency argument.

Patrick –
If you lump together scientific claims concerning natural phenomena showing lawful regularity on the one hand and historical claims on the other hand and assume that all these claims can only be regarded as justified if they are scientifically confirmed then historical claims will never be confirmed.

They can be confirmed if the evidence outweighs any initially low prior probability. If the prior probability is high, then it won’t take much Providence to confirm them in this way. One way we are able to determine high prior probability is by assuming the same scientific laws apply now that applied back then. I gave you the example of the Crash of TWA flight 800 on a prior post. There is no rason to “separate out the tanks” even for normal phenomena. You may not be quite as sure about the historical phenomena, but you can still confirm it reasonably.

Patrick –
But if you treat historical claims separately and apply only the standard of historical confirmation to them many of them will be confirmed. In my opinion several events can be regarded as being confirmed as supernatural if you apply the standard of historical confirmation to them. A good example is the Resurrection.

Bayes theorem is the best standard of historical confirmation. Its strait probability. Other than this, see above. And, I have yet to see a historical event pass this criteria to be considered supernatural.

Patrick –
As I pointed out above it may well be that a specific phenomenon would have to be taken from one category and put into another one. But this doesn’t mean that the categories are not well defined. In my view thunderstorms can only fall into categories (1) and (3), but not into category (2).

Thunderstorms may fall into category 1 now because we understand the mechanisms by which thunderstorms operate. But this was certainly not always the case. See my reference about Jonah. So what would make this not design imposed but the fine-tuning of the universe design imposed? And once again, category 3 doesn’t apply to any part of our discussion. I have explained this ad nauseum. Stop bringing it up unless you plan on challenging the reasons why I am not considering it.

Patrick –
If a person just claims to be the reincarnated soul of a past person or to be able to talk to the dead or to have had an out-of-body experience without presenting any evidence then these claims fall into category (3). If on the other hand evidence showing design-imposed is presented they fall into category (4).

If they have no evidence in the form of any reason to believe it, then the claim is false by the nature of the fact that such a phenomena has never been confirmed, so the prior probability is very low that they are reincarnated, but very high that they are mistaken or have fallen prey to some trick of the mind. People claim to have evidence for these beliefs, but the evidence never passes any kind of well-controlled falsifying test. How do they fall into category 4? And once again, you need to clarify your exact meanings for design-imposed. By this broad definition, we have many more cases of design imposed, including many many failures.

Patrick-
I agree with you that these kinds of claims can be neglected. I only mentioned them because they usually appear in connection with the argument from the history of science.

What connection? I haven’t brought them up as claims that have now been considered natural. Once again, you need to challenge my reasons for dismissing this category.

Patrick –
We do not only have miracle accounts from times that have long passed, but also from more recent times. Such miracle accounts can be found in the biography of Blumhardt I mentioned above.

As far as I can tell from Blumhardt, all I’m seeing are claims with nowhere near the kind of evidence needed to overcome the initially low prior probability. I can find very few resources on him. And I can find no disinterested sources or independent sources.

Patrick –
You have failed to show that the distinction between my categories is arbitrary. In my view they are clear-cut and appropriate. Patrick

Without a clear definition of design-imposed, your separation of categories is fully subjective. By default, any attempt at classification is arbitrary. In order to make it not arbitrary, you have to answer my questions dealing with Bayes. Or else, we are basically diving into a group of claims while completely ignoring the relevant statistics and probabilities regarding the superset of those claims. Such a move is foolish and naive.

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Eric February 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Oh my gawd! I wrote a whole post and posted it but its not there! urgh! Alright, ill try and sum it up again. You’ll forgive me if I’m brief. I’m just pissed I have to retype this.

Patrick –
At least we both agree that Paul was not a fraud but that he was convinced that what he preached was real. That Paul suffered from some kind of mental disorder is mere speculation, and it is certainly as reasonable to assume that he didn’t.

From Isaiah 66,24 and Daniel 12,2 one can see that in the OT there was indeed mention of something close to “eternal death”.

But Paul could only be confident of these rewards if he already was a believer in Christ. While not being a believer in Christ it is rather unlikely that the promise of such rewards could attract him to this belief.

You don’t have to have a mental disorder to have a hallucination
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm
Some estimates say that nearly a third of all people hallucinate at some point in their life. If Paul had a convincing hallucination, especially since he lived in a very superstitious era, then its not so improbable he would be convinced and it would outweigh his prior fears. People everyday, who are not mentally disabled, have convincing hallucinations.
And those passages only speak of bodily humiliation. I’m not sure if that fear is anywhere near the fear of hell.

Patrick –
I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a correlation between the probability of God’s existence and the prior probability of the Resurrection.

Because there are a multitude of possible Gods, most who would not favor some random species but decide to save them after 100,000 years. For instance, if God is Deistic, then the resurrection is impossible.

Patrick –
My remark about the reliability of the text of the New Testament referred to the question whether or not we can be confident that what we regard today as the text of the New Testament corresponds more or less to what the original documents looked like, and as I pointed out there is a general consensus among scholars working in this field, no matter what their respective religious or philosophical views are, that this is the case.

This only corresponds to the 6th problem, which is the weakest. However, it should add to the probability these gospels were written given naturalism.

Patrick –
I think it would go too far to go into all the issues that you mention here. But I think it isn’t necessary to do so. What you point to here shows at best that theism in general or Christianity in particular could be false. But it is possible to reasonably hold a false belief. This is pointed out in the paper “Atheism and Miracles” (http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/mccormickm/Miracles%20Chapter.pdf), written by Matt McCormick. The following quote from the paper may be very informative in this respect:

“… I want to argue that despite being mistaken, Ptolemy was justified and reasonable in his belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.”

All I was saying about this is that these doubts keep the prior probability of the gospels being written given naturalism from being nearly as low as you and other theists have mentioned.

Patrick –
There are no objective criteria determining whether or not an explanation is convincing. For a person believing in God’s existence the traditional explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead may indeed be very convincing.

Yes there are. I’ve outlined some, so has lukeprog, paul almond, Eliezer Yudkowsky. None of these are subjective.
These subjective criteria either make someone:
1. Inconsistent about the criteria from belief to belief
2. Make them too gullible
3. Make them rationalize conflicting accounts into one interpretation without a consistent reason for the specific interpretation. For instance, a Christian can say other supernatural conflicting events were the work of some Daemon. But what justification do they have to say that the Christian favored supernatural explanations are not actually from some other religions Devil. It becomes circular and question-begging.

Patrick –
The idea that storms are caused by God is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. As for the falsifiable part of the account it belongs to a different category, namely the one containing natural event showing design-imposed.

No its not unfalsifiable because they believed events like throwing Jonah overboard would stop a storm. However, storms are the result of long processes that take place over long periods of time. It is clear they assumed direct supernatural causes for these storms. So are storms design imposed?

Patrick –
This again is a perfect example of an unfalsifiable religious belief. The important question here is not how the Maya interpreted the regularity they found in nature, but whether or not they made a distinction between such natural phenomena and phenomena showing design-imposed. Although not being an expert about this culture, assuming that they believed in magic they must have discerned the one from the other.

Actually it is falsifiable. If you find regularity in nature is caused by underlying universal natural law, then the claim that the direct cause is supernatural has been falsified.

Patrick –
It is inappropriate to demand the same kind of confirmation for supernatural claims as for natural phenomena showing lawful regularity. As I pointed out earlier most supernatural claims belong to the realm of History, and therefore it suffices if the standard that is applied to such claims is the same that is applied to claims concerning accounts about historical events in general.

As I pointed out before, Bayes is just fine of an explanation for historical events. In fact its intuitive down to the foundational level. That’s all my analogy applies too…

Patrick –
As I pointed out before the texts are in general regarded as reliable. As for the lack of confirmation of crucial parts of the text from outside sources given the little importance Christianity had in the Roman Empire in the 1st century as well as the fact how little of what was written in Antiquity has survived the ages it is unreasonable to demand such confirmation. Finally, as for the “unknowns” Prof. McCormick speaks in reply to me one can of course engage in speculations, but as long as they have not been identified and can be evaluated it is in my opinion reasonable to ignore them. Patrick

Let me give you an analogy:
Lets say you find a piece of paper that says “John Doe is the master of the universe.” You know nothing about the rest of the details of this paper. It is technically speculation to consider it a joke. It is speculation to think the person who wrote this does not have sufficient reason to think the claim true. You wouldn’t just believe the claim on this paper just because theres no evidence it does not represent truth….
So as you can see, speculation is not that unwarranted if its reasonable. Paul and the other gospel writers were People. People lie, are gullible, hallucinate, exaggerate, have bad memories, have trouble with objectivity, etc… They also lived in a time when superstition was rampant and science was nowhere near the level it is today. They weren’t stupid. They just didn’t have the benefit of the historical lessons we now have, such as the enlightenment, etc… So it is not entirely unreasonable to speculate in these matters, just as you would in the situation with the paper you found on the street.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Eric,

Sometimes Akismet grabs posts it thinks are spam, and I have no control over that. But if a post disappears, let me know and I can grab it from the spam queue without you having to retype the whole thing.

I’ve just freed your earlier post.

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Eric February 17, 2011 at 12:24 am

@ Luke
Ah thanks Man. Definitely Noted!
I may have fun comparing my two different responses to the same thing.

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Patrick February 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Eric

In my opinion there are two basic questions that must be answered here. First, is scientific confirmation different from historical confirmation, and if the answer is yes, second, does the prior probability of theism depend on the former or on the latter?

To answer the first question let’s assume that somewhere the following miracle happened: A famous person, who for quite a while has been known to be incurably ill would in the presence of many witnesses immediately recover after being prayed for. Let’s further assume that the person who had prayed was asked by scientists to repeat this kind of action in a scientific experiment, but he would fail to succeed in it.

The event would not amount to scientific confirmation, as it lacks the necessary requirements for such confirmation. The circumstances of such an event would certainly amount to historical confirmation, and from this one can see that scientific confirmation is not the same as historical confirmation.

Having now a closer look at the idea that with respect to the prior probability of theism only scientific confirmation is of relevance, I’m not going into the question, whether or not there is such confirmation. Instead together with you I assume that no such confirmation has been presented.

Assuming this case the prior probability of theism is indeed very low, and, as long as this lack of scientific confirmation continues, will remain very low. This will also be the case if impressive events like the one mentioned above occur. So, not even the appearance of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus to the residents of New York City, as suggested by Coyne, will alter the low prior probability, and it is also clear that no amount of historical evidence can ever establish the historicity of the Resurrection.

This point of view, which is called scientism, is obviously the one you hold, as you say that “[w]e can also scientifically test certain aspects of historical claims to see if they are possible given naturalism.” As long there is no scientific proof for God’s existence an atheist holding scientism and a theist cannot reasonably disagree.

But obviously not all atheists are adherents of scientism. Coyne obviously would accept such an event as evidence for theism. So, for him historically confirmed phenomena do have an impact on the prior probability of theism. But historical confirmation is a much more subjective matter than scientific confirmation. Therefore if a theist’s counterpart is an atheist of this frame of mind, they both can indeed reasonably disagree.

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Tony Hoffman February 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Patrick, I am not sure that the kind of historical evidence offered by Christianity is capable of changing the prior probability of theism. By that I mean, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the history of Christianity that isn’t more probable in its explanation as a natural phenomena.

The resurrection is better explained as an evolved theology that originated in claims about a spiritual resurrection that spawned a variety of claims, with later versions that talked about a bodily resurrection gaining more adherents, etc. The early success (and lack thereof) of the religion accords with similar success of other evangelical religions. Contradictions, lack of independent verification, etc., all point to common, natural origins.

But this doesn’t mean that no historical evidence could exist that might increase the prior probability of theism. It’s been suggested before that uncovering some (archaeologically-verified) early Christian documents that explained facts about the world that the ancients did not otherwise know (atomic theory, the location of Japan, etc.) could reasonably be said to provide evidence for something like theism.

But the problem is that, as far as I know, no historical evidence like this exists anywhere – and by that I mean clear, non-ambiguous, non-fraudulent, reasonably-verified documentation of knowledge that was not known (and could not reasonably be expected to be known) by the people of that time. All of this, “Things will occur in a place and time that will be surprising to some…” stuff doesn’t make that cut.

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Eric February 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Patrick –
In my opinion there are two basic questions that must be answered here. First, is scientific confirmation different from historical confirmation, and if the answer is yes, second, does the prior probability of theism depend on the former or on the latter?

There are some similarities and some differences. One similarity is basic Bayesian Confirmation, which arguably underlies every kind of scientific confirmation. However, I am not saying scientific confirmation is necessary for confirmation in General. I have consistently said that any kind of non trivial Bayesian Confirmation would be sufficient. However, scientific confirmation would also be sufficient, but unnecessary. As Eliezer Yudkowsky explains in his interview on Conversations from the pale blue dot, “As soon as I saw Bayes’ Theorem, I was like, “Ooh! Here’s the fundamental equation of rationality.”
You may possibly be confused from my comments from “Naturalism of the Gaps.” At that time, I had no idea how you could possibly confirm Supernatural Explanations. However, in learning the Bayesian underpinnings of scientific confirmation, I have realized that it is possible, even if it is not an easy task due to the initially low prior probability of the supernatural.

Patrick –
To answer the first question let’s assume that somewhere the following miracle happened: A famous person, who for quite a while has been known to be incurably ill would in the presence of many witnesses immediately recover after being prayed for. Let’s further assume that the person who had prayed was asked by scientists to repeat this kind of action in a scientific experiment, but he would fail to succeed in it.

It depends on the nature of the witnesses, the manner of the disease, etc… For example, someone spontaneously growing back a limb in front of a whole bunch of independent eyewitnesses yadda yadda… Replication is certainly necessary for scientific confirmation, but scientific confirmation is not necessary. However, it does happen to be the strongest form of confirmation.

Patrick –
The event would not amount to scientific confirmation, as it lacks the necessary requirements for such confirmation. The circumstances of such an event would certainly amount to historical confirmation, and from this one can see that scientific confirmation is not the same as historical confirmation.

Of course I didn’t ask you for scientific confirmation. Just a general non-trivial Bayesian Confirmation.

Patrick –
Assuming this case the prior probability of theism is indeed very low, and, as long as this lack of scientific confirmation continues, will remain very low. This will also be the case if impressive events like the one mentioned above occur. So, not even the appearance of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus to the residents of New York City, as suggested by Coyne, will alter the low prior probability, and it is also clear that no amount of historical evidence can ever establish the historicity of the Resurrection.

Actually, a 900 foot tall jesus would get me paying in no time! Such a thing is so unbelievably low given naturalism, and so much lower than the general prior probability of the event happening, that the probability of naturalism, given that fact, would be much much much much much lower than it is. So this would undermine naturalism. As a result, it would make the probability of not-naturalsim, or supernaturalism, very high indeed. The examples Tony pointed out would also suffice. Why is this such an impossible test. Aren’t you talking about an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God that wants to save us all? Providing evidence of this caliber would certainly not violate free will. People would have an honest shot at seriously deciding over whether or not they want to give themselves to Jesus.

Patrick –
This point of view, which is called scientism, is obviously the one you hold, as you say that “[w]e can also scientifically test certain aspects of historical claims to see if they are possible given naturalism.” As long there is no scientific proof for God’s existence an atheist holding scientism and a theist cannot reasonably disagree.

I said we CAN test certain aspects of historical claims. It doesn’t mean that historical claims need be tested. It just shows that science can inform our picture of history and help establish prior probabilities. I do not think scientific confirmation is the only kind there is, although it is certainly the strongest and people who propose explanations should certainly strive to find explanations that fit its standards. So I’m not sure why you think I hold the views of scientism. I have in the past, but I have repeated over and over before in previous comments that Bayesian methods of confirmation are sufficient.

Patrick –
But obviously not all atheists are adherents of scientism. Coyne obviously would accept such an event as evidence for theism. So, for him historically confirmed phenomena do have an impact on the prior probability of theism. But historical confirmation is a much more subjective matter than scientific confirmation. Therefore if a theist’s counterpart is an atheist of this frame of mind, they both can indeed reasonably disagree.

Now I’m confused. i said I would accept events similar to his many times throughout comments on this post. So how am I an adherent of scientism but Coyne is not? I’m still not sure how historical confirmation is more subjective than scientific confirmation. We all basically have access to the same historical facts, as well as present facts. All these things are objective. Other than having inconsistent and gullible standards of confirmation, how is historical confirmation subjective?

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 1:37 am

Eric: “The problem is that, when you lower your criteria you have to:
1. Accept all sorts of contradictory claims
2. Selectively be more skeptical of some claims than others
3. Accept all sorts of claims and attempt to rationalize them into one claim, which is question begging at best. Which claim should be rationalized? Are the supernatural works of all other religions the results of Daemons from the Christian Religion, or is the resurrection the result of a Daemon from another religion, for instance?”

In my view this charge is in two ways unfounded. First, I seriously doubt that there is in every religion the same kind and the same amount of miraculous claims as in Christianity. As an examination of this statement, let’s look at the two religions with the largest numbers of adherents after Christianity, namely Islam and Buddhism. For all I know according to the Quran Muhammad didn’t work miracles; miracle claims concerning Muhammad came up only much later in the Islamic tradition. Buddha too, for all I know, is not said to have worked miracles.

But let’s, second, assume that one would indeed find in all religions the same kind and same amount of miraculous claims. Even then there would still be other means to evaluate the truth of the respective religious claims. It could be done in the following way: First one has to identify all the basic concepts underlying the respective religious claims. As far as I see the following ones can be identified: pantheism, polytheism, dualism, Unitarian monotheism, and Trinitarian monotheism; every religion can be assigned to one of these concepts. Then one can examine every concept philosophically. For pantheism and polytheism the Kalam Cosmological Argument might be useful. An examination of polytheism can also be found in Francis Schaeffer’s book “He is There and He is Not Silent”. As for dualism, it is philosophically examined in C. S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”. Finally, several Christian philosophers have presented arguments in favour of the concept of Trinity.

Apart from this for a Christian there is yet another means to evaluate a miracle worker. In Matthew 7,16 Jesus says: “By their fruit you will recognise them.” (NIV) So if a person works awesome miracles, but leads an ungodly life, a Christian is supposed to disregard them.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 1:47 am

Eric: “If we find a natural explanation for regularity in nature, as we have countless times before, then it has been falsified.

[…]

Actually it is falsifiable. If you find regularity in nature is caused by underlying universal natural law, then the claim that the direct cause is supernatural has been falsified.”

Natural and supernatural explanations need not be mutually exclusive. This can be seen from the fact that a specific event can at the same time be regarded as the result of a mindless natural force and that of the action of a personal agent, whether natural or supernatural. If someone shoots someone else dead, the victim’s death can be put down to a mindless natural force, namely the kinetic energy of the bullet, but also to the act of a personal agent, namely murder. In the same way you can say that lightning is caused by mindless natural forces and by the gods. But unlike in the previous example here the claim concerning the action of a personal agent is not falsifiable. Therefore, even if you may reasonably regard the supernatural explanation as being false, it is inappropriate to say that in this case a natural explanation has replaced a supernatural one. One would confuse two categories of explanations.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 2:33 am

A good Biblical illustration of the fact that natural and supernatural explanations needn’t be mutually exclusive is the Plague of the Locusts as described in Exodus 10,1-20. On the one hand it is quite clear that God was the cause of this plague. Yet in Exodus 10,13 we read that it was a wind that brought the locusts to Egypt. Even in the Bible a wind is a mindless natural force and not a supernatural personal agent.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 7:19 am

Eric: “No its not unfalsifiable because they believed events like throwing Jonah overboard would stop a storm. However, storms are the result of long processes that take place over long periods of time. It is clear they assumed direct supernatural causes for these storms. So are storms design imposed?”

First, nowhere do we read that the sailors believed that throwing Jonah overboard would stop the storm; it was Jonah himself who proposed this. Even in view of the fact that storms are the results of long processes, from a theistic point of view it is not unreasonable to assume that God, foreseeing Jonah’s reaction, could have arranged the natural forces in a way that the desired end would come about just at the right time.

Eric: “If throwing Jonah overboard was supposed to be able to stop a storm, then there is an assumption of instant reaction. However, storms are not stopped or started instantly.”

In the Book of Jonah we don’t read that the storm stopped instantly, although one might think that this is how one has to imagine the situation. However, although not being an expert in Meteorology, I’m not sure if storms can’t start or stop instantly or at least within a short time. Where I live, in the Alps region in Europe, there is a strong wind, called the Föhn, and it can indeed happen that this wind starts and abates just within a few minutes. Obviously downsloap winds and kabatic winds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katabatic_wind), to which the Föhn belongs, can have this feature. A Biblical example of such a wind, starting very quickly, could be the “north-easter”, mentioned in Acts 27,14, which is said to have swept down “before very long” from the island of Crete.

Apart from this, from a theistic point of view it is again not be unreasonable to expect God to accomplish things that actually can’t possibly happen in nature.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

About the Bora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bora_(wind)), a katabatic wind in the Adriatic, we can read that it “can start suddenly on a clear and calm day”, about the Mistral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistral_(wind)), another katabatic wind in the Mediterranean area, that it “often causes sudden storms in the Mediterranean between Corsica and the Balearic Islands.” My remark that the Föhn starts and abates within minutes is to be understood in such a manner that in its course squalls can be followed by calmer periods.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Eric: “What about the mousetrap makes it so clearly design imposed?”

A mousetrap consists of parts originally unrelated to each other but then put together to serve a purpose.

Eric: “The definition of design imposed you provided includes purpose. What are these objective criteria then?”

More or less objective criteria for design-imposed are the existence of (seemingly) unrelated entities and a pattern which ties these entities together to form a whole, while the pattern cannot be accounted for by the respective properties of the entities and therefore requires an personal agent creating the pattern.

Eric: “So if we have cases where you admit that design-imposed phenomena have been confirmed natural, and we have no confirmed cases of supernatural design-imposed, once again, how does the property of design-imposed improve the probability that a given phenomena/event is going to be supernatural beyond its already low prior probability.”

In my view the question whether or not the supernatural has a low probability is not settled. Therefore, in order to regard a claim that a phenomenon is showing design-imposed beyond what can be accomplished by men as being reasonable, the claim doesn’t have to be confirmed conclusively, it just must not be refuted.

Eric: “And its starting to sound more like design-imposed is just a matter of probability.”

I don’t deny this. As I pointed out before, there are clear cases of design, there are dubious cases, and there are borderline cases.

Eric: “The stabilization of the universe has been an issue ever since Newton. I thought this was the Newton-gravity situation you were talking about. I gave you this as an example previously where Laplace figured out that the stabilization of at least the solar system was explainable via natural explanations when newton gave up a hundred years earlier and called it divine.”

I must admit that I find it difficult to understand this phenomenon. But it seems to me that this cannot be a case of design-imposed, as the solar system certainly does not show it.

Eric: “If they have no evidence in the form of any reason to believe it, then the claim is false by the nature of the fact that such a phenomena has never been confirmed, so the prior probability is very low that they are reincarnated, but very high that they are mistaken or have fallen prey to some trick of the mind. People claim to have evidence for these beliefs, but the evidence never passes any kind of well-controlled falsifying test. How do they fall into category 4? And once again, you need to clarify your exact meanings for design-imposed. By this broad definition, we have many more cases of design imposed, including many many failures.”

An out-of-body falls into category 3 if the respective person just tells you that he had such an experience but cannot provide evidence that may enable you to verify it. If the person on the other hand is able to give accounts about verifiable events that happened in a different place during the time when he had this experience and which he can’t possibly know, it falls into category 4.

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Patrick February 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Tony and Eric

The prior probability of an event may not even that important. In John M. DePoe’s paper mentioned above it is shown that according to Bayes’ theorem with the number of independent witnesses the probability of an event grows exponentially. This is very well expressed in the following quote:

“The effects of multiple, independent testimony on the posterior probability of an event are striking. No matter how much more probable it is that an event does not occur than that it does, given a sufficient number of moderately reliable independent witnesses testifying that the event occurred, the posterior probability of the event will go up exponentially as n increases and will, in the limit, become arbitrarily close to certainty.”

So, if a sufficient number of trustworthy witnesses testify to miraculous or paranormal events and if no plausible naturalistic explanation for them can be found, such a situation amounts in my view virtually to a confirmation of the supernatural, however low the prior probability of the event might be regarded in the first place.

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Tony Hoffman February 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

So, if a sufficient number of trustworthy witnesses testify to miraculous or paranormal events and if no plausible naturalistic explanation for them can be found, such a situation amounts in my view virtually to a confirmation of the supernatural, however low the prior probability of the event might be regarded in the first place.

Why does this seem so much like a belief desperate for a method that could make it appear respectable? don’t you get tired of seeming so desperate?

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 12:51 am

Patrick –
In my view this charge is in two ways unfounded. First, I seriously doubt that there is in every religion the same kind and the same amount of miraculous claims as in Christianity.

Do you seriously believe this? There are tons of miracle claims from all sorts of religions.http://www.miraclesofislam.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_view_of_miracles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_milk_miracle
Not to mention a whole slew of religions that have existed in the past and have recorded numerous miracles. Also, you have to remember that Christianity didn’t exist until 2000 years ago. Juaism has existed for ~3000 years. So you have to admit that there were miracle claims being made before what you think is the most likely candidate for being the true religion even came into existence. So in this case, you have to accept the real possibility the true religion has yet to be discovered. Besides, I’m not sure this really matters. As long as miracles are claimed to exist in other religions, you are forced into one of those rationalizations mentioned earlier.

Patrick –
As an examination of this statement, let’s look at the two religions with the largest numbers of adherents after Christianity, namely Islam and Buddhism. For all I know according to the Quran Muhammad didn’t work miracles; miracle claims concerning Muhammad came up only much later in the Islamic tradition. Buddha too, for all I know, is not said to have worked miracles

Why does it matte whether or not Muhammad performed miracles. As shown from the site above, Muslims believe in Theistic Miracles. So do Hindus, etc… And once again, as long as other miracles are claimed or could be claimed to exist, you are still forced into the situation I defined earlier. Red Herring.

Patrick –
But let’s, second, assume that one would indeed find in all religions the same kind and same amount of miraculous claims. Even then there would still be other means to evaluate the truth of the respective religious claims. It could be done in the following way: First one has to identify all the basic concepts underlying the respective religious claims. As far as I see the following ones can be identified: pantheism, polytheism, dualism, Unitarian monotheism, and Trinitarian monotheism; every religion can be assigned to one of these concepts. Then one can examine every concept philosophically. For pantheism and polytheism the Kalam Cosmological Argument might be useful. An examination of polytheism can also be found in Francis Schaeffer’s book “He is There and He is Not Silent”. As for dualism, it is philosophically examined in C. S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”. Finally, several Christian philosophers have presented arguments in favour of the concept of Trinity.

Excuse me if I don’t instantly buy these arguments without even knowing them. I have heard plenty of arguments from CS Lewis and none has been both logically and factually sound. Would you please provide some kind of argument. Also, the interesting thing is, it sounds like these arguments would likely fall into the category of pure rationalizations. In fact, many sides could be equally rationalized. I will have to see some of these arguments though to be sure. Also, you seem to forget that Christianity is not the only possible Trinitarian Monotheistic religion. So even if those arguments succeeded, you would also need an argument to show why it is probable that we would only know this truth in the past 2000 years and not before. I sometimes think Christians forget just how specific their claims are and why they need specific arguments. As far as I’ve seen, only the Kalam has possibly given me any reason to think theists could possibly be rational in holding a generic God belief. But that is it. Getting from there to theism is one gigantic step. The design arguments all suffer from the fallacy of ignoring the phenomena of bottom-up-design, which requires no designer. And all arguments for the resurrection have so far seemed to not overcome the incredibly low prior probability of an event being supernatural.

Patrick –
Apart from this for a Christian there is yet another means to evaluate a miracle worker. In Matthew 7,16 Jesus says: “By their fruit you will recognise them.” (NIV) So if a person works awesome miracles, but leads an ungodly life, a Christian is supposed to disregard them.

But what is an ungodly life? How do you judge a person’s life to be ungodly without knowing first what constitutes godly? How do you avoide circularity? In fact, according to the many Jews, your last statement would be considered ungodly because you didn’t capitalize your G (just a fun fact).

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 1:06 am

Patrick –
Natural and supernatural explanations need not be mutually exclusive. This can be seen from the fact that a specific event can at the same time be regarded as the result of a mindless natural force and that of the action of a personal agent, whether natural or supernatural.

How is this possible without appealing to some kind of indirect supernatural contingency?

Patrick –
If someone shoots someone else dead, the victim’s death can be put down to a mindless natural force, namely the kinetic energy of the bullet, but also to the act of a personal agent, namely murder. In the same way you can say that lightning is caused by mindless natural forces and by the gods. But unlike in the previous example here the claim concerning the action of a personal agent is not falsifiable. Therefore, even if you may reasonably regard the supernatural explanation as being false, it is inappropriate to say that in this case a natural explanation has replaced a supernatural one. One would confuse two categories of explanations.

For the love of God! I have explained this so many times my head hurts. Uoi refuse to rebut my arguments but still keep making the same arguments I have rebutted over and over before. I am not talking about indirect causation. This is not the nature of the claims made so many times in the past. In fact, at this point, the only way such a claim would still be true is if you considered god to be the brute fact at the edge of of an unknown and unknowably long contingency. This was not what the ancients were thinking and this is not what I’ve been talking about. Edge-of-contingency arguments make no specific claims about any specific phenomena. Because doing so would imply that those phenomena are fundamentally not connected. As we have learned from physics, this is simply not the case. Lets take your analogy, assuming the person is symbolic for God. Lets say a person claims that a specific person fired the bullet. There is a specific point at which this person intervenes and there would be a specific point at which someone would have to make the claim that a certain event, the movement of the trigger, was caused by the person. However, if we were to find out that a rock hit the trigger with enough force to pull the trigger, the claim that the person pulled the trigger would be reasonably falsified. If the person originally making the claim could say that the shooter actually threw the rock at the trigger, therefore indirectly causing the gun to fire. However, this is a fundamentally different claim from the one made before. So yes, the actions of a personal agent are by all means falsifiable, given a specific claim. How does this not apply to the God and miracles examples?

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 1:08 am

Patrick –
A good Biblical illustration of the fact that natural and supernatural explanations needn’t be mutually exclusive is the Plague of the Locusts as described in Exodus 10,1-20. On the one hand it is quite clear that God was the cause of this plague. Yet in Exodus 10,13 we read that it was a wind that brought the locusts to Egypt. Even in the Bible a wind is a mindless natural force and not a supernatural personal agent.

Patrick, seriously, how many of these do I need to show you are misinterpreting in regards to this discussion? Just use your last analogy of the person firing the gun, as well as my commentary, and apply it to this example.

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 1:26 am

Patrick –
First, nowhere do we read that the sailors believed that throwing Jonah overboard would stop the storm; it was Jonah himself who proposed this. Even in view of the fact that storms are the results of long processes, from a theistic point of view it is not unreasonable to assume that God, foreseeing Jonah’s reaction, could have arranged the natural forces in a way that the desired end would come about just at the right time.

But the sailors obviously believed him if they threw him overboard. However, it is besides the point because they initially thought that Jonah praying to their God would stop the storm. (Jonah 1:5-16). Also, there is no hint in the bible that their theology was as complex as you explain. If we are going into your kind of theology though, predicting the actions of free-willed agents, while also being infallible, results in a contradiction. Seeing as how these people almost certainly believed in free will (Adam’s choice in the garden for example), I doubt they had any reason to think God would predict this kind of situation. You are applying your more sophisticated theology to ancient claims in order to make it appear they were making claims they weren’t actually making.

Patrick –
In the Book of Jonah we don’t read that the storm stopped instantly, although one might think that this is how one has to imagine the situation. However, although not being an expert in Meteorology, I’m not sure if storms can’t start or stop instantly or at least within a short time. Where I live, in the Alps region in Europe, there is a strong wind, called the Föhn, and it can indeed happen that this wind starts and abates just within a few minutes. Obviously downsloap winds and kabatic winds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katabatic_wind), to which the Föhn belongs, can have this feature. A Biblical example of such a wind, starting very quickly, could be the “north-easter”, mentioned in Acts 27,14, which is said to have swept down “before very long” from the island of Crete.

About the Bora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bora_(wind)), a katabatic wind in the Adriatic, we can read that it “can start suddenly on a clear and calm day”, about the Mistral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistral_(wind)), another katabatic wind in the Mediterranean area, that it “often causes sudden storms in the Mediterranean between Corsica and the Balearic Islands.” My remark that the Föhn starts and abates within minutes is to be understood in such a manner that in its course squalls can be followed by calmer periods.

You seem to be missing the point here. Due to the scientific principle of causation (a principle the Kalam depends on), these winds aren’t truly stochastic, but deterministic. So even if they appear to start and stop instantly doesn’t mean that the underlying causes of these come from any time close to the point when they start and stop. In fact, the only kind of unfalsifiable claim here would once again be the Leibniz Contingency claim, which would put causation back to the big bang and on…

Patrick –
Apart from this, from a theistic point of view it is again not be unreasonable to expect God to accomplish things that actually can’t possibly happen in nature.

This is the nature of the kind of claim we are looking for. However, you would have to abandon the indirect causation argument, and would thus make it falsifiable in principle. If God causes a miracle, in the theistic sense, this miracle must at some point violate or bypass the laws of nature. Because of the problem with a future knowing god with free willed agents, the ultimate cause cannot ultimately predate the event by very long. But either way, there is a point where God intersects with natural law and this is the point at which the claim can be falsified. If we find an explanation that goes back to lawful regularity in nature, then this kind of claim has been falsified.

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 1:59 am

Patrick –
A mousetrap consists of parts originally unrelated to each other but then put together to serve a purpose.

Notice how you used the words “put together.” This assumes you know it was put together by a person. We don’t have that kind of knowledge with any kind of design we see in nature. There are issues with what defines “unrelated” in a way that we can apply it to nature as well.

Patrick –
More or less objective criteria for design-imposed are the existence of (seemingly) unrelated entities and a pattern which ties these entities together to form a whole, while the pattern cannot be accounted for by the respective properties of the entities and therefore requires an personal agent creating the pattern.

You miss the existence of external natural forces that could account for the pattern, such as natural selection. In fact these external forces can bring about “bottom up design,” which requires no designer. If you mean something more specific than this, please elaborate. I don’t have the time to critique every possible interpretation of your argument.

Patrick –
n my view the question whether or not the supernatural has a low probability is not settled. Therefore, in order to regard a claim that a phenomenon is showing design-imposed beyond what can be accomplished by men as being reasonable, the claim doesn’t have to be confirmed conclusively, it just must not be refuted.

I have justified it extensively throughout these comments. If you still cannot accept the failure of supernatural explanations for natural regular events accounting for the low probability, which you haven’t sufficiently justified, you are still left with the fact that miracles are by definition, extremely rare events. And the lack of confirmation of one single event as supernatural still makes the prior probability very low.

Patrick
Eric: “And its starting to sound more like design-imposed is just a matter of probability.”

I don’t deny this. As I pointed out before, there are clear cases of design, there are dubious cases, and there are borderline cases.

Well if its just a matter of probability, then what is wrong with my Bayesian criteria?

Patrick –
I must admit that I find it difficult to understand this phenomenon. But it seems to me that this cannot be a case of design-imposed, as the solar system certainly does not show it.

1. All the celestial bodies in the solar system semd to be unrelated.
2. It seemed like the patterns in the universe, particularly their ability to keep from collapsing into each-other, was not an inherit property of those bodies. In fact their properties seemed to suggest that they would all collapse into each other. Remember Gravity is an attractive force.
So this phenomena sounds like it would have perfectly fit your definition of design imposed, based on Newton’s knowledge.

Patrick –
An out-of-body falls into category 3 if the respective person just tells you that he had such an experience but cannot provide evidence that may enable you to verify it.

This may count as an unfalsifiable religious belief, depending on the circumstances.
However, the probability still heavily favors a natural explanation since apparent out-of-body experiences can be caused naturally:
http://www.skepdic.com/obe.html
http://www.lycaeum.org/leda/docs/9260.shtml?ID=9260

Patrick –
If the person on the other hand is able to give accounts about verifiable events that happened in a different place during the time when he had this experience and which he can’t possibly know, it falls into category 4.

Keyword “possibly.” But I’m not sure this is exactly 4 because the event itself is not historical. You have a current event that can be currently tested. The historical facts are not the ones in question.

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 2:20 am

Patrick –
The prior probability of an event may not even that important. In John M. DePoe’s paper mentioned above it is shown that according to Bayes’ theorem with the number of independent witnesses the probability of an event grows exponentially. This is very well expressed in the following quote:

“The effects of multiple, independent testimony on the posterior probability of an event are striking. No matter how much more probable it is that an event does not occur than that it does, given a sufficient number of moderately reliable independent witnesses testifying that the event occurred, the posterior probability of the event will go up exponentially as n increases and will, in the limit, become arbitrarily close to certainty.”

all this papaer is saying is that it is possible to overcome low prior probability. However, just how low the prior probability is directly mathematically relates to just how many independent witnesses you need. So it does matter how low the prior probability is. Remember I have been arguing this all along. However, in order for the formula given in DePoe’s paper to work, you need:
1. To ensure witnesses are TRULY independent and the chances of them happening given no resurrection (P(T|~R)) is actually all that low for each one. If you have maybe a few books mentioning a bunch of witnesses and that’s it, then you can’t necessarily consider those witnesses as independent. If those books contain contradictions and some of the other problems mentioned above about the bible, for instance, then this raises P(T|~R) significantly for various reasons, meaning P(T|~R)/P(T|R) may be very large, requireing even more independent eyewitnesses. The paper also assumes every independent eyewitness has equal P(T|~R)/P(T|R).
2. You have to avoid certain epistemological axioms. In other words, successful miracles from other religions must be used as evidence against yours. I explained this at length in our previous discussion on “Naturalism of the Gaps”

Patrick –
So, if a sufficient number of trustworthy witnesses testify to miraculous or paranormal events and if no plausible naturalistic explanation for them can be found, such a situation amounts in my view virtually to a confirmation of the supernatural, however low the prior probability of the event might be regarded in the first place.

Basically, yes. This is basically what I’ve been saying countless times over. But its not JUST a matter of trustworthiness, depending on how broad your use of the word. I have described many common human flaws, such as bad memory and hallucinations, that can afflict even the most honest of people. These kind of facts would increase P(T|~R). However, with enough independent eyewitnesses, which will probably be a LOT, P(T|~R)/P(T|R) will eventually limit to 0, asymptotically. So on this last point, we are basically in agreement.

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Eric February 19, 2011 at 2:22 am

@Tony
It is reasonable in principle. But its much more challenging than Theists like to imagine. Specifically, they waaaaaay underestimate P(T|~R) in the case of the resurrection.

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Patrick February 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Eric: “Do you seriously believe this? There are tons of miracle claims from all sorts of religions.http://www.miraclesofislam.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_view_of_miracles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_milk_miracle

Not to mention a whole slew of religions that have existed in the past and have recorded numerous miracles. Also, you have to remember that Christianity didn’t exist until 2000 years ago. Juaism has existed for ~3000 years. So you have to admit that there were miracle claims being made before what you think is the most likely candidate for being the true religion even came into existence. So in this case, you have to accept the real possibility the true religion has yet to be discovered. Besides, I’m not sure this really matters. As long as miracles are claimed to exist in other religions, you are forced into one of those rationalizations mentioned earlier.”

At least the references you mention haven’t changed my view. As for Judaism, you cannot use the Old Testament miracles as an argument against Christianity, as Christians in general accept the Old Testament as God’s revelation. The miracle claims presented in http://www.miraclesofislam.com/ leave me rather unimpressed. But this might be because I don’t know Arabic and am therefore not able to assess the miraculous character of the pictures depicted there. The Wikipedia article about the Islamic view of miracles doesn’t contradict my point of view. In fact, it says that “the Qur’an does not overtly describe Muhammad performing miracles.” Finally, the Hindu milk miracle is very much different from the miracle accounts you can read in the Bible. Whereas the Biblical miracles in general aim at helping people, e.g. by means of healing, here it is the element of mere amazement that seems to be to the fore.

Eric: “Why does it matte whether or not Muhammad performed miracles. As shown from the site above, Muslims believe in Theistic Miracles. So do Hindus, etc… And once again, as long as other miracles are claimed or could be claimed to exist, you are still forced into the situation I defined earlier. Red Herring.”

You again confuse different categories of statements. It is one thing to believe in miracles and another thing to claim to have experienced miracles. With respect to the latter, as far as I can see Christianity is much different from other religions, but I don’t rule out the possibility that there can be genuine experiences of miracles in other religions.

In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of miracles. They can be found in Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5. Before dismissing them as not being worth considering, try to think if these passages would make sense if no miracles or miracle-like events had happened.

Eric: “Excuse me if I don’t instantly buy these arguments without even knowing them. I have heard plenty of arguments from CS Lewis and none has been both logically and factually sound. Would you please provide some kind of argument. Also, the interesting thing is, it sounds like these arguments would likely fall into the category of pure rationalizations. In fact, many sides could be equally rationalized. I will have to see some of these arguments though to be sure.”

My aim here was not to convince you or anyone else of these arguments, but just to show how one could proceed when trying to evaluate religious claims. It would go too far to present all the arguments here in detail.

Eric: “Also, you seem to forget that Christianity is not the only possible Trinitarian Monotheistic religion. So even if those arguments succeeded, you would also need an argument to show why it is probable that we would only know this truth in the past 2000 years and not before. I sometimes think Christians forget just how specific their claims are and why they need specific arguments.”

It may not be the only possible Trinitarian Monotheistic religion, but it certainly is the only actually existing religion having this feature. If Trinitarian monotheism could be shown to be the most reasonable position, one could at least draw the conclusion that it is the religion that has the highest degree of truth in it.

Eric: “As far as I’ve seen, only the Kalam has possibly given me any reason to think theists could possibly be rational in holding a generic God belief. But that is it. Getting from there to theism is one gigantic step.”

If Trinitarian monotheism can be shown to be the most reasonable position within theism then it would at least have to be regarded as a rational position. Bearing in mind that the issue here is whether or not atheists can reasonably disagree showing that theism is as rational as atheism is all that is required.

Eric: “And all arguments for the resurrection have so far seemed to not overcome the incredibly low prior probability of an event being supernatural.”

Just the fact that you write that the arguments so far “seemed” to not overcome the prior probability of an event being supernatural shows that this evaluation is subjective and that that there can be another evaluation which is also reasonable.

Eric: “But what is an ungodly life? How do you judge a person’s life to be ungodly without knowing first what constitutes godly? How do you avoide circularity? In fact, according to the many Jews, your last statement would be considered ungodly because you didn’t capitalize your G (just a fun fact).”

In a sense you are right. This criterion indeed only applies if you’ve already accepted Christianity. Nevertheless if we assume that God is the ultimate source of morality the idea that a person’s moral behaviour is somehow indicative of the source of his or her supernatural abilities seems to be not totally unfounded.

Eric: “For the love of God! I have explained this so many times my head hurts. Uoi refuse to rebut my arguments but still keep making the same arguments I have rebutted over and over before. I am not talking about indirect causation. This is not the nature of the claims made so many times in the past.”

My impression is that we are talking past each other. I must admit that I don’t see your point, and I’m not sure if you really understand my argument. My point simply is that unfalsifiable religious explanations and falsifiable scientific explanations do not belong to the same category and therefore must be kept separate. In my view the claim that lightning is caused by the gods is unfalsifiable. If you think otherwise I am very interested to see how you refute this claim, i.e. how you conclusively prove that lightning is not caused by the gods.

Eric: “But the sailors obviously believed him if they threw him overboard. However, it is besides the point because they initially thought that Jonah praying to their God would stop the storm. (Jonah 1:5-16). Also, there is no hint in the bible that their theology was as complex as you explain. If we are going into your kind of theology though, predicting the actions of free-willed agents, while also being infallible, results in a contradiction. Seeing as how these people almost certainly believed in free will (Adam’s choice in the garden for example), I doubt they had any reason to think God would predict this kind of situation. You are applying your more sophisticated theology to ancient claims in order to make it appear they were making claims they weren’t actually making.”

The idea that God can predict the actions of free-willed agents is well-grounded in the Old Testament. This can be seen from passages such as Genesis 37,5-10 and 1 Kings 13,1-2.

Eric: “You seem to be missing the point here. Due to the scientific principle of causation (a principle the Kalam depends on), these winds aren’t truly stochastic, but deterministic. So even if they appear to start and stop instantly doesn’t mean that the underlying causes of these come from any time close to the point when they start and stop.”

I don’t deny this. As for the starts of the winds, I pointed out before that theologically it is possible that God foreknows people’s actions and can take measures beforehand to accomplish the desired effects.

Eric: “If God causes a miracle, in the theistic sense, this miracle must at some point violate or bypass the laws of nature. Because of the problem with a future knowing god with free willed agents, the ultimate cause cannot ultimately predate the event by very long. But either way, there is a point where God intersects with natural law and this is the point at which the claim can be falsified. If we find an explanation that goes back to lawful regularity in nature, then this kind of claim has been falsified.”

You are speaking of “bypassing the laws of nature”. In my view this could be a more appropriate view of the way God intervenes in the physical world when accomplishing a miracle than thinking of it as a violation of the laws of nature. In the thread “Naturalism of the Gaps” I made a suggestion, based on Matthew 4,5-6, how miracles can be accounted for without assuming violations of the laws of nature. You dismissed this suggestion. But if we assume that God and other supernatural personal agents are not under the constraints of the laws of nature, yet are able to intervene in the physical world just as we humans can do, I don’t see that this could not be the way it works. Coming back to the example of the winds, the idea that a wind, contrary to its normal course, could stop within a short period of time, then would not be explained by the idea that God annuls for a certain time the natural processes responsible for winds. Alternative ideas could be the that God deflects a storm away from the ship or that He creates an invisible shelter keeping the wind from the ship.

Eric: “I have justified it extensively throughout these comments. If you still cannot accept the failure of supernatural explanations for natural regular events accounting for the low probability, which you haven’t sufficiently justified, you are still left with the fact that miracles are by definition, extremely rare events. And the lack of confirmation of one single event as supernatural still makes the prior probability very low.”

As far as I can see there has been just one supernatural explanation for a natural regular event that has failed, namely the one concerning the stability of the universe. Whether or not this is justification enough to allow a low prior probability of the supernatural is in my opinion not at all clear. I simply don’t see how the statement “The cause of the stability of the universe, once thought to be supernatural, has turned out to be purely natural, therefore the prior probability of the Resurrection is very low” can be justified philosophically. In my view this is a case of the flawed argument from the history of science. Moreover, in a previous comment you accepted my suggestion that scientific confirmation and historical confirmation must be kept apart. If that is the case, an assessment of the prior probability of a supernatural cause of a historical event only depends on the question whether or not supernatural explanations concerning other historical events have failed. But it is clearly more difficult to arrive at objective conclusions in this respect than with respect to natural phenomena.

Eric: “Well if its just a matter of probability, then what is wrong with my Bayesian criteria?”

There is nothing wrong with it. It is just that unlike you I don’t believe that with respect to the supernatural there are objective criteria to assess prior probabilities.

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Patrick February 21, 2011 at 1:36 am

Tony Hoffman: “But this doesn’t mean that no historical evidence could exist that might increase the prior probability of theism. It’s been suggested before that uncovering some (archaeologically-verified) early Christian documents that explained facts about the world that the ancients did not otherwise know (atomic theory, the location of Japan, etc.) could reasonably be said to provide evidence for something like theism.
But the problem is that, as far as I know, no historical evidence like this exists anywhere – and by that I mean clear, non-ambiguous, non-fraudulent, reasonably-verified documentation of knowledge that was not known (and could not reasonably be expected to be known) by the people of that time. All of this, “Things will occur in a place and time that will be surprising to some…” stuff doesn’t make that cut.””

In my opinion your standard of historical confirmation is unreasonably high. Moreover, it is not the purpose of the Bible to inform us about World Geography or Physics, therefore you cannot expect to find such pieces of information in it.

There is one fact presented in the Bible that in my view is so improbable that it might raise the prior probability of theism. Considering the fact that among the millions of male Jews that have lived during the last 2’500 years, none has even come close to fulfilling Old Testament prophecy the way Jesus did, one can see how extremely improbable the rise of Christianity was. Whatever one thinks about the way Jesus is presented in the New Testament as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, the fact that people from all over the world nowadays revere a Jewish Messiah, as predicted in passages such as Isaiah 11,10, 42,1-7 and 49,6, is in my view far from what might be expected.

The prior probability of theism can also be raised by well-documented miracle accounts from more recent times. Such accounts can be found, as I mentioned earlier, in a biography of Johann Christoph Blumhardt. To get an idea how well the events described are documented, one may go to the following link, then go to the link “Search inside this book” and have a look at the section “Sources and Literature”.

http://www.amazon.com/Johann-Christoph-Blumhardt-Life-Work/dp/1606085395/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289074764&sr=1-1

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Eric February 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Patrick –
At least the references you mention haven’t changed my view. As for Judaism, you cannot use the Old Testament miracles as an argument against Christianity, as Christians in general accept the Old Testament as God’s revelation.

I’m not sure where I used the miracles that existed in the old testament as examples of miracles in other religions. My point was that there are a plethora of miracles from religions, past and present. You cannot just ignore past religions because they don’t exist currently as there was a time when Christianity and Judaism didn’t exist.

Patrick –
The miracle claims presented in http://www.miraclesofislam.com/ leave me rather unimpressed. But this might be because I don’t know Arabic and am therefore not able to assess the miraculous character of the pictures depicted there. The Wikipedia article about the Islamic view of miracles doesn’t contradict my point of view. In fact, it says that “the Qur’an does not overtly describe Muhammad performing miracles.” Finally, the Hindu milk miracle is very much different from the miracle accounts you can read in the Bible. Whereas the Biblical miracles in general aim at helping people, e.g. by means of healing, here it is the element of mere amazement that seems to be to the fore.

Right after that sentence in the article:
“The supreme miracle of Muhammad is finally identified with the Qur’an itself.[1] However, Muslim tradition credits Muhammad with several supernatural events.” I’m not sure why you are unimpressed with the islam miracles, but are impressed with miracles attested to Johann Blumhardt. What about all the mosques surviving in Indonesia, or the names appearing in the sky and over Africa? These seem to reflect your definition of design-imposed, but support the Allah hypothesis.

Patrick –
You again confuse different categories of statements. It is one thing to believe in miracles and another thing to claim to have experienced miracles. With respect to the latter, as far as I can see Christianity is much different from other religions, but I don’t rule out the possibility that there can be genuine experiences of miracles in other religions.

What in my statement confuses these two? I’m not necessarily talking about people actually experiencing miracles, but claiming to have evidence that one took place. So I’m not sure what confusion you are talking about and how it applies to the conversation.

Patrick –
In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of miracles. They can be found in Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5. Before dismissing them as not being worth considering, try to think if these passages would make sense if no miracles or miracle-like events had happened.

None of these passages seem to suggest explicit miracles, other than possibly Paul’s experience with what he interpreted as the risen Jesus. All these passages show is that Paul was convinced by his experience. This could easily happen on naturalism, given the fact that we have seen countless situations where people are convinced by certain experiences that have a much more plausible natural explanation. Waking dreams, “recovered” memories of events that never happened, hallucinations, etc… These happen every day and can convince people to do amazing things.
For example, take the situation with Paul Ingram, who was charged with Satanic Ritual Abuse of his daughter, Erika:
A woman with prophetic and discernment powers told her that she had been sexually abused by her father. Ericka had no memories of such abuse, but went into counseling with a therapist who used Recovered Memory Therapy to attempt to restore abuse memories that had been repressed. She was able to recover memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse involving her father which started when she was about 5 and continued until one year previously.

During the interrogation, [Paul] confessed how he might have done these terrible crimes, but maintained that he had no memory of having actually done them.

The prosecutors hired Dr. Richard Ofshe to help them with the case. Dr. Ofshe is a world-class memory researcher, and a specialist in the tactics of coercion.
[between Dr Offshe and the work of interrogators, it was determined that the memories were false]

Unfortunately, by the time that Dr. Ofshe issued his report which showed that these memories were false, Ingram had already confessed to the crimes. When Ingram finally figured out that his “memories” were of events that did not happen, he attempted to reverse his plea. But laws in Washington state prevent a person from changing a guilty plea.

Erika and her sister recalled a whole slew of memories, including getting an STD, forced beastiality, pregnancy and forced abortions, etc… However, upon later investigations, it was discovered that none of these events actually took place. So, despite the fact that her father had not abused her in any way, her experiences with Recovered Memory Therapy were able to convince her of something false. She was willing to destroy her father’s life for it! This is an example of how convincing experiences, however false, are still able to compel people to do amazing things.
Now remember we only have one source for most of what Paul says. It is also possible that Paul’s memory was not 100% accurate. When left to rely solely on our memories, the reliability of these memories goes waaay down. This is the source of many urban myths:
Borley Rectory: the World’s Most Haunted House?
Betty and Barney Hill: The Original UFO Abduction
Fire in the Sky: A Real UFO Abduction?
These are just a few examples, but they do show how memory can be horribly unreliable if not backed up. Now sadly we don’t have the ability to investigate independent sources and rule this possibility out. Since it is within common human nature, we have to add it as a possibility as well.

Patrick –
My aim here was not to convince you or anyone else of these arguments, but just to show how one could proceed when trying to evaluate religious claims. It would go too far to present all the arguments here in detail.

It is good that they are trying to actually justify why they would expect the God of the Kalam to be the God of Christianity. However, these arguments often fall upon circular fallacies and non-sequitur. To be honest, I’ve never seen one that doesn’t, outside a few that abuse Occam’s Razor. So, if they have fallacies, it is irrational to accept them. That’s why I asked you to post some, or even one. How about, just the most convincing argument? The existence of arguments alone doesn’t mean the arguments are rational. Arguments exist for Holocaust Denialism, Astrology, Flat-Earth Theory, Young-Earth Creationism, multiple conspiracy theories, etc… Should I consider their beliefs rational just because they have arguments supporting those beliefs? Does the mere existence of these arguments make our disagreement Reasonable?

Patrick –
It may not be the only possible Trinitarian Monotheistic religion, but it certainly is the only actually existing religion having this feature. If Trinitarian monotheism could be shown to be the most reasonable position, one could at least draw the conclusion that it is the religion that has the highest degree of truth in it.

Not necessarily the highest degree of truth, just possibly in the composition of God. They could be wrong in a whole litany of other avenues. Such as God’s decision to wait 100K years to save mankind, while also being an omni-benevolent God. Or they could be wrong about theism over Deism, which would also severly undermine the resurrection possibility.

Patrick –
If Trinitarian monotheism can be shown to be the most reasonable position within theism then it would at least have to be regarded as a rational position. Bearing in mind that the issue here is whether or not atheists can reasonably disagree showing that theism is as rational as atheism is all that is required.

You would need additional reasonably successful arguments. My point was that Theists tend to think that arguments for God’s existence, such as the Kalam, increase the prior probability of Theism. The Kalam may be the only argument for God’s existence in which experts may actually be able to reasonably disagree, at least to a certain point. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure if the Kalam is even really coherent. However, the main disagreement all comes down to the heuristic intuition that the universe must’ve been caused, for which we don’t seem to have any objective criteria for determining this (other than some kind of inductive fallacy). Any other arguments leading to theistic Trinitarian monotheism and such don’t seem to have this property. Without this property, Theists and Atheists cannot reasonably disagree on events such as the Ressurrection.

Patrick –
Just the fact that you write that the arguments so far “seemed” to not overcome the prior probability of an event being supernatural shows that this evaluation is subjective and that that there can be another evaluation which is also reasonable.

You are not taking a charitable interpretation of my use of the word “seemed.” I said “seemed” because I have not read every book ever written on the resurrection. I have given multiple objective (you can verify these yourself) reasons why the evidence does not overcome the low prior probability.

Patrick –
In a sense you are right. This criterion indeed only applies if you’ve already accepted Christianity. Nevertheless if we assume that God is the ultimate source of morality the idea that a person’s moral behaviour is somehow indicative of the source of his or her supernatural abilities seems to be not totally unfounded.

If the criterion only applies of you have already accepted Christianity, then it cannot be used as evidence of any Christian Miracles. Else, you have a case of circularity.

Patrick –
The idea that God can predict the actions of free-willed agents is well-grounded in the Old Testament. This can be seen from passages such as Genesis 37,5-10 and 1 Kings 13,1-2.

The genesis 37 article is not necessarily a specific prediction. With Joseph going through the experiences that he did, it was almost certain this vague prediction would come to pass, especially with God’s guidance. 1 Kings is a bit more specific, but there is the assumption that God had to guide Josiah as well. It is also possible that God could suspend the free-will of Joseph’s brother’s and Josiah, as he did with Abimelek in Genesis 20:6. Also, There is nothing specific enough to suspect that ancients believed that God would (or possibly even could), based on a large indirect series of events know the exact time and place where he should create a thunderstorm and stop it without some kind of close direct supernatural causation.
Do you honestly think the people in the Old Testament really didn’t think that God was directly responding to their actions? In the case of Jonah, if they thought God was going to cause the storm to end, based on this kind of indirect causation, then they could have decided not to throw Jonah overboard. They initially didn’t want to. Thinking that these events were set in motion at the beginning of time would make them think they could choose freely not to throw Jonah overboard. However, it was doubtful their theology was anywhere near this complex.

Patrick –
My impression is that we are talking past each other. I must admit that I don’t see your point, and I’m not sure if you really understand my argument. My point simply is that unfalsifiable religious explanations and falsifiable scientific explanations do not belong to the same category and therefore must be kept separate. In my view the claim that lightning is caused by the gods is unfalsifiable. If you think otherwise I am very interested to see how you refute this claim, i.e. how you conclusively prove that lightning is not caused by the gods.

I have given you points and, instead of responding to them, you ignore them and attempt to go around them. If there is something you don’t understand, then point it out. Tell me where I’m losing you. I understand what you are saying but I am showing it doesn’t apply to what we are talking about, the number of falsified hypothesized supernatural causes in history. They made claims about the causation of events, and everytime they have to move those claims back a “level of causation” the original claim has been falsified. Here’s another analogy:
Let’s say I notice a trend among people who eat apples. They are in general, healthier than people who don’t eat apples. So I say the apples make people healthier. Later you find out that people who eat apples happen to run more often. And it’s the running that makes them healthier. So you then say the apples cause people to run more often, which makes them healthier. Then you find out these people are running more because they are on fitness plans, so you say the apples caused them to become health conscious and join fitness plans. Although you could still claim the apples are causing them to be healthier and call it an unfalsifiable belief, truthfully every level that you have to fall back on is one area where your claim has been falsified. It would be a true “spin-job” to claim otherwise.
Also, the claim that lightning is caused by the Gods is unfalsifiable or falsifiable depending on the interpretation. Because almost none of the situations I talk about regarding claims that lightning is caused by the Gods Fall into the category of indirect causation, they are not relevant to the discussion. I am only including the belief in direct causation, which is almost certainly what ancient people believed. Take, for example, pictures of Zeus and his lighting bolt.

Patrick –
I don’t deny this. As for the starts of the winds, I pointed out before that theologically it is possible that God foreknows people’s actions and can take measures beforehand to accomplish the desired effects.

And as I pointed out before, this is highly unlikely to be the kind of theology they held to. Also, you never pointed out how it is logically possible for God to foreknow the actions of free-willed agents. You have only pointed out that it is possible for someone to have a theology like this.

Patrick –
You are speaking of “bypassing the laws of nature”. In my view this could be a more appropriate view of the way God intervenes in the physical world when accomplishing a miracle than thinking of it as a violation of the laws of nature.

I’m not sure the difference is all that meaningful. Laws are merely descriptions of the natural world. What’s the difference between bypassing a description and violating it? You expect nature to act a certain way and have reason for that. When it doesn’t act that way, then the description doesn’t hold. The use of the word violate or bypass sounds arbitrary in this situation.

Patrick –
In the thread “Naturalism of the Gaps” I made a suggestion, based on Matthew 4,5-6, how miracles can be accounted for without assuming violations of the laws of nature. You dismissed this suggestion. But if we assume that God and other supernatural personal agents are not under the constraints of the laws of nature, yet are able to intervene in the physical world just as we humans can do, I don’t see that this could not be the way it works.

Like I said before, whether or not you call it bypassing or violating the laws of nature is trivial. Nature is not acting in the way it by all logic and experience should act. If something happens in the natural would that doesn’t follow the laws of nature, then you can call it violating or bypassing however you want. I’m not sure what attempting to distinguish between the two will accomplish in this regard.

Patrick –
Coming back to the example of the winds, the idea that a wind, contrary to its normal course, could stop within a short period of time, then would not be explained by the idea that God annuls for a certain time the natural processes responsible for winds. Alternative ideas could be the that God deflects a storm away from the ship or that He creates an invisible shelter keeping the wind from the ship.

In this sense, the idea of violating or bypassing the laws makes no difference. It is possible for people to hold that the winds are usually natural, except under the rare case when God violates or bypasses the laws of nature. However there is no hint that this was the belief of ancient people prior to the Aristotelian time period. It was the Greeks who were first to introduce the idea of natural causes for natural phenomenon, although they had a long history of doing the exact opposite (reference the zeus picture above). Seeing as how many of these stories predate those philosophers, and predate their influence on Judeo-Christian culture, it is highly unlikely ancient Jews thought of nature this way.

Patrick –
As far as I can see there has been just one supernatural explanation for a natural regular event that has failed, namely the one concerning the stability of the universe. Whether or not this is justification enough to allow a low prior probability of the supernatural is in my opinion not at all clear. I simply don’t see how the statement “The cause of the stability of the universe, once thought to be supernatural, has turned out to be purely natural, therefore the prior probability of the Resurrection is very low” can be justified philosophically. In my view this is a case of the flawed argument from the history of science. Moreover, in a previous comment you accepted my suggestion that scientific confirmation and historical confirmation must be kept apart. If that is the case, an assessment of the prior probability of a supernatural cause of a historical event only depends on the question whether or not supernatural explanations concerning other historical events have failed. But it is clearly more difficult to arrive at objective conclusions in this respect than with respect to natural phenomena.

But I have given many other examples of proposed supernatural explanations that have failed. At this point it feels like I am talking to a brick wall. If it were just the stability of the solar system, then yes; That would not be sufficient. However, I have given many many more examples. The most you have done to try and refute those is to give this incredibly unrealistic theology to ancient peoples. I’m also surprised by this because you even admitted that irreducible complexity has failed as well. I have thoroughly justified how this is not a fallacy. You continue to ignore the points I make. I have showed how you can evaluate whether or not supernatural explanations have succeeded in the past. I have given plenty of objective criteria for determining the prior probability that an event is supernatural. It’s just ridiculous how many examples I have given and how in depth I’ve gone in explaining why the prior probability of an event being supernatural is low and why evidence for the supernatural must overcome this. Many of these you have not responded to and have attempted to dodge, unsuccessfully. However, you don’t go back and address the arguments after your unsuccessful dodge. How much of a selective memory do you have? Honestly, before you respond to this post. Do me a favor and go back over our conversation and tell me exactly where I lost you. Respond to arguments you have obviously dismissed already without giving a reason. It’s ridiculous how often I have had to reinvent the wheel here.

Patrick –
There is nothing wrong with it. It is just that unlike you I don’t believe that with respect to the supernatural there are objective criteria to assess prior probabilities.

Then show me why the objective criteria I have proposed doesn’t work for you.

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Patrick February 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Eric: “I’m not sure where I used the miracles that existed in the old testament as examples of miracles in other religions. My point was that there are a plethora of miracles from religions, past and present. You cannot just ignore past religions because they don’t exist currently as there was a time when Christianity and Judaism didn’t exist.”

In my view the statement that there are a plethora of miracles from religions, past and present, is a mere assertion. But even if there are such miracles, this would be entirely compatible with the Christian faith, as the Bible doesn’t rule out the possibility of such miracles, as can be seen from Exodus 7,10-13 or 2 Thessalonians 2,9.

Eric: “Right after that sentence in the article:
“The supreme miracle of Muhammad is finally identified with the Qur’an itself.[1] However, Muslim tradition credits Muhammad with several supernatural events.” I’m not sure why you are unimpressed with the islam miracles, but are impressed with miracles attested to Johann Blumhardt. What about all the mosques surviving in Indonesia, or the names appearing in the sky and over Africa? These seem to reflect your definition of design-imposed, but support the Allah hypothesis.”

As for the mosques surviving in Indonesia, the reason for this could be that mosques are more solidly built than other buildings. But let us assume that there are indeed events or phenomena pointing to Islam being totally mysterious. This certainly would be a bigger problem for atheism than for Christianity, as Christians could account for this by assuming demonic activity. If indeed the name of God in Arabic has appeared in the sky we might expect a mass conversion of atheists to Islam, as I can hear atheists say at times, they would believe in God if He wrote something in the sky.

Eric: “What in my statement confuses these two? I’m not necessarily talking about people actually experiencing miracles, but claiming to have evidence that one took place. So I’m not sure what confusion you are talking about and how it applies to the conversation.”

But evidence for a miracle must be some first hand experience of it. I don’t see how else the occurrence of a miracle can be confirmed. But simply claiming to believe in miracles is not evidence for miracles.

Eric: “None of these passages seem to suggest explicit miracles, other than possibly Paul’s experience with what he interpreted as the risen Jesus. All these passages show is that Paul was convinced by his experience.”

Except for the passage in Romans Paul is not talking about experiences he himself had in the past, but miraculous events to which the addressees of his letters could testify. All these passages contain in one way or another the statement “You all know that miracles have happened among you.” You might object that this is a case of “recovering memories” as happened with respect to the situation with Paul Ingram. But if we apply Bayes’ theorem it is clear that the more people are involved the less probable such an explanation becomes. That a whole group of people would have the same false memories at the same time seems to me extremely unlikely.

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Eric February 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Patrick –
In my view the statement that there are a plethora of miracles from religions, past and present, is a mere assertion.

SERIOUSLY?! Are you actually challenging the fact that other religions have miracle claims? This is shaky ground. Hopefully I don’t need to justify this claim as it is far from extraordinary. Seriously you find some of the oddest claims to challenge.

Patrick –
But even if there are such miracles, this would be entirely compatible with the Christian faith, as the Bible doesn’t rule out the possibility of such miracles, as can be seen from Exodus 7,10-13 or 2 Thessalonians 2,9.

This is a kind of rationalization I mentioned earlier:
rationalize conflicting accounts into one interpretation without a consistent reason for the specific interpretation. For instance, a Christian can say other supernatural conflicting events were the work of some Daemon. But what justification do they have to say that the Christian favored supernatural explanations are not actually from some other religions Devil. It becomes circular and question-begging.
This kind of logic is completely question begging. And, as I pointed out in a comment on “naturalism of the gaps” is that you have suddenly made it impossible for you to confirm your religion since miracles like the resurrection could be the work of the daemon of another religion, currently known OR NOT. Remember that because you think Christianity is true yet there was a time when it didn’t exist, it is possible this is a time in which the true religion doesn’t exist. And there is no rational reason why you would expect it to exist now.

Patrick –
As for the mosques surviving in Indonesia, the reason for this could be that mosques are more solidly built than other buildings.

Welcome to the world of skepticism. Keep in mind these are examples of details we don’t always have. If you did not have these details, making this assertion would be, as you have suggested, mere speculation.

Patrick –
But let us assume that there are indeed events or phenomena pointing to Islam being totally mysterious. This certainly would be a bigger problem for atheism than for Christianity, as Christians could account for this by assuming demonic activity.

Or maybe its daemons causing your miracles, such as the resurrection. You have definitely opened it up as a possibility. How can you tell which one is the case? Refer to what I said above.

Patrick –
If indeed the name of God in Arabic has appeared in the sky we might expect a mass conversion of atheists to Islam, as I can hear atheists say at times, they would believe in God if He wrote something in the sky.

I’m not sure what point you are trying to make with this statement. Are you saying if there really was the name of God in the sky? or just a case of Pareidolia? This is yet another phenomenon unknown to ancient peoples.

Patrick –
But evidence for a miracle must be some first hand experience of it. I don’t see how else the occurrence of a miracle can be confirmed. But simply claiming to believe in miracles is not evidence for miracles.

I have consistently given you a way, over and over throughout this conversation.

Patrick –
Except for the passage in Romans Paul is not talking about experiences he himself had in the past, but miraculous events to which the addressees of his letters could testify. All these passages contain in one way or another the statement “You all know that miracles have happened among you.” You might object that this is a case of “recovering memories” as happened with respect to the situation with Paul Ingram. But if we apply Bayes’ theorem it is clear that the more people are involved the less probable such an explanation becomes. That a whole group of people would have the same false memories at the same time seems to me extremely unlikely.

As I said before, these are vague. We don’t know the details, or whether or not the recipients of these actually experienced these miracles or merely had experiences they interpreted as miracles. We have no idea how to evaluate each person’s account. Here’s a good example, albeit more on the extreme side, of the problem of people supposedly seeing the same miracle when they actually saw different, often contradictory things:

Illuminating the Fatima “Miracle of the Sun” :
So, we have a crowd preconditioned to expect to see something. Newspaper accounts estimated between 30,000 and 100,000 worshipers gathered at Cova da Iria. However, a number of photographs of the crowd do exist, and though it does look like several thousand to me, I certainly wouldn’t go as high as thirty.

How impressive was the sun’s display? An old black and white photograph of the actual sun miracle event shows a lot of dark rain clouds behind some trees and the sun poking through. There is certainly nothing in the photograph that looks unusual, but of course a photograph is static.

Most of what’s popularly reported about the sun incident, such as the colors and the spinning, comes from Father John de Marchi, a Catholic priest who spent years interviewing eyewitnesses to build evidence supporting the miraculous event. But more objective assessments of the eyewitness accounts have found very little evidence of a single shared experience. Author Kevin McClure, who also compiled eyewitness accounts, reported that he had “never seen such a collection of contradictory accounts in any of the research I have done in the past 10 years.

So we can see how a group of people preconditioned to see something will likely think they all witnessed the same miracle. Another devotee could easily back it up as well. However, luckily for us we have an independent account of the phenomenon that shows contradictory accounts. We also have enough information to evaluate possible natural explanations. However, in the case of the miracles you speak of, we have nowhere near the amount of information needed to evaluate these supposed miracles, just the claim from Paul that they happened, with very vague details over what the supposed miracle actually was. How do we know what the response was of the Corinthians or the Galatians? We cannot evaluate these claims. We also have no independent accounts, so this doesn’t help in the case of Bayes Theorem. This is similar to the statement on the paper.

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Patrick February 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

Eric: “When left to rely solely on our memories, the reliability of these memories goes waaay down. This is the source of many urban myths:

Borley Rectory: the World’s Most Haunted House?

Betty and Barney Hill: The Original UFO Abduction

Fire in the Sky: A Real UFO Abduction? 

These are just a few examples, but they do show how memory can be horribly unreliable if not backed up.”

As for the Borley Rectory Case it is noteworthy that it was members of two societies for psychical research, certainly believing in the existence of psychic phenomena, who debunked these alleged paranormal phenomena. From this one can draw the conclusion that the circumstances of these phenomena were such that they could not even overcome a high prior probability.

Looking at the case of the supposed abduction we are faced with a similar situation. Obviously even ufologists regarded Betty Hill’s credibility as being low.

Finally, if you apply a Bayesian analysis to the supposed UFO abduction in Arizona, in view of the small number of just three witnesses together with, to use DePoe’s terminology, a low likelihood ratio term the outcome of this investigation is by no means surprising.

None of these cases can be put down to failed memory. They are either the product of deception or of mental illness. Failed memory is also an inappropriate explanation for the situation with Paul Ingram as this man as well as his daughter are explicitly said to have had no memories of the supposed crimes. This case is rather an example of the power of suggestion than of failed memory.

The case of Paul Ingram can also serve to show how fallacious the argument from the history of science is. In this case the charges of child abuse and infanticide turned out to be unfounded, but this doesn’t mean that there are not cases where such charges are justified. In the same way the fact that supernatural explanations have failed in some cases doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no cases where such an explanation could turn out to be correct.

Eric: “It is good that they are trying to actually justify why they would expect the God of the Kalam to be the God of Christianity. However, these arguments often fall upon circular fallacies and non-sequitur. To be honest, I’ve never seen one that doesn’t, outside a few that abuse Occam’s Razor. So, if they have fallacies, it is irrational to accept them. That’s why I asked you to post some, or even one.”

Looking at pantheism, the idea that God and the universe are identical and therefore the universe has no beginning and no limits, a view held among others by the famous philosophers Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677), can be questioned on the basis of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Whatever one thinks of this argument, there should be no objection to the statement that such a universe is logically impossible.

Eric: “You would need additional reasonably successful arguments. My point was that Theists tend to think that arguments for God’s existence, such as the Kalam, increase the prior probability of Theism. The Kalam may be the only argument for God’s existence in which experts may actually be able to reasonably disagree, at least to a certain point. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure if the Kalam is even really coherent. However, the main disagreement all comes down to the heuristic intuition that the universe must’ve been caused, for which we don’t seem to have any objective criteria for determining this (other than some kind of inductive fallacy). Any other arguments leading to theistic Trinitarian monotheism and such don’t seem to have this property. Without this property, Theists and Atheists cannot reasonably disagree on events such as the Ressurrection.”

In a devotional book entitled “From now on”, written by Ralph Shallis, there is a very simple argument for the Doctrine of Trinity: God is the origin of love. But before God created anything, whom or what could He have loved? Love requires an object. Therefore God must have had the object of His love in Himself.

Eric: “I said “seemed” because I have not read every book ever written on the resurrection.”

This is exactly the situation we are in when evaluating historical claims. It is far more difficult if not impossible to assess them objectively. That’s why in History, much more than in Science it is possible for experts to reasonably disagree. How a historical analysis of the Resurrection can look like can be seen in Michael Licona’s book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” (Downers Grove 2010).

Eric: “If the criterion only applies of you have already accepted Christianity, then it cannot be used as evidence of any Christian Miracles. Else, you have a case of circularity.”

I’ve already conceded that from a philosophical point of view it is not the strongest argument.

Eric: “The genesis 37 article is not necessarily a specific prediction. With Joseph going through the experiences that he did, it was almost certain this vague prediction would come to pass, especially with God’s guidance.”

Neither was Joseph’s prediction vague, nor was it very likely that it would come to pass. But of course, with God’s guidance things look different.

Eric: “It is also possible that God could suspend the free-will of Joseph’s brother’s and Josiah, as he did with Abimelek in Genesis 20:6.”

The idea that God suspended the free will of Joseph’s brothers can be countered with Genesis 50,20.

Eric: “Also, There is nothing specific enough to suspect that ancients believed that God would (or possibly even could), based on a large indirect series of events know the exact time and place where he should create a thunderstorm and stop it without some kind of close direct supernatural causation.
Do you honestly think the people in the Old Testament really didn’t think that God was directly responding to their actions?”

Assuming that God can foreknow people’s actions there is no contradiction between the idea that God responds directly to people’s actions and the view that God could arrange things beforehand to serve His purpose.

Eric: “In the case of Jonah, if they thought God was going to cause the storm to end, based on this kind of indirect causation, then they could have decided not to throw Jonah overboard. They initially didn’t want to. Thinking that these events were set in motion at the beginning of time would make them think they could choose freely not to throw Jonah overboard. However, it was doubtful their theology was anywhere near this complex.”

Even if we assume that God could not foresee Jonah’s reaction, from the time Jonah decided to flee to Tarshish, God could have arranged things so that the desired effect would come about.

Eric: “They made claims about the causation of events, and everytime they have to move those claims back a “level of causation” the original claim has been falsified.”

I think I now see what your argument is. However, in my opinion the problem with your view is that it may be impossible to distinguish between direct and indirect causation, as God could influence natural phenomena in a way that is undetectable to man.

Eric: “SERIOUSLY?! Are you actually challenging the fact that other religions have miracle claims? This is shaky ground. Hopefully I don’t need to justify this claim as it is far from extraordinary. Seriously you find some of the oddest claims to challenge.”

As I pointed out earlier I don’t deny this. But it seems to me that miracles have a much greater importance and is more commonplace in Christianity than in other religions.

Eric: “This is a kind of rationalization I mentioned earlier:
“ rationalize conflicting accounts into one interpretation without a consistent reason for the specific interpretation. For instance, a Christian can say other supernatural conflicting events were the work of some Daemon. But what justification do they have to say that the Christian favored supernatural explanations are not actually from some other religions Devil. It becomes circular and question-begging.”
This kind of logic is completely question begging. And, as I pointed out in a comment on “naturalism of the gaps” is that you have suddenly made it impossible for you to confirm your religion since miracles like the resurrection could be the work of the daemon of another religion, currently known OR NOT. Remember that because you think Christianity is true yet there was a time when it didn’t exist, it is possible this is a time in which the true religion doesn’t exist. And there is no rational reason why you would expect it to exist now.”

That miracles can be interpreted differently can be seen in the way Jesus’ exorcisms were judged by His adversaries in Matthew 12,22-37. As for the question whether or not Christianity is the true religion, there are in my opinion good arguments in favour of this being the case. But it would go too far to enlarge on them here.

Eric: “Welcome to the world of skepticism. Keep in mind these are examples of details we don’t always have. If you did not have these details, making this assertion would be, as you have suggested, mere speculation.”

You needn’t welcome me to this world, as I have been a resident in it for quite a while. There seems to be an ineradicable prejudice that being a Christian is incompatible with having critical thinking skills. But at least from a Biblical point of view such a view is totally unjustified, as can be seen from passages such as Deuteronomy 18,21-22 or 1 Thessalonians 5,21.

Eric: “Or maybe its daemons causing your miracles, such as the resurrection. You have definitely opened it up as a possibility. How can you tell which one is the case? Refer to what I said above.”

Bringing a person back to life is something that in my view only God is capable of doing.

Eric: “I’m not sure what point you are trying to make with this statement. Are you saying if there really was the name of God in the sky? or just a case of Pareidolia? This is yet another phenomenon unknown to ancient peoples.”

That’s exactly the point I was making when I said that because of my lack of knowledge of Arabic it is difficult for me to assess the miraculous character of the pictures. Is it that the pictures roughly look like the Arabic word for “God” or exactly like them? By the way, in Arab countries Christians use this word as well and these phenomena, provided that they constitute genuine miracles, may also support Christianity. But I have a suspicion that they don’t belong to this category.

Eric: “Most of what’s popularly reported about the sun incident, such as the colors and the spinning, comes from Father John de Marchi, a Catholic priest who spent years interviewing eyewitnesses to build evidence supporting the miraculous event. But more objective assessments of the eyewitness accounts have found very little evidence of a single shared experience.”

If the report is accurate it means that we have hardly any witness of this event. From a Bayesian point of view there is then no reason to assume a genuine miracle.

“However, in the case of the miracles you speak of, we have nowhere near the amount of information needed to evaluate these supposed miracles, just the claim from Paul that they happened, with very vague details over what the supposed miracle actually was. How do we know what the response was of the Corinthians or the Galatians? We cannot evaluate these claims. We also have no independent accounts, so this doesn’t help in the case of Bayes Theorem. This is similar to the statement on the paper.”

Just because we don’t know the details an atheist and a theist can reasonably disagree concerning the interpretation of these passages. But there must at least have been miracle-like events. Otherwise these passages just don’t make sense. If it was Paul’s intention to convince people of his views it must have been in his interest to present arguments that would appear plausible to his addressees.

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Patrick February 23, 2011 at 1:28 am

As for the last point, from passages such as 1 Corinthians 12,9-10 and James 5,14-15 one can see that in the Christian churches there were healings.

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Eric February 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Patrick –
As for the Borley Rectory Case it is noteworthy that it was members of two societies for psychical research, certainly believing in the existence of psychic phenomena, who debunked these alleged paranormal phenomena. From this one can draw the conclusion that the circumstances of these phenomena were such that they could not even overcome a high prior probability.
Looking at the case of the supposed abduction we are faced with a similar situation. Obviously even ufologists regarded Betty Hill’s credibility as being low.
Finally, if you apply a Bayesian analysis to the supposed UFO abduction in Arizona, in view of the small number of just three witnesses together with, to use DePoe’s terminology, a low likelihood ratio term the outcome of this investigation is by no means surprising.

Maybe I didn’t make myself clear:
“When left to rely solely on our memories, the reliability of these memories goes waaay down.”
The point of those was to show how unreliable memories can be. I wasn’t putting these things for as things you would have to believe if you believe in Christianity, although its always interesting to see Christians engage in a form of skepticism, even for a second. However, you missed the point, which I stated clearly.

Patrick –
None of these cases can be put down to failed memory. They are either the product of deception or of mental illness.

Finally you get to the point. My point with the borely factory wasn’t necessarily the case of Harry Price, rather the evolving of the urban legend that lead to Harry Price’s exploitation of the incident. I’m not completely sure the Hills were necessarily hoaxters. However, I will admit those examples are not the best. At the very least, the articles I have provided you in the past about memory go to show that our memories are very imperfect, an often unreliable when relied upon on their own. This will greatly increase P(T|~R) for any given person. Also take not of the Fatima article as it shows how the expectation of an event will greatly influence your perception of events. This specifically may not apply to Paul’s first experience, but could very easily apply to anyone expecting experiences.

Patrick –
Failed memory is also an inappropriate explanation for the situation with Paul Ingram as this man as well as his daughter are explicitly said to have had no memories of the supposed crimes. This case is rather an example of the power of suggestion than of failed memory.

The point of that was not to make any points about failed memories. It was to make the point that a convincing experience, even if based on total falsehood, will compel people to do amazing things

Patrick –
The case of Paul Ingram can also serve to show how fallacious the argument from the history of science is. In this case the charges of child abuse and infanticide turned out to be unfounded, but this doesn’t mean that there are not cases where such charges are justified. In the same way the fact that supernatural explanations have failed in some cases doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no cases where such an explanation could turn out to be correct.

I already explained this kind of false analogy to you. We have scientifically confirmed cases of child abuse (scars, video, rape kits, etc…) So we can use the same logic we used from the “argument from the history of science” to gauge whether we can determine a case of child abuse is true or not. Depending on the kind of evidence given, we can be more or less confident. Certain psychological traits are much more common among people who were abused by their parents, so the existence of these psychological traits can increase or decrease the probability someone was abused as a child. However, once again we have no confirmation of the supernatural, let alone scientific confirmation. In fact, in the case of child abuse, scientific investigation was possible, including checking for evidence of pregnancy and abortion, hospital records for bruises, std treatments, etc… So this analogy is way off.

Patrick –
ooking at pantheism, the idea that God and the universe are identical and therefore the universe has no beginning and no limits, a view held among others by the famous philosophers Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677), can be questioned on the basis of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Whatever one thinks of this argument, there should be no objection to the statement that such a universe is logically impossible.

I’m not 100% sure pantheism is really not just sexed-up atheism. However, I will admit that the Kalam may rule out this kind of god, if it really isn’t just some kind of arbitrary god. However, the main kinds of points I’m looking for are ruling out:
1. Desim since the resurrection would be impossible under this concept of God
2. Pantheism
3. Non-trinitarian monotheism
This is at the very least. To be honest, you would actually need more than this for reasons I have discussed before.

Patrick –
In a devotional book entitled “From now on”, written by Ralph Shallis, there is a very simple argument for the Doctrine of Trinity: God is the origin of love. But before God created anything, whom or what could He have loved? Love requires an object. Therefore God must have had the object of His love in Himself.

1. Even if God is the origin of love, it doesn’t mean that God had to love. God is the origin of death and eating, so would god have to die and/or eat?
2. The end is a non-sequitur and begs the question. It first assumes that there is one God, even though no argument is given for there to be only one God. It assumes that God couldn’t have just loved himself without needing this multiple self.
3. It assumes Love is not reducible to something physical.
I’m glad you finally gave me an argument, but it is pretty weaksauce…

Patrick –
This is exactly the situation we are in when evaluating historical claims. It is far more difficult if not impossible to assess them objectively. That’s why in History, much more than in Science it is possible for experts to reasonably disagree. How a historical analysis of the Resurrection can look like can be seen in Michael Licona’s book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” (Downers Grove 2010).

What about what I said makes it subjective? I don’t know everything about physics, so does that make relativity theory subjective? Remember you are making the claim that, out of all the events of history somebody interpreted as supernatural, yours IS the actual supernatural claim (among a relatively small number of others). You are the one making the extraordinary claim so you are the one needing to provide the evidence. At this point, it takes a selective memory of human behavior to ignore how things like the resurrection can happen naturally. Mike Licona seems to have trouble understanding what his opponents claim and often creates straw men:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9593

I do have a few pro-resurrection books on my book list. However, from what I’ve seen of Licona in debates and such, I’m not sure I’d put Licona’s book on my list.

Patrick –
Neither was Joseph’s prediction vague, nor was it very likely that it would come to pass. But of course, with God’s guidance things look different.

Compared to God stopping and starting a storm at precise times at precise places, this is a very vague prediction. There is no specific time, date, or place for this prediction. So God’s guidance could easily have swayed Joseph in this case.

Patrick –
The idea that God suspended the free will of Joseph’s brothers can be countered with Genesis 50,20.

I’ll give you this one. It seems as though I stand corrected.

Patrick –
Assuming that God can foreknow people’s actions there is no contradiction between the idea that God responds directly to people’s actions and the view that God could arrange things beforehand to serve His purpose.

If God foreknows people’s actions, then they don’t have the free will to do otherwise. That would be a contradiction.

Patrick –
Even if we assume that God could not foresee Jonah’s reaction, from the time Jonah decided to flee to Tarshish, God could have arranged things so that the desired effect would come about

But then that would be falsifiable. You could trace back causation to a point before Jonah decided to flee Tarshish.

Patrick –
I think I now see what your argument is. However, in my opinion the problem with your view is that it may be impossible to distinguish between direct and indirect causation, as God could influence natural phenomena in a way that is undetectable to man.

Given what we know of history, theres very little chance ancient peoples were talking about indirect causation. And if a phenomenon has a natural explanation, then the direct causation has been falsified.

Patrick –
As I pointed out earlier I don’t deny this. But it seems to me that miracles have a much greater importance and is more commonplace in Christianity than in other religions.

Then if you don’t deny this, why do you bring it up? Also it is quite a claim “that miracles have a much greater importance and is more commonplace in Christianity than in other religions.” That may need some kind of evidence. However, as I have pointed out earlier, that hardly seems to make a difference without a successful argument that a phenomena is more likely to be supernatural, given that it is Christian, than it would in general.

Patrick –
That miracles can be interpreted differently can be seen in the way Jesus’ exorcisms were judged by His adversaries in Matthew 12,22-37. As for the question whether or not Christianity is the true religion, there are in my opinion good arguments in favour of this being the case. But it would go too far to enlarge on them here.

Remember the arguments have to argue for Christianity specifically. And they have to have true premises, and have true non-trivial conclusions.

Patrick –
You needn’t welcome me to this world, as I have been a resident in it for quite a while. There seems to be an ineradicable prejudice that being a Christian is incompatible with having critical thinking skills. But at least from a Biblical point of view such a view is totally unjustified, as can be seen from passages such as Deuteronomy 18,21-22 or 1 Thessalonians 5,21.

In your evaluation of claimed Christian miracles, I’m doubtful you consistently hold on to skeptical values. It kind of defeats the point of skepticism when its only practiced on claims outside of your particular blend of Christianity. If you really are interested in skepticism though, I would suggest Carl Sagan’s Daemon Haunted World as well as the podcast Skeptoid. And those passages only seem to apply toward prophecies that don’t come true.

Patrick –
Bringing a person back to life is something that in my view only God is capable of doing.

Or the belief that he died could have been an illusion/trick. Why do you think only God is capable of bringing a person back to life? I’m wondering how a belief like this could avoid being circular…

Patrick –
That’s exactly the point I was making when I said that because of my lack of knowledge of Arabic it is difficult for me to assess the miraculous character of the pictures. Is it that the pictures roughly look like the Arabic word for “God” or exactly like them? By the way, in Arab countries Christians use this word as well and these phenomena, provided that they constitute genuine miracles, may also support Christianity. But I have a suspicion that they don’t belong to this category.

Can only the Christian God write his name in the sky in Arabic? It sounds like it’s the name of Allah. Arab Christians use offshoots of the name, but I’m not sure how different those look, for example basm-allah… The fact that the only mass written name of God in the whole world is Arabic would seem to favor the Arabic interpretation of God, which is majority Islam.

Patrick –
If the report is accurate it means that we have hardly any witness of this event. From a Bayesian point of view there is then no reason to assume a genuine miracle.

If it wasn’t for the independent analysis, we would not know this. We have no independent analysis and a very similar situation, in the fact that most people may have been expecting a miracle to take place.

Patrick –
Just because we don’t know the details an atheist and a theist can reasonably disagree concerning the interpretation of these passages. But there must at least have been miracle-like events. Otherwise these passages just don’t make sense. If it was Paul’s intention to convince people of his views it must have been in his interest to present arguments that would appear plausible to his addressees.

As for the last point, from passages such as 1 Corinthians 12,9-10 and James 5,14-15 one can see that in the Christian churches there were healings.

And the issue isn’t whether an atheist or theist can disagree regarding the interpretation of these passages. It just matters if P(Scriptures|~R) is really as low as you, Depoe, and the McGrew’s claim it to be. All these things I’ve talked about increase P(S|~R) and make it far from the low level it would need to be in order to cancel out the low prior probability the resurrection was supernatural. The evidence Needs to be extraordinary.
And Miracle-like events don’t mean much in a time so riddled with superstition and so pre-scientific. All I see in those passages are claims, similar to the ones I talked about on my paper, with no way to evaluate those claims.

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Eric February 23, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Correction,
“And Miracle-like events don’t mean much in a time so riddled with superstition and so pre-scientific. All I see in those passages are claims, similar to the ones I talked about on my paper, with no way to evaluate those claims.”
should read:
“And Miracle-like events don’t mean much in a time so riddled with superstition and so pre-scientific. All I see in those passages are claims, similar to the ones I talked about with my random paper analogy, with no way to cancel out natural possibilities”

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Patrick February 24, 2011 at 11:01 am

Eric: “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear:
“When left to rely solely on our memories, the reliability of these memories goes waaay down.”
The point of those was to show how unreliable memories can be. I wasn’t putting these things for as things you would have to believe if you believe in Christianity, although its always interesting to see Christians engage in a form of skepticism, even for a second. However, you missed the point, which I stated clearly.”

As for the reliability of people’s memories we certainly can’t discuss this issue in great detail here. The following links may provide thought food in this respect.

http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/search/label/Eyewitness%20Testimony

http://www.denverseminary.edu/craig-blombergs-blog-new-testament-musings/yes-people-can-have-good-memories/

Eric: “My point with the borely factory wasn’t necessarily the case of Harry Price, rather the evolving of the urban legend that lead to Harry Price’s exploitation of the incident. I’m not completely sure the Hills were necessarily hoaxters. However, I will admit those examples are not the best. At the very least, the articles I have provided you in the past about memory go to show that our memories are very imperfect, an often unreliable when relied upon on their own.”

You again confuse different categories of statements. Urban legends are not the same as personal memories. That there was no failure of personal memories can be seen from the following quotes from the article about the Borley Rectory and my respective comments.

“The legend of the nun bricked up in the cellar, that so frightened the Bull family, came from a novel that they owned by Rider Haggard. Reverend Bull used to read this chilling tale to his children.”

It’s not clear to me here what it was that members of the Bull family testified to. Was it that the children were frightened by the legend of the nun, or that the parents were frightened as well, or simply that Reverend Bull had read Haggard’s tale to the children?

“It was said that Harry Bull enjoyed the ghostly disturbances as entertainment, and built a summer house overlooking the Nun’s Walk where he could enjoy cigars and watch the spectacle.”

Obviously it was not Harry Bull himself testifying to this.

“Reverend and Mrs. Smith said that they left the house due to its horrible condition and prehistoric plumbing, not due to any hauntings.”

Here we even have personal testimonies denying the occurrence of paranormal events.

“Marianne Foyster stated that she believed many of the strange incidents were being staged by her husband working in league with Harry Price.”

Here again we have a personal testimony of this kind before us.

“Price said that the Foysters reported as many as 2,000 events.”

Obviously it was not the Foysters themselves testifying to this.

I now turn to another account concerning the paranormal, the story of Maude Connolly, as described in the article “poltergeist” in the Skeptic’s Dictionary (http://www.skepdic.com/poltergeist.html). The author regards the two witnesses, Maude Connolly and Milbourne Christopher, as very reliable:

“Mrs. Connolly was not a superstitious woman and attributed the events to powerful drafts swirling down the chimney and disturbing objects in their path.”

“Milbourne Christopher has a stellar reputation and I have no reason to mistrust his account.”

As a matter of fact, being a sceptic and paranormal debunker Christopher would have acted against his own interests if he had lied, and being the president of the Society of American Magicians he certainly was not easily deceived.

Applying a Bayesian analysis to this case, the number of witnesses, n, is 2 and the likelihood ratio term is high, let’s say 0.999. But what is the prior probability of the event? How can it be determined, and how could a low prior probability be justified?

A low prior probability could be justified by the fact that the vast majority of houses are not said to be haunted. In other words, poltergeist phenomena seem to be rare events. But it is certainly fallacious to assume that testimonies concerning rare events are necessarily less reliable than testimonies concerning frequent events. There are rare events, such as people winning the lottery, but we don’t assume that testimonies concerning such events are necessarily unreliable.

Another way to question testimonies about poltergeist phenomena would be to state that such phenomena are impossible because they violate the laws of nature. But from such a statement it would follow that the prior probability is not just low, but in fact that it is 0. But no testimony can possibly overcome a prior probability of 0.

Still another argument in favour of a low prior probability could consist in pointing to the fact that there is no scientific confirmation of the poltergeist phenomenon. But as we have seen, a lack of scientific confirmation needn’t result in a low prior probability.

Finally, one could in analogy to the argument from the history of science argue that some alleged poltergeist phenomena have turned out to be hoaxes and that therefore a low prior probability must be assumed. This argument can be called “argument from failed explanations”, of which the argument from the history of science is a special case.

As we have seen with respect to the history of science this argument is fallacious. This becomes obvious when we look at other instances where the “argument from failed explanations” can be applied. So, from the fact that there have been cases when people accused and convicted of a certain crime have turned out to be innocent one cannot automatically draw the conclusion that in a present court case the prior probability of such a crime is low.

So, I really don’t see how a prior probability for such events can objectively be determined. Therefore it is as reasonable to assume a low prior probability as a high one.

But, having such a high likelihood ratio term, the prior probability may not be that important. This might also be the view of the author of the article mentioned above, as he seems to try to cast doubt on the reliability of one of the witnesses:

“Milbourne Christopher has a stellar reputation and I have no reason to mistrust his account. Nevertheless, he could be hoaxing us for some strange reason.”

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Eric February 24, 2011 at 11:27 am

Patrick –
As for the reliability of people’s memories we certainly can’t discuss this issue in great detail here. The following links may provide thought food in this respect.
http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/search/label/Eyewitness%20Testimony
http://www.denverseminary.edu/craig-blombergs-blog-new-testament-musings/yes-people-can-have-good-memories/

The former fundy one deals with actual peer reviewed research and gives systematic reasons to doubt the reliability of one’s memory. The one supporting the reliability of eyewitness testimony has one situation where eyewitness testimony worked (although a lot of these Holocaust memories deal with events that happened over and over). Other than that, he claims that his memory is very good. There is very little of a way in which we can evaluate how good his memories of school actually are. He does nothing to tackle the mounds of research showing memories are particularly poor when left to themselves alone.

Patrick –
You again confuse different categories of statements. Urban legends are not the same as personal memories.

In the case of many New Testament stories, such as the Gospels, Acts, Revelation, and Paul’s disputed letters, we may very likely be dealing with the case of urban legends; same with any cases reported by the various places that supposedly reported miracles to Jesus. Urban legends deal with a failure of memory, usually in the case of people who were told the story. The only time we are worrying about individual memories are with Paul’s personal experiences.

I’ll deal with the rest of this later.

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Eric February 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Patrick –
That there was no failure of personal memories can be seen from the following quotes from the article about the Borley Rectory and my respective comments.
“The legend of the nun bricked up in the cellar, that so frightened the Bull family, came from a novel that they owned by Rider Haggard. Reverend Bull used to read this chilling tale to his children.”
It’s not clear to me here what it was that members of the Bull family testified to. Was it that the children were frightened by the legend of the nun, or that the parents were frightened as well, or simply that Reverend Bull had read Haggard’s tale to the children?
“It was said that Harry Bull enjoyed the ghostly disturbances as entertainment, and built a summer house overlooking the Nun’s Walk where he could enjoy cigars and watch the spectacle.”
Obviously it was not Harry Bull himself testifying to this.
“Reverend and Mrs. Smith said that they left the house due to its horrible condition and prehistoric plumbing, not due to any hauntings.”
Here we even have personal testimonies denying the occurrence of paranormal events.
“Marianne Foyster stated that she believed many of the strange incidents were being staged by her husband working in league with Harry Price.”
Here again we have a personal testimony of this kind before us.
“Price said that the Foysters reported as many as 2,000 events.”
Obviously it was not the Foysters themselves testifying to this.

As I had said before, these weren’t the best examples, mainly because there is a lot of side information that is not relevant to the point I was trying to make. Here’s the most relevant point:
The story of automatic writing appearing on the walls of Borley Rectory while people watched appears to be nothing more than a misinterpretation of the reports of the planchette seances, in which writing was captured on wallpaper while seance attendees watched and participated.
Here’s a point where memory played a crucial role in the development of this urban legend. Small details like the difference between “wall” and “wallpaper” could make all the difference in the world if we didn’t have the ability to go back and investigate the events.
Also, it is interesting to note how the real story of the Reverand and Mrs Smith leaving the house is missing from the urban legend. So this can lead us to have more doubts about second and third hand testimony of supposedly supernatural phenomena. While this may not directly apply to Paul as a SECOND hand account, it can make a big difference if Paul was the third or fourth hand account of these events he speaks of.

Patrick –
I now turn to another account concerning the paranormal, the story of Maude Connolly, as described in the article “poltergeist” in the Skeptic’s Dictionary (http://www.skepdic.com/poltergeist.html). The author regards the two witnesses, Maude Connolly and Milbourne Christopher, as very reliable:
“Mrs. Connolly was not a superstitious woman and attributed the events to powerful drafts swirling down the chimney and disturbing objects in their path.”
“Milbourne Christopher has a stellar reputation and I have no reason to mistrust his account.”
As a matter of fact, being a sceptic and paranormal debunker Christopher would have acted against his own interests if he had lied, and being the president of the Society of American Magicians he certainly was not easily deceived.
Applying a Bayesian analysis to this case, the number of witnesses, n, is 2 and the likelihood ratio term is high, let’s say 0.999. But what is the prior probability of the event? How can it be determined, and how could a low prior probability be justified?

For one, were not talking about the number of witnesses. The DePoe paper relies on the witnesses being independent. Given that the first witness claimed to have seen an event, the probability other witnesses would claim to see the event, regardless of whether or not it actually happened, is much higher than the probability of that first person seeing the event. However, this is not a big deal. It sounds as if there was a natural explanation for this:
A building inspector suggested the problem might be coming from the fireplace, so Mrs. Connolly hired someone to put a protective covering over the chimney top. “From that moment on, the objects stayed put” (Christopher 1970: 142).
This seems to sum it up quite well. Although I don’t know how strong the wind was at Cape Cod, it was likely high due to the fact that it was coastal. Although we cannot confirm the explanation was natural, the chances of this happening naturally are not all that low, even if we assume the testimony is reliable.

Patrick –
A low prior probability could be justified by the fact that the vast majority of houses are not said to be haunted. In other words, poltergeist phenomena seem to be rare events. But it is certainly fallacious to assume that testimonies concerning rare events are necessarily less reliable than testimonies concerning frequent events. There are rare events, such as people winning the lottery, but we don’t assume that testimonies concerning such events are necessarily unreliable.

If I told you I won the lottery, you would be right to dismiss it pending convincing evidence. However, if I produced a winning lottery ticket, the probability I won the lottery increases given that evidence. This may also be the case if I had an improbable amount of money, given the kid of life I lived. So in general, yes the testimony that someone won the lottery may initially be low because the probability that any given person won the lottery is very low. So, this analogy shows reason for you to initially mistrust that a given person won the lottery. The prior probability that someone won the lottery is very low.

Patrick –
Another way to question testimonies about poltergeist phenomena would be to state that such phenomena are impossible because they violate the laws of nature. But from such a statement it would follow that the prior probability is not just low, but in fact that it is 0. But no testimony can possibly overcome a prior probability of 0.

This is obviously not the kind of logic I have used for THIS post. Because the laws and metaphysics of the universe are not absolutely known, we cannot actually assume the prior probability of some phenomena is actually 0. However, we can assume it is very low due to this fact. In fact, this may be the only reason the prior probability is not 0.

Patrick –
Still another argument in favour of a low prior probability could consist in pointing to the fact that there is no scientific confirmation of the poltergeist phenomenon. But as we have seen, a lack of scientific confirmation needn’t result in a low prior probability.

Agreed.

Patrick –
Finally, one could in analogy to the argument from the history of science argue that some alleged poltergeist phenomena have turned out to be hoaxes and that therefore a low prior probability must be assumed. This argument can be called “argument from failed explanations”, of which the argument from the history of science is a special case.
As we have seen with respect to the history of science this argument is fallacious. This becomes obvious when we look at other instances where the “argument from failed explanations” can be applied. So, from the fact that there have been cases when people accused and convicted of a certain crime have turned out to be innocent one cannot automatically draw the conclusion that in a present court case the prior probability of such a crime is low.

Again you try to compare apples to oranges. People have been scientifically confirmed to be guilty (via DNA evidence). I swear I’ve noted this before with no response from you. Actually the prior probability that a given person committed a serious crime is low because those crimes are rare. This is a good reason for the United States policy “Innocent til proven guilty.” Of course, since we do have confirmed cases of people actually being guilty, it is far easier to overcome this low probability.

Patrick –
So, I really don’t see how a prior probability for such events can objectively be determined. Therefore it is as reasonable to assume a low prior probability as a high one.

Well, it still looks as though it can be objectively done. Refer to what I said above.

Patrick –
But, having such a high likelihood ratio term, the prior probability may not be that important. This might also be the view of the author of the article mentioned above, as he seems to try to cast doubt on the reliability of one of the witnesses:
“Milbourne Christopher has a stellar reputation and I have no reason to mistrust his account. Nevertheless, he could be hoaxing us for some strange reason.”

A good reputation can definitely decrease the probability someone’s testimony is bad, however it can be misleading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Rodriguez#9/11_attacks
William Rodríguez was a janitor at the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001 attacks and was in the basement of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building.”
He claimed to witness events that led him to believe the Towers were brought down by explosions, despite the overwhelming evidence they fell as an indirect result of the plane impacts. One would think of him as reliable due to the fact that he was a former assistant to James Randi. However, the physical evidence really gives us reason to question his testimony.
Despite this, the author of the Poltergist article had prior reasons to think Christopher’s writing would be credible, likely due to other writings and other information he has about him, etc… Seeing as all we have from Paul is his letters, we cannot tell how reliable he really is.

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Patrick February 25, 2011 at 6:56 am

Eric: “However, once again we have no confirmation of the supernatural, let alone scientific confirmation.”

In my opinion there is historical confirmation of the supernatural. Well-documented supernatural events can be found in the biography of Blumhardt mentioned above.

Eric: “However, the main kinds of points I’m looking for are ruling out:

1. Desim since the resurrection would be impossible under this concept of God”

Good arguments against deism can be found in the following book:

Joseph Butler, Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Nature, London 1736.

The book can be read online in the following link:

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/srachoot/Butler/butlerindex.html

Timothy McGrew presents a short summary of the book in the following audio interview (05:56-07:51):

http://namb.edgeboss.net/download/namb/4truth/audio/mcgrew_history_of_apologetics.mp3

Eric: “2. Pantheism

3. Non-trinitarian monotheism”

In his book “He is There and He is Not Silent” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Is_There_and_He_Is_Not_Silent) in the chapter “The Metaphysical Necessity” Francis Schaeffer examines these two concepts. In a nutshell he says that pantheism (which he calls “paneverythingism” and to which he also counts naturalism) cannot account for the concept of personality and the existence of particulars, and that the non-Trinitarian concept of God fails to account for the idea of unity in diversity.

Eric: “1. Even if God is the origin of love, it doesn’t mean that God had to love. God is the origin of death and eating, so would god have to die and/or eat?”

Again you confuse categories. Love, or better “being loving”, is a positive personal quality, whereas death is the lack of such a quality. That’s why we call a dead person “lifeless”, but not a living person “deathless”. Second, eating is not a personal quality but an action. Besides, if you are not happy with this argument you may turn to Schaeffer’s referred to above.

Eric: “2. The end is a non-sequitur and begs the question. It first assumes that there is one God, even though no argument is given for there to be only one God. It assumes that God couldn’t have just loved himself without needing this multiple self.”

The concept of polytheism can’t account for the idea of unity in diversity, either, as the element of unity is lacking. Moreover, according to Schaeffer, there must be something absolute, which gives everything meaning, and the gods of polytheism cannot embody this absolute.

Eric: “3. It assumes Love is not reducible to something physical.
I’m glad you finally gave me an argument, but it is pretty weaksauce…”

If you reduce love, which certainly is an expression of personality, to mere physical processes you confirm Schaeffer’s charge that “paneverythingism” cannot account for the concept of personality.

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Patrick February 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Eric: “What about what I said makes it subjective? I don’t know everything about physics, so does that make relativity theory subjective?”

Unlike in Physics in History you can never know all the relevant data to arrive at objective conclusions.

Eric: “Remember you are making the claim that, out of all the events of history somebody interpreted as supernatural, yours IS the actual supernatural claim (among a relatively small number of others). You are the one making the extraordinary claim so you are the one needing to provide the evidence. At this point, it takes a selective memory of human behavior to ignore how things like the resurrection can happen naturally. Mike Licona seems to have trouble understanding what his opponents claim and often creates straw men:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9593”

As far as I can see Licona provides good evidence in the book mentioned above. Another book that can be added here is the one entitled “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (London 2003), written by N. T. Wright. As for Christian miracles in general my remarks on this thread and the biography of Blumhardt may provide good evidence for them.

Eric: “I do have a few pro-resurrection books on my book list. However, from what I’ve seen of Licona in debates and such, I’m not sure I’d put Licona’s book on my list.”

As experts recommend this book putting it on the list may be a good decision.

Eric: “Compared to God stopping and starting a storm at precise times at precise places, this is a very vague prediction. There is no specific time, date, or place for this prediction. So God’s guidance could easily have swayed Joseph in this case.”

Don’t forget that God had to take into account a drought lasting seven years. So this prediction had to come true during this drought, which is quite a precise time. Without this drought Joseph’s brothers would never have travelled to Egypt and been forced to throw themselves down before Joseph.

Eric: “If God foreknows people’s actions, then they don’t have the free will to do otherwise. That would be a contradiction.”

I don’t see why this should be the case. I think it’s wrong to imagine that God “knows the future beforehand”. Rather, as God is beyond space and time He does not, as we do, move in space and time, but for Him every moment is in the presence.

Eric: “But then that would be falsifiable. You could trace back causation to a point before Jonah decided to flee Tarshish.”

I assume that between the moment Jonah decided to travel to Tarshish and the storm at sea there was enough time for God to arrange things to serve His purpose.

Eric: “Given what we know of history, theres very little chance ancient peoples were talking about indirect causation. And if a phenomenon has a natural explanation, then the direct causation has been falsified.”

Isn’t the Plague of the Locusts a good example of indirect causation? We would have direct causation before us if the locusts just popped into existence supernaturally.

Eric: “Then if you don’t deny this, why do you bring it up? Also it is quite a claim “that miracles have a much greater importance and is more commonplace in Christianity than in other religions.” That may need some kind of evidence. However, as I have pointed out earlier, that hardly seems to make a difference without a successful argument that a phenomena is more likely to be supernatural, given that it is Christian, than it would in general.”

My assumption that in Christianity miracles have a much greater importance and are more common than in other religions is based on the following observations, taking into account the religions with the largest numbers of adherents after Christianity, namely Islam and Buddhism.

First, unlike in the aforementioned religions Christianity is based on a miracle, namely the Resurrection. Second, in the Bible there are many miracle accounts, whereas in the Qur’an the miracle accounts only refer to Biblical figures and therefore cannot be regarded as being independent from the Bible. In Buddhism, as far as I know, miracles are even less important. This is certainly due to the fact that unlike in the Monotheistic religions in Buddhism there is no personal, mighty supernatural being who could be asked for miracles.

Third, it seems to me that in Islam and in Buddhism in the religious practice miracles play a lesser role. For all I know in neither of these religions there is a Lourdes or a Fatima, a Benny Hinn or a Padre Pio. I guess one might also search in vain for a figure like Blumhardt.

From the miracle claims in other religions presented here so far, namely the Islamic miracle claims and the Hindu milk miracle, one can see that they are much different from the miracle accounts we find in the Bible.

Eric: “Remember the arguments have to argue for Christianity specifically. And they have to have true premises, and have true non-trivial conclusions.”

Jesus’ exorcisms and those of the people of the Pharisees, as mentioned in Matthew 12, 27, belong both to the Judeo-Christian tradition and can therefore not be set against each other.

Eric: “In your evaluation of claimed Christian miracles, I’m doubtful you consistently hold on to skeptical values. It kind of defeats the point of skepticism when its only practiced on claims outside of your particular blend of Christianity. If you really are interested in skepticism though, I would suggest Carl Sagan’s Daemon Haunted World as well as the podcast Skeptoid. And those passages only seem to apply toward prophecies that don’t come true.”

By no means do I accept all Christian miracle claims. I reject e.g. the miracle claims one finds in the apocryphical gospels that were written in the second century or even later. There are also miracle accounts in connection with Christian saints that seem doubtful to me, especially as they at times contradict each other. On the other hand I don’t deny the possibility that there may be miracles outside Christianity. To conclude my remarks about this, every miracle claim has to be looked at separately from a Bayesian point of view.

Eric: “Or the belief that he died could have been an illusion/trick. Why do you think only God is capable of bringing a person back to life? I’m wondering how a belief like this could avoid being circular…”

If God is to be regarded as the most supreme being, it is in my view hardly conceivable that an inferior being is responsible for a phenomenon so basic as life.

Eric: “Can only the Christian God write his name in the sky in Arabic? It sounds like it’s the name of Allah. Arab Christians use offshoots of the name, but I’m not sure how different those look, for example basm-allah… The fact that the only mass written name of God in the whole world is Arabic would seem to favor the Arabic interpretation of God, which is majority Islam.”

Even if the phenomena showing the name of God in Arabic turn out to be miraculous, there are still other arguments in favour of Trinitarian Monotheism, as explained in the previous post.

Eric: “If it wasn’t for the independent analysis, we would not know this. We have no independent analysis and a very similar situation, in the fact that most people may have been expecting a miracle to take place.”

In a sense you are right. But, as I pointed out earlier, the Biblical miracles are of a different quality. Whereas those miracles usually aim at helping people, here, like in the case of the Hindu milk miracle, the element of amazement is to the fore.

Eric: “And the issue isn’t whether an atheist or theist can disagree regarding the interpretation of these passages. It just matters if P(Scriptures|~R) is really as low as you, Depoe, and the McGrew’s claim it to be. All these things I’ve talked about increase P(S|~R) and make it far from the low level it would need to be in order to cancel out the low prior probability the resurrection was supernatural. The evidence Needs to be extraordinary.”

But here the question is how extraordinary the evidence would have to be. Are there any objective criteria concerning the extraordinariness of the evidence? In my opinion together with other arguments in favour of Christianity the evidence is fairly good.

Eric: “And Miracle-like events don’t mean much in a time so riddled with superstition and so pre-scientific. All I see in those passages are claims, similar to the ones I talked about with my random paper analogy, with no way to cancel out natural possibilities”

Even if we assume that there were superstitious people and accept the fact that science was very underdeveloped I don’t see why the miracle accounts are not supposed to be reliable. Either there were miracle-like events or there weren’t. If there were no such events people couldn’t interpret them as miracles. This can be seen from the fact that in the Qur’an no miracles are recorded, although people in 7th century Arabia may not have been less superstitious than people a few hundred years before.

Eric: “The one supporting the reliability of eyewitness testimony has one situation where eyewitness testimony worked (although a lot of these Holocaust memories deal with events that happened over and over).”

Although I’m not an expert concerning human memory, it seems quite obvious to me that there are different kinds of memories, of which some may be more reliable than others. To the former belong certainly memories about events that happened over and over, as is the case with Holocaust memories. But the same also applies to memories about the Resurrection: Of the post mortem appearances of Jesus we read that they happened several times.

Eric: “In the case of many New Testament stories, such as the Gospels, Acts, Revelation, and Paul’s disputed letters, we may very likely be dealing with the case of urban legends; same with any cases reported by the various places that supposedly reported miracles to Jesus. Urban legends deal with a failure of memory, usually in the case of people who were told the story.”

This is mere speculation. But it certainly is not the case with respect to Paul’s first hand testimonies, as shown before.

Eric: “Here’s the most relevant point:

“The story of automatic writing appearing on the walls of Borley Rectory while people watched appears to be nothing more than a misinterpretation of the reports of the planchette seances, in which writing was captured on wallpaper while seance attendees watched and participated. ”

Here’s a point where memory played a crucial role in the development of this urban legend. Small details like the difference between “wall” and “wallpaper” could make all the difference in the world if we didn’t have the ability to go back and investigate the events.”

Once again you confuse different categories of statements. A misinterpretation of a report about an event by people not involved in it is not the same as the memories of the people involved in it.

Eric: “Also, it is interesting to note how the real story of the Reverand and Mrs Smith leaving the house is missing from the urban legend. So this can lead us to have more doubts about second and third hand testimony of supposedly supernatural phenomena. While this may not directly apply to Paul as a SECOND hand account, it can make a big difference if Paul was the third or fourth hand account of these events he speaks of.”

As Paul was very well acquainted with people who knew Jesus, like James, the brother of Jesus, and the apostles Peter and John (Galatians 2,9), Paul’s accounts about the Resurrection can be regarded as first and second hand accounts.

Eric: “For one, were not talking about the number of witnesses. The DePoe paper relies on the witnesses being independent. Given that the first witness claimed to have seen an event, the probability other witnesses would claim to see the event, regardless of whether or not it actually happened, is much higher than the probability of that first person seeing the event. However, this is not a big deal. It sounds as if there was a natural explanation for this:

“A building inspector suggested the problem might be coming from the fireplace, so Mrs. Connolly hired someone to put a protective covering over the chimney top. “From that moment on, the objects stayed put” (Christopher 1970: 142).”

This seems to sum it up quite well. Although I don’t know how strong the wind was at Cape Cod, it was likely high due to the fact that it was coastal. Although we cannot confirm the explanation was natural, the chances of this happening naturally are not all that low, even if we assume the testimony is reliable.”

I don’t object to trying to find natural causes for such phenomena. It’s just that in my opinion when investigating such phenomena the existence of the paranormal should not be ruled out a priori.

Eric: “If I told you I won the lottery, you would be right to dismiss it pending convincing evidence. However, if I produced a winning lottery ticket, the probability I won the lottery increases given that evidence.”

If a person told me that he or she had won the lottery I think I could be quite confident that it’s the truth. The same applies to a person claiming to suffer from a very rare disease. It’s simply not true that the probability of a testimony to be true is dependent of the probability of the event to which the testimony refers.

Eric: “Again you try to compare apples to oranges. People have been scientifically confirmed to be guilty (via DNA evidence). I swear I’ve noted this before with no response from you. Actually the prior probability that a given person committed a serious crime is low because those crimes are rare. This is a good reason for the United States policy “Innocent til proven guilty.” Of course, since we do have confirmed cases of people actually being guilty, it is far easier to overcome this low probability.”

I think you don’t understand my point. What I want to say is that it’s not just supernatural claims that can turn out to be false but also mundane claims, and therefore one should treat the failure of supernatural claims the same way as the failure of mundane claims. But if you suggest that because once a supernatural claim has turned out to be false, such as the supernatural cause of the stability of the universe, all other supernatural claims must also be rejected, you don’t treat them the same way.

Your example with the DNA evidence can serve as an illustration of my point. This kind of evidence has only been available for a few years, and at times it happens that people who were convicted of a crime and have been some years in jail turn out to be innocent based on DNA evidence. But this doesn’t mean that the procedure of evaluating the guilt of an accused person before the DNA evidence became available must be rejected altogether. There are certainly still cases when people convicted of crimes when such evidence was not available are indeed guilty. In this analogy the unjustified sentence is the supernatural explanation of the stability of the universe, the DNA evidence the natural explanation of it, and a justified sentence could stand for the fine-tuning of the universe.

Eric: “A good reputation can definitely decrease the probability someone’s testimony is bad, however it can be misleading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Rodriguez#9/11_attacks

“William Rodríguez was a janitor at the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001 attacks and was in the basement of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building.”

He claimed to witness events that led him to believe the Towers were brought down by explosions, despite the overwhelming evidence they fell as an indirect result of the plane impacts. One would think of him as reliable due to the fact that he was a former assistant to James Randi. However, the physical evidence really gives us reason to question his testimony.

Despite this, the author of the Poltergist article had prior reasons to think Christopher’s writing would be credible, likely due to other writings and other information he has about him, etc… Seeing as all we have from Paul is his letters, we cannot tell how reliable he really is.”

As I pointed out earlier from what we can draw from Paul’s letters about his motives we can be quite confident that he was not a fraud.

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Eric February 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Patrick –
In my opinion there is historical confirmation of the supernatural. Well-documented supernatural events can be found in the biography of Blumhardt mentioned above.

To which I’ve already refuted. The evidence is nowhere near strong enough to overcome the low prior probability of the supernatural. Refer to earlier when I discussed this.

Patrick –
Good arguments against deism can be found in the following book:
Joseph Butler, Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Nature, London 1736.
The book can be read online in the following link:
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/srachoot/Butler/butlerindex.html
Timothy McGrew presents a short summary of the book in the following audio interview (05:56-07:51):
http://namb.edgeboss.net/download/namb/4truth/audio/mcgrew_history_of_apologetics.mp3

I’m not very impressed by the arguments as presented by Licona and McGrew. Obviously the argument predates the modern kalam cosmological argument. It doesn’t address the fact that rejection of theistic arguments rely more on just heuristics, while rejection or acceptance of the kalam can be argued to come down to heuristics. So as a result, you can possibly have justification for revelation of a general God using the Kalam. However, because there are legitimate objective arguments against the justification of the “revelation through scripture,” as I have presented throughout these posts, then we can objectively dismiss this revalation. The rest of the “evidence through prophecy” and such all tie into what we have been talking about. And, as I have shown, the evidence doesn’t overcome the low prior probability.

Patrick –
In his book “He is There and He is Not Silent” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Is_There_and_He_Is_Not_Silent) in the chapter “The Metaphysical Necessity” Francis Schaeffer examines these two concepts. In a nutshell he says that pantheism (which he calls “paneverythingism” and to which he also counts naturalism) cannot account for the concept of personality and the existence of particulars, and that the non-Trinitarian concept of God fails to account for the idea of unity in diversity.

Finally, a decent argument. Actually, I’m not sure why put pantheism on that list. I think I meant to type polytheism. But I will however, deal with these as they could possibly dismiss deism or non-trinitarian theism. The problem with saying naturalism and pantheism doesn’t account for the existence of “particulars” is that its not all that clear what makes something particular. If I were to make the exact same person in the exact same physical conditions (EXACT), then that person would be the same person as the clone. To assume that this person is fundamentally different is going to happen as a result of word games or loose definitions, or heuristics. However, could you give an argument over why this would rule out deism or non-Trinitarian monotheism?
Now if, when you mean “particulars” you mean something existing in concrete time and space, then we have a basic argument dealing with something coming into existence from nothing. A Deistic God would account for this, along with a non-Trinitarian monotheistic God.
Now I definitely need you to present a clear argument for why unity in diversity somehow leads us to suspect a Trinitarian monotheistic God.
Also, just a note, I do have other objections to these arguments, but I’m focusing on whether they actually rule out the possibility of a deistic, or non-Trinitarian God.

Patrick –
Again you confuse categories. Love, or better “being loving”, is a positive personal quality, whereas death is the lack of such a quality. That’s why we call a dead person “lifeless”, but not a living person “deathless”.

Now it seems like you are playing word games. We don’t refrain from calling a live person deathless for philosophical reasons, we instead refrain from it due to common usage of language considerations. How we usually use a word has nothing to do within its context in logic. Either way this does not tackle the fact that “having to die” is still a positive quality.

Patrick –

Second, eating is not a personal quality but an action. Besides, if you are not happy with this argument you may turn to Schaeffer’s referred to above.

Way to take the weakest interpretation of what I said… I said “have to eat”. Even though “eating” is an action, “have to eat” is a quality. So the logic still stands. I’ve already responded to the Schaeffer comments above.

Patrick –
The concept of polytheism can’t account for the idea of unity in diversity, either, as the element of unity is lacking. Moreover, according to Schaeffer, there must be something absolute, which gives everything meaning, and the gods of polytheism cannot embody this absolute.

Okay I really need a sound argument for this. For one, I was not responding to Schaeffer’s argument. So would you agree that the conclusion does not follow on the argument you presented? You are choosing random properties and taking particular definitions, as I pointed out earlier. Is this supposed to be some ontological definition of the words “unity” and “diversity?” Id we are talking about some kind of ontological argument then you have run into another issue that needs to be addressed. Why ideas can’t be explained as neural activity?What contradictions result from this? Even if we accept this, there still is another problem to contend with:
“Assuming that existence and non-existence can actually be properties of something, there is no logical justification for existence being greater than non-existence “
http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Ontological_argument
And even then, there is no clear non-fallacious reason for why this God must embody the absolute. This is based on a premise that something cannot create something else with a quality x, such that x is greater in that person’s creation than it is in that person. For example, take chess playing AI’s that beat the best human players in chess. It is no wonder that most philosophers reject the ontological argument.
In fact, if we did take your premise, you still have to contend that the absolute in unity and diversity would be countless minds acting in unity. If you considered this the same mind, then it would not actually be diverse. So this argument would work more for polytheism than any kind of monotheism. And even if it did work for monotheism, God would have to have a near-infinite set of distinct diverse minds to satisfy this argument.

Patrick -If you reduce love, which certainly is an expression of personality, to mere physical processes you confirm Schaeffer’s charge that “paneverythingism” cannot account for the concept of personality.

But it can. Personality can be reducible to neural activity. Different minds have different kinds of neural activity, in slight enough ways to account for distinct personalities. If my interpretation is too weak, please elaborate with a coherent definition of personality. Without a coherent definition, you cannot make any positive claims like this.

Finally, you gave me a little bit of fun!
I’ll respond to the rest later…

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Patrick February 26, 2011 at 7:20 am

Eric

Concerning the question whether or not God can foresee the actions of free-willed agents, the account of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of Him (Matthew 26,31-35) clearly shows that it is possible. But once one has accepted this, the whole issue of direct versus indirect causation becomes irrelevant.

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Patrick February 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Eric: “The evidence is nowhere near strong enough to overcome the low prior probability of the supernatural.”

You still haven’t given any good reason why the prior probability of the supernatural is low. Your example of the claim concerning winning the lottery is not appropriate. In this example the prior probability is not determined by the probability that any given person would win the lottery, but by the probability that any person would win the lottery, and this probability is extremely high. When we determine the prior probability of the Resurrection we don’t ask how probable it is that the people Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 had post mortem appearances of Jesus, but how probable it is that such appearances happened at all.

Your second example of you having an improbable amount of money is not better. It is by no means unlikely that a very rich person lives a very modest life.

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Patrick February 28, 2011 at 3:10 am

Eric: “So merely showing that a creator God exists does not increase the prior probability of the Resurrection. So even with an argument like the Kalam being successful, we have no idea what this God desires. You would have to show that this God would probably Create man, damn them to eternal hell for a test he HAD to know they would fail, then wait 100,000 years to save them using a very unnatural form of forgiveness.”

If we assume that Jesus’ work of redemption has retrospective effect, which in view of the existence of the Old Testament saints must be the case, then it is by no means a problem to accept the fact that such a work was accomplished only “late”. This can also be justified by the fact that most people who have ever lived have died as infants or earlier and by the assumption, based on Genesis 2,16, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16, that people who die at this early age go to Heaven anyway. When we furthermore take into account, that a person’s accountability is dependent on his or her knowledge of God’s commandments, as suggested Luke 12,47-48, then the fact that there are people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel may not be so much of a problem.

That the problem of evil results makes the existence of the God of the Bible improbable or even impossible, as suggested by William Rowe’s paper mentioned above, is by no means obvious. This can be seen from my comment in the following link:

http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2011/02/simple-statement-of-problem-of-evil.html

A good example of my suggestion that God’s being just might justify suffering is in fact Jesus’ work of redemption. If God was only perfectly good and all-powerful (whatever you mean by it), then Jesus’ suffering was unnecessary, as God could have forgiven all men their sins out of sheer love and generosity. But being perfectly just, God has to punish sins, either by punishing the sinners or by punishing Jesus on their behalf. This is by the way also one of the reasons that makes in my view Christianity more probably true than any other Monotheistic religion, as only with the Christian doctrine of redemption God can forgive sins and still remain perfectly loving and perfectly just.

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Eric February 28, 2011 at 5:39 am

Just an update. I’m incredibly busy so it may be a while before I finish the response to all your comments. I just wanted to talk about your last comment briefly.

Patrick –

Eric: “So merely showing that a creator God exists does not increase the prior probability of the Resurrection. So even with an argument like the Kalam being successful, we have no idea what this God desires. You would have to show that this God would probably Create man, damn them to eternal hell for a test he HAD to know they would fail, then wait 100,000 years to save them using a very unnatural form of forgiveness.”If we assume that Jesus’ work of redemption has retrospective effect, which in view of the existence of the Old Testament saints must be the case, then it is by no means a problem to accept the fact that such a work was accomplished only “late”.

Remember the Kalam Cosmological Argument is usually argued like this:
“The Kalam Cosmological Argument:[9]

1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
3. Thus the universe has a cause of its existence.
4. This first uncaused cause must transcend physical reality.
5. This uncaused cause that transcends physical reality is the description of God.
6. Therefore God exists.

So there’s no assumption that God is good. The point of my argument is that Christians suddenly assume this creator God is somehow not only “good”, but exactly the description of good that would make him perform the acts mentioned of him in the new testament. So not only is it unfounded to call God good from the kalam, but it is also unfounded to call him this random type of good. As I will show in my responses to your posts, this is not necessarily an ideal good as suggested by our moral intuitions.
Anyway, Even if the resurrection has retrospective effect, we still have to contend with the fact that it happened at the time suggested. People before Christ had to wait 100k years before being saved. That’s 100k years in hell. Now you can try some kind of time argument, however, I warn you to be careful as the Kalam already accepts as its premise an A theory of time. So as a result, when these people died, there is no way around the fact they would have to have spent time in hell, waiting for the universe to reach a certain point in time.
It is also a problem that this Good God would create creatures that would definitely fail his test and be sentenced to hell for being the way God made them.
Also, if people are now saved because they accept the gospel, then how can God punish an entire people because he never gave them the chance to be saved?
So our only chance of salvaging this God is by assuming he assumes a double standard for people before and after the gospel. This is an incredibly random quality for God to have, but yet this quality must be expected if we are going to assume the increased likelihood of the Christian Resurrection story.

Patrick –
This can also be justified by the fact that most people who have ever lived have died as infants or earlier and by the assumption, based on Genesis 2,16, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16, that people who die at this early age go to Heaven anyway.

Most maybe, but we still have a large number of people who didn’t die as infants, so this doesn’t really solve any problems. The problems suggested before still stands.

Patrick –
When we furthermore take into account, that a person’s accountability is dependent on his or her knowledge of God’s commandments, as suggested Luke 12,47-48, then the fact that there are people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel may not be so much of a problem.

So we have the double standard again. Very random quality and far from intuitive.

Patrick –
That the problem of evil results makes the existence of the God of the Bible improbable or even impossible, as suggested by William Rowe’s paper mentioned above, is by no means obvious. This can be seen from my comment in the following link:http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2011/02/simple-statement-of-problem-of-evil.html

It sounds like your argument responds to the logical problem of Evil, which I agree, doesn’t hold if God does not have those qualities. But what qualities does God have that would lead us to expect him to act as he did in the New Testament? Remember you are arguing first assuming the properties given to God in the bible. However, this is going in the wrong direction. The logical problem of Evil is a problem that comes up when one assumes that God is all-good and all powerful. However, the evidential problem of evil comes up when one assumes God is both good and powerful at all. The more evil we see, the less we should assume a God like this exists:
B = A good powerful God exists
A = Some arbitrary evil event happens
P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)
P(~A|B) = P(B|~A)*P(~A)/P(B)
Lets assume that P(A) and P(~A) are both equal for argument purposes.
P(B|A) is less than 1, maybe just slightly.
P(B|~A) is exactly 1
So from the existence of one evil event already decreases the chances of a good/powerful God existing. When talking about multiple evils, the problem grows exponentially (Apply it to DePoe’s paper, except replace T with B and R with A)
This problem is further exacerbated when one takes into account “Gratuitous evil”
Just a note: Your objection to the First premise is the Ominpotence Paradox. However, most sophisticated theists assume omnipotence with the qualifier that God cannot perform any act that is logically impossible, as logic is necessary. This gets rid of the problem of this paradox but also leaves the logical problem of evil in tact.

Patrick –
A good example of my suggestion that God’s being just might justify suffering is in fact Jesus’ work of redemption. If God was only perfectly good and all-powerful (whatever you mean by it), then Jesus’ suffering was unnecessary, as God could have forgiven all men their sins out of sheer love and generosity. But being perfectly just, God has to punish sins, either by punishing the sinners or by punishing Jesus on their behalf. This is by the way also one of the reasons that makes in my view Christianity more probably true than any other Monotheistic religion, as only with the Christian doctrine of redemption God can forgive sins and still remain perfectly loving and perfectly just.

So you are assuming God is all just but not all good. How does the Kalam suggest this? How does the Kalam suggest God cares about people at all? How does the Kalam say that people are saved when they die? All of this goes into the improbability that the God of the kalam would do the acts associated with him in the New Testament. Also, if God was all just, then we would assume that God would give an equal chance of salvation to everybody. Seeing as how, as you say “theists and atheists can reasonably disagree,” we have reason to believe God is not providing the kind of objective evidence needed to give all mankind a fair shot at salvation, which is exactly what we would assume of a just God. As I have said in the past “God knows exactly what it would take to convince me of his existence” I have spelled out a few examples on this very post. The fact that God will not do this but will give you the evidence you require leads us to believe God is not just.
So, for one we have no reason to assume God has any of these qualities from the Kalam. However, if we do assume it, we have to assume random levels of justness, powerfulness, and goodness. So, given that these are random and do not follow logically or probably from the Kalam, the Kalam doesn’t actually increase the prior probability the resurrection was supernatural.

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Patrick February 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Eric: “I’m not very impressed by the arguments as presented by Licona and McGrew. Obviously the argument predates the modern kalam cosmological argument. It doesn’t address the fact that rejection of theistic arguments rely more on just heuristics, while rejection or acceptance of the kalam can be argued to come down to heuristics. So as a result, you can possibly have justification for revelation of a general God using the Kalam. However, because there are legitimate objective arguments against the justification of the “revelation through scripture,” as I have presented throughout these posts, then we can objectively dismiss this revalation. The rest of the “evidence through prophecy” and such all tie into what we have been talking about. And, as I have shown, the evidence doesn’t overcome the low prior probability.”

Both deism and the traditional Christian concept of God are compatible with the Creator God the Kalam Cosmological argument tries to establish. I haven’t suggested that this argument proves the existence of the Christian God. Whether or not Joseph Butler’s arguments against deism are convincing only a closer examination of them can show. The fact that Timothy McGrew recommends this book may indicate that it contains good arguments.

Eric: “Finally, a decent argument. Actually, I’m not sure why put pantheism on that list. I think I meant to type polytheism. But I will however, deal with these as they could possibly dismiss deism or non-trinitarian theism. The problem with saying naturalism and pantheism doesn’t account for the existence of “particulars” is that its not all that clear what makes something particular. If I were to make the exact same person in the exact same physical conditions (EXACT), then that person would be the same person as the clone. To assume that this person is fundamentally different is going to happen as a result of word games or loose definitions, or heuristics. However, could you give an argument over why this would rule out deism or non-Trinitarian monotheism?
Now if, when you mean “particulars” you mean something existing in concrete time and space, then we have a basic argument dealing with something coming into existence from nothing. A Deistic God would account for this, along with a non-Trinitarian monotheistic God.
Now I definitely need you to present a clear argument for why unity in diversity somehow leads us to suspect a Trinitarian monotheistic God.
Also, just a note, I do have other objections to these arguments, but I’m focusing on whether they actually rule out the possibility of a deistic, or non-Trinitarian God.”

If I understand Schaeffer correctly he means that there must be an original concept of diversity, which is the source of all subsequent occurrences of diversity.

Eric: “Now it seems like you are playing word games. We don’t refrain from calling a live person deathless for philosophical reasons, we instead refrain from it due to common usage of language considerations. How we usually use a word has nothing to do within its context in logic. Either way this does not tackle the fact that “having to die” is still a positive quality.”

If by “having to die” you mean “ceasing to exist” then from a Christian point of view man hasn’t such a quality, as he continues existing after death. Nevertheless I still wonder if being alive is really on a par with being dead. The fact that we can turn a living object into a dead one but not the other way round may be an argument for such a view.

Eric: “Way to take the weakest interpretation of what I said… I said “have to eat”. Even though “eating” is an action, “have to eat” is a quality. So the logic still stands. I’ve already responded to the Schaeffer comments above.”

From passages such as Matthew 4,4, John 4,31-34, and John 6,25-51, one can conclude that “having to eat” may indeed by a divine quality, albeit in a different manner than we might think.

Eric: “Okay I really need a sound argument for this. For one, I was not responding to Schaeffer’s argument. So would you agree that the conclusion does not follow on the argument you presented? You are choosing random properties and taking particular definitions, as I pointed out earlier. Is this supposed to be some ontological definition of the words “unity” and “diversity?” Id we are talking about some kind of ontological argument then you have run into another issue that needs to be addressed. Why ideas can’t be explained as neural activity?What contradictions result from this? Even if we accept this, there still is another problem to contend with:
“Assuming that existence and non-existence can actually be properties of something, there is no logical justification for existence being greater than non-existence “
http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Ontological_argument

And even then, there is no clear non-fallacious reason for why this God must embody the absolute. This is based on a premise that something cannot create something else with a quality x, such that x is greater in that person’s creation than it is in that person. For example, take chess playing AI’s that beat the best human players in chess. It is no wonder that most philosophers reject the ontological argument.
In fact, if we did take your premise, you still have to contend that the absolute in unity and diversity would be countless minds acting in unity. If you considered this the same mind, then it would not actually be diverse. So this argument would work more for polytheism than any kind of monotheism. And even if it did work for monotheism, God would have to have a near-infinite set of distinct diverse minds to satisfy this argument.”

I think your analogy with the chess playing AI is fallacious, as the machine that accomplishes the chess game is not made out of nothing but out of already existing entities of which man can make use. In other words, this human creation is not a creatio ex nihilo. God, however, creates out of nothing, and therefore what He creates cannot have greater qualities than He Himself has.

Eric: “But it can. Personality can be reducible to neural activity. Different minds have different kinds of neural activity, in slight enough ways to account for distinct personalities. If my interpretation is too weak, please elaborate with a coherent definition of personality. Without a coherent definition, you cannot make any positive claims like this.”

If personality is nothing but neural activity, i.e. impersonal physical processes, it means that personality is only an illusion.

Eric: “Remember the Kalam Cosmological Argument is usually argued like this:
“The Kalam Cosmological Argument:[9]
1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.

2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
3. Thus the universe has a cause of its existence.

4. This first uncaused cause must transcend physical reality.

5. This uncaused cause that transcends physical reality is the description of God.

6. Therefore God exists.
”
So there’s no assumption that God is good. The point of my argument is that Christians suddenly assume this creator God is somehow not only “good”, but exactly the description of good that would make him perform the acts mentioned of him in the new testament. So not only is it unfounded to call God good from the kalam, but it is also unfounded to call him this random type of good. As I will show in my responses to your posts, this is not necessarily an ideal good as suggested by our moral intuitions.”

If there are objective moral values, there must be someone providing the ultimate standard for such values, namely God. If the Biblical concept of God is the most reasonable one, the Biblical commandments are to be regarded as such an ultimate standard.

Eric: “Anyway, Even if the resurrection has retrospective effect, we still have to contend with the fact that it happened at the time suggested. People before Christ had to wait 100k years before being saved. That’s 100k years in hell. Now you can try some kind of time argument, however, I warn you to be careful as the Kalam already accepts as its premise an A theory of time. So as a result, when these people died, there is no way around the fact they would have to have spent time in hell, waiting for the universe to reach a certain point in time.”

I don’t see why this should be the case. To use an analogy, whenever someone leaves an object to another person based on the prospect that the object will be paid by someone else, the payment has a retrospective effect. In the same way God could forgive the Old Testament saints by applying Jesus’ work of redemption to them beforehand. That this may indeed have been the case can be seen from passages such as Matthew 17,1-4 and John 8,56.

Eric: “It is also a problem that this Good God would create creatures that would definitely fail his test and be sentenced to hell for being the way God made them.
Also, if people are now saved because they accept the gospel, then how can God punish an entire people because he never gave them the chance to be saved?
So our only chance of salvaging this God is by assuming he assumes a double standard for people before and after the gospel. This is an incredibly random quality for God to have, but yet this quality must be expected if we are going to assume the increased likelihood of the Christian Resurrection story.”

People also had the chance to be saved before the Resurrection. This can be seen from passages such as Luke 16,22, 18,14, 23,42-43, and Romans 4,1-8. As for people who never hear the Gospel, they may be worse off because of this, but on the other hand, if they rejected the Gospel they would be better off in this situation. An important question in this respect is if man has a right to be saved or, put it another way, if God is obliged to save people.

Eric: “So we have the double standard again. Very random quality and far from intuitive.”

I don’t see why it isn’t just if people are judged according to what they know.

Eric: “It sounds like your argument responds to the logical problem of Evil, which I agree, doesn’t hold if God does not have those qualities. But what qualities does God have that would lead us to expect him to act as he did in the New Testament? Remember you are arguing first assuming the properties given to God in the bible. However, this is going in the wrong direction. The logical problem of Evil is a problem that comes up when one assumes that God is all-good and all powerful. However, the evidential problem of evil comes up when one assumes God is both good and powerful at all. The more evil we see, the less we should assume a God like this exists:
B = A good powerful God exists
A = Some arbitrary evil event happens
P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)
P(~A|B) = P(B|~A)*P(~A)/P(B)
Lets assume that P(A) and P(~A) are both equal for argument purposes.
P(B|A) is less than 1, maybe just slightly.
P(B|~A) is exactly 1
So from the existence of one evil event already decreases the chances of a good/powerful God existing. When talking about multiple evils, the problem grows exponentially (Apply it to DePoe’s paper, except replace T with B and R with A)
This problem is further exacerbated when one takes into account “Gratuitous evil”
Just a note: Your objection to the First premise is the Ominpotence Paradox. However, most sophisticated theists assume omnipotence with the qualifier that God cannot perform any act that is logically impossible, as logic is necessary. This gets rid of the problem of this paradox but also leaves the logical problem of evil in tact.”

In my opinion gratuitous evil can be put down to the fact that we humans are free-willed agents. To use Biblical examples, the deaths of Naboth in the Old Testament (1 Kings 21) and John the Baptist in the New Testament (Matthew 14,1-12) are the results of the evil acts of King Ahab in the former and of Herodias in the latter case.

As for the concept of omnipotence it is not only logically impossible acts that set limits to it, but also God’s properties. This means God cannot commit deeds that are incompatible with His character.

Eric: “So you are assuming God is all just but not all good. How does the Kalam suggest this? How does the Kalam suggest God cares about people at all? How does the Kalam say that people are saved when they die? All of this goes into the improbability that the God of the kalam would do the acts associated with him in the New Testament. Also, if God was all just, then we would assume that God would give an equal chance of salvation to everybody. Seeing as how, as you say “theists and atheists can reasonably disagree,” we have reason to believe God is not providing the kind of objective evidence needed to give all mankind a fair shot at salvation, which is exactly what we would assume of a just God. As I have said in the past “God knows exactly what it would take to convince me of his existence” I have spelled out a few examples on this very post. The fact that God will not do this but will give you the evidence you require leads us to believe God is not just.
So, for one we have no reason to assume God has any of these qualities from the Kalam. However, if we do assume it, we have to assume random levels of justness, powerfulness, and goodness. So, given that these are random and do not follow logically or probably from the Kalam, the Kalam doesn’t actually increase the prior probability the resurrection was supernatural.”

I’ve never assumed that God is not perfectly good. What I said is that He is much more than only perfectly good, and when looking at the Problem of Evil one also has to take the other properties of God into account.

Eric: “The fact that God will not do this but will give you the evidence you require leads us to believe God is not just.”

Here again, the question is if God is obliged to save a person. Moreover, being a Christian is more than just acknowledging God’s existence, but to love and serve Him.

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Eric March 1, 2011 at 12:17 am

Patrick –
Unlike in Physics in History you can never know all the relevant data to arrive at objective conclusions.

You can never know all the relevant data in physics either. Like I said, I am not a physicist. So, once again, is relativity theory subjective because of this?

Patrick –
As far as I can see Licona provides good evidence in the book mentioned above. Another book that can be added here is the one entitled “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (London 2003), written by N. T. Wright. As for Christian miracles in general my remarks on this thread and the biography of Blumhardt may provide good evidence for them.

Like I said, I have not read his book. However, I have seen him in debates and the evidence he presents are weak. Mike Licona assumes the prior probability is not that low, and thus allows a very slightly higher probability of the resurrection given theism and atheism to confirm the resurrection. As I have explained over and over, the prior probability is too low for slightly higher probabilities to work.

Patrick –
As experts recommend this book putting it on the list may be a good decision.

What experts? I see one guy on Amazon.

Patrick –
Don’t forget that God had to take into account a drought lasting seven years. So this prediction had to come true during this drought, which is quite a precise time. Without this drought Joseph’s brothers would never have travelled to Egypt and been forced to throw themselves down before Joseph.

You are comparing seven years to the course of maybe a few hours? Seriously!? A lot can happen to a person in seven years.

Patrick –
I don’t see why this should be the case. I think it’s wrong to imagine that God “knows the future beforehand”. Rather, as God is beyond space and time He does not, as we do, move in space and time, but for Him every moment is in the presence.

This doesn’t even make coherent sense, unless you are speaking of a B-theory of time. In that case, as William Lane Craig admits, you lose your first reason to even suppose a god exists, the Kalam. In a B-theory universe, humans can’t have free will either, unless free will is merely reducible to stochastic action. This may satisfy a concept of free will from the idea that Free Will is not determined by any action preceding it, but it still means that a certain action cannot metaphysically have been otherwise. Basically, if God knows every action someone will perform, then that person simply cannot do otherwise, else God could be wrong, which would make God fallible, and thus mean that he doesn’t KNOW what people will do at any moment in time. So removing God from time doesn’t help the problem, and actually makes the problem worse in other regards. This may be part of the divide between the philosopher’s and theologian’s god.

Patrick –
I assume that between the moment Jonah decided to travel to Tarshish and the storm at sea there was enough time for God to arrange things to serve His purpose.

But it is still falsifiable since it didn’t happen at the beginning of the universe.

Patrick –
Isn’t the Plague of the Locusts a good example of indirect causation? We would have direct causation before us if the locusts just popped into existence supernaturally.

The belief was that God made the wind blow in the locusts. That was the specific claim. Nothing indirect about that claim.

Patrick –
My assumption that in Christianity miracles have a much greater importance and are more common than in other religions is based on the following observations, taking into account the religions with the largest numbers of adherents after Christianity, namely Islam and Buddhism.
First, unlike in the aforementioned religions Christianity is based on a miracle, namely the Resurrection. Second, in the Bible there are many miracle accounts, whereas in the Qur’an the miracle accounts only refer to Biblical figures and therefore cannot be regarded as being independent from the Bible.

Muhammad was not in the Christian Bible. And the Qur’an is considered to be littered with his miricles, by traditional Islamic belief. As I also mentioned before, The Qu’ran is considered to be his supreme miracle.

Patrick –

In Buddhism, as far as I know, miracles are even less important. This is certainly due to the fact that unlike in the Monotheistic religions in Buddhism there is no personal, mighty supernatural being who could be asked for miracles.

Buddha, although rejecting the concept of miracles, is said to have performed quite a few himself, such as the Golden Bridge:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha

Patrick –
Third, it seems to me that in Islam and in Buddhism in the religious practice miracles play a lesser role. For all I know in neither of these religions there is a Lourdes or a Fatima, a Benny Hinn or a Padre Pio. I guess one might also search in vain for a figure like Blumhardt.
From the miracle claims in other religions presented here so far, namely the Islamic miracle claims and the Hindu milk miracle, one can see that they are much different from the miracle accounts we find in the Bible.

Different doesn’t necessarily mean they have a much lesser importance and are less commonplace.
And to reiterate the main point of what I said:
“However, as I have pointed out earlier, that hardly seems to make a difference without a successful argument that a phenomena is more likely to be supernatural, given that it is Christian, than it would in general.”

Patrick –
Jesus’ exorcisms and those of the people of the Pharisees, as mentioned in Matthew 12, 27, belong both to the Judeo-Christian tradition and can therefore not be set against each other.

Hold up, WHAT? Where did this come from?

Patrick –
By no means do I accept all Christian miracle claims. I reject e.g. the miracle claims one finds in the apocryphical gospels that were written in the second century or even later. There are also miracle accounts in connection with Christian saints that seem doubtful to me, especially as they at times contradict each other. On the other hand I don’t deny the possibility that there may be miracles outside Christianity. To conclude my remarks about this, every miracle claim has to be looked at separately from a Bayesian point of view.

For the purposes of argument, I won’t press this any further. However, I’m still doubtful of your methods of skepticism. It just seems like this is going way off track. Suffice it to say, your arguments for certain events being supernatural are weak and cannot overcome the low prior probability. And to work towards some kind of objective skepticism, you cannot accept claims that are only true given a high prior probability of Christianity, without first justifying the high prior probability without fallacy and circular reasoning.

Patrick –
If God is to be regarded as the most supreme being, it is in my view hardly conceivable that an inferior being is responsible for a phenomenon so basic as life.

But inferior beings and also bypass the laws of nature. How is life more basic than the laws of nature?

Patrick –
Even if the phenomena showing the name of God in Arabic turn out to be miraculous, there are still other arguments in favour of Trinitarian Monotheism, as explained in the previous post.

And as I have shown, those arguments fail. If those arguments fail, then you are back to square one.

Patrick –
In a sense you are right. But, as I pointed out earlier, the Biblical miracles are of a different quality. Whereas those miracles usually aim at helping people, here, like in the case of the Hindu milk miracle, the element of amazement is to the fore.

You may need to be clearer about what you are saying. I cannot figure out what point you are trying to make.

Patrick –
But here the question is how extraordinary the evidence would have to be. Are there any objective criteria concerning the extraordinariness of the evidence? In my opinion together with other arguments in favour of Christianity the evidence is fairly good.

We cannot have precise figures because we don’t have precise numbers. However, we can have approximations.
“And so a lot of the things where you can say things like that, where you might not know the exact probability, but you know where the limit is, and you can go a little further beyond that limit and be really sure; and I show how this is actually statistically valid. It’s actually logically valid and mathematically valid reasoning, based on the statistical study – the statistical mathematics – of confidence levels and error margins.”
- Richard Carrier: (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10150)
The objective criteria would be a rough estimate of the probability of something happening given naturalism, divided by the prior probability of that thing happening in general. You can come up with bounds and evaluate those bounds. There are obviously going to be grey areas, but theists get nowhere near those areas. For example, a probability similar to the one the McGrews gave about the probability of the resurrection given naturalism would suffice, if it were actually justified.

Patrick –
Even if we assume that there were superstitious people and accept the fact that science was very underdeveloped I don’t see why the miracle accounts are not supposed to be reliable. Either there were miracle-like events or there weren’t. If there were no such events people couldn’t interpret them as miracles. This can be seen from the fact that in the Qur’an no miracles are recorded, although people in 7th century Arabia may not have been less superstitious than people a few hundred years before.

I’m confused, how can you justify knowing that science was very underdeveloped and people were superstitions, with accepting their miracle accounts? I’ve already given plenty of reasons to be very skeptical of miracle accounts. I don’t deny that SOMETHING happened they interpreted as a miracle. However, as anyone familiar with skepticism knows, it doesn’t take much for people to think an event was non-natural. And practically the only way we’ve been able to discover they weren’t was through scientific investigation. This, as well as the knowledge that the kind of science needed for that level of skeptic practice, was not available to these people back then, and it seems far from troubling to think of a large number of potential natural explanations. However, its hard to rule many out since we have so little from the time.

Patrick –
Although I’m not an expert concerning human memory, it seems quite obvious to me that there are different kinds of memories, of which some may be more reliable than others. To the former belong certainly memories about events that happened over and over, as is the case with Holocaust memories. But the same also applies to memories about the Resurrection: Of the post mortem appearances of Jesus we read that they happened several times.

What passages are these? Since our memory is not very good, and one miracle will bring the expectation of another miracle, then (as we saw with the miracle of Fatima), it’s not hard to imagine repeated experiences happening naturally. I need to see these specific passages though for further analysis.

Patrick –
This is mere speculation. But it certainly is not the case with respect to Paul’s first hand testimonies, as shown before.

I didn’t say it was the case of Paul’s testimonies. Notice how they were not included (I said Paul’s DISPUTED letters). And remember I have already justified why this kind of speculation is warranted.

Patrick –
Once again you confuse different categories of statements. A misinterpretation of a report about an event by people not involved in it is not the same as the memories of the people involved in it.

Someone’s memory was likely off, or else the story would have been told accurately. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by the people who experienced the event. Remember that the VAST majority of experiences in the NT were written second, third, and fourth, hand.

Patrick –
As Paul was very well acquainted with people who knew Jesus, like James, the brother of Jesus, and the apostles Peter and John (Galatians 2,9), Paul’s accounts about the Resurrection can be regarded as first and second hand accounts.

With a few of those people, yes that is second hand. Some second hand accounts could likely fall under a category similar to the event at Fatima, such as Paul’s claim to have testimonies of 500 people (unnamed). As with his friends, it could have been a case of group think. Since all these people aren’t really independent (all but James were devout believers), possibilities are abound.

Patrick –
I don’t object to trying to find natural causes for such phenomena. It’s just that in my opinion when investigating such phenomena the existence of the paranormal should not be ruled out a priori.

It’s not ruled out apriori. The probability is very low however, as I have justified over and over throughout this post.

Patrick –
If a person told me that he or she had won the lottery I think I could be quite confident that it’s the truth. The same applies to a person claiming to suffer from a very rare disease.

I WON THE LOTTERY! Do you believe me? You are very gullible. I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. I have justified this using Bayes’ and you just flat out disagree without tackling exactly where my analysis fails. So if some random person came up to you in the street and told you he/she won the lottery, you would seriously believe them?! Or if they said they had a very rare disease?! Dear Gawd!

Patrick –
It’s simply not true that the probability of a testimony to be true is dependent of the probability of the event to which the testimony refers.

P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)
The probability of an event, A, given the fact of testimony, B, is definitely dependent on the prior probability of A. Seriously, I cannot spell it out any clearer than this! Do I need to break this down MORE Barney style?! If you are going to discount what we learn about probability from Bayes theorem, yet still advertise the DePoe paper, then I’m finished with this conversation. I don’t have the time or energy to rebuild such a basic wheel.

Patrick –
I think you don’t understand my point. What I want to say is that it’s not just supernatural claims that can turn out to be false but also mundane claims, and therefore one should treat the failure of supernatural claims the same way as the failure of mundane claims. But if you suggest that because once a supernatural claim has turned out to be false, such as the supernatural cause of the stability of the universe, all other supernatural claims must also be rejected, you don’t treat them the same way.

Seriously, this long and you’re still making straw men. Its not that one supernatural claim has failed. Its that A WHOLE BUNCH of supernatural claims have failed, and NOT ONE has succeeded. Now I know I am repeating myself.

Patrick –
Your example with the DNA evidence can serve as an illustration of my point. This kind of evidence has only been available for a few years, and at times it happens that people who were convicted of a crime and have been some years in jail turn out to be innocent based on DNA evidence. But this doesn’t mean that the procedure of evaluating the guilt of an accused person before the DNA evidence became available must be rejected altogether. There are certainly still cases when people convicted of crimes when such evidence was not available are indeed guilty. In this analogy the unjustified sentence is the supernatural explanation of the stability of the universe, the DNA evidence the natural explanation of it, and a justified sentence could stand for the fine-tuning of the universe.

But DNA evidence is not the only way to be sure someone is guilty. There are loads of material evidence than can be used, despite not having DNA evidence. In fact, practically all cases that have been vindicated using DNA evidence have been ones where the defendant was convicted almost solely on eyewitness testimony. So DNA evidence doesn’t give us reason to seriously doubt all cases, just those based solely on eye-witness testimony. The procedure of relying solely on eyewitness testimony may be a candidate for rejection however. However, later confessions and DNA confirmations have vindicated this crappy method for at least a few inmates. So its still stronger than the case for supernatural explanations, since it has been confirmed. And once again, there have been numerous failed supernatural explanations, not just the stability of the universe. I have labeled quite a few, and your creative attempt to say they weren’t failed (by changing their claim to one they almost certainly didn’t have), is wishful thinking. I seriously feel like I am reinventing the wheel if I’m having to justify the fact that many many supernatural claims have failed in the past.

Patrick –
As I pointed out earlier from what we can draw from Paul’s letters about his motives we can be quite confident that he was not a fraud.

But, I didn’t necessarily say he was. William Rodriguez is not necessarily a fraud.

Patrick –
Concerning the question whether or not God can foresee the actions of free-willed agents, the account of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of Him (Matthew 26,31-35) clearly shows that it is possible. But once one has accepted this, the whole issue of direct versus indirect causation becomes irrelevant.

For one, that passage does not show that it is possible, only that people during this later time period believed it was possible. I have still shown the logical contradiction that appears as a result of this. I have given you countless reasons to show why the difference, as we are evaluating claims from the past, is incredibly important. You keep on giving me the same analogies and stories and they all have the same problems. Remember the bullet analogy you gave where I showed you the problem. Stop dodging these problems and ACTUALLY SHOW HOW THE ANALOGY IS FLAWED.

Patrick –
You still haven’t given any good reason why the prior probability of the supernatural is low. Your example of the claim concerning winning the lottery is not appropriate. In this example the prior probability is not determined by the probability that any given person would win the lottery, but by the probability that any person would win the lottery, and this probability is extremely high.

You are still missing the point. If I tell you I won the lottery, do you believe me just because the prior probability of SOMEONE winning the lottery is high? Of course not. This is the same with the resurrection, although we cannot tell for sure supernatural phenomenon ever actually occur.

Patrick –
When we determine the prior probability of the Resurrection we don’t ask how probable it is that the people Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 had post mortem appearances of Jesus, but how probable it is that such appearances happened at all.

Since the only kind of actual appearances that could have happened would have to be post-mortem, I’m assuming you mean whether they actually had an experience they interpreted as such. However, this is insufficient as it does not suggest the experiences were supernatural. Remember the entire point is that these experiences would not have been able to have happened naturally, or would have had to be incredibly improbable given a natural world.

Patrick –
Your second example of you having an improbable amount of money is not better. It is by no means unlikely that a very rich person lives a very modest life

You know, it’s a lot more convenient when you block quote exactly what you are talking about. Just a hint for next time. Because I spend way too long trying to figure out EXACTLY what you are responding to. Anyway, I’m not sure exactly what you are responding to but I’ll make a point about this.
As I assume you are talking about the lottery, I’m assuming you mean modest in terms of “not filthy rich.” Given a person who lives a modest life, what are the chances that person is rich? Non-rich people in general live a modest life, as they have no other choice, minus the occasional exception to the rule. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that only half of rich people don’t live modest lives. The prior probability that someone is filthy rich is also very low. So this means the probability of someone living a not-modest life is very low.
A = Someone is not living a modest life
B = Someone is filthy rich
P(A)*.51=P(B) since P(A) is a subset of P(B), and is a little large than half the size of P(A) since there are the few exceptions of poor people living non-modest lives.
=> P(B)/P(A) = 1/.51
P(A|B) = .5
P(B|A) = P(A|B)*P(B)/P(A)=.5/.51 is very close to 1.
So the probability that Someone is filthy rich, given that person is not living a modest life, is very high. Bayes is fun. Maybe you should start trying it to see if certain facts ACTUALLY affect the probabilities in the way you think they do.
Hopefully this dealt with what you were talking about. Once again, since you didn’t quote what I said, and I don’t have the time to go searching for it. It not my fault you ignore what I say when it should be easy to find.
Also, my ball analogy still stands.
Just a note, this is a case where the prior probability is completely cancelled out. However, this is because P(A) is basically a subset of P(B). Such a relationship does not exist when applying this to the resurrection though.

Patrick –
Both deism and the traditional Christian concept of God are compatible with the Creator God the Kalam Cosmological argument tries to establish. I haven’t suggested that this argument proves the existence of the Christian God. Whether or not Joseph Butler’s arguments against deism are convincing only a closer examination of them can show. The fact that Timothy McGrew recommends this book may indicate that it contains good arguments.

Even if the Christian God is compatible with the God of the Kalam, the Christian God still not expected. Since the Christian God is not expected to follow from the Kalam, then the Kalam doesn’t really increase the prior probability of the supernatural resurrection that much. In fact, since the prior probability was low before the Kalam, the Kalam may not even have a negligible effect on it (it depends on the comparison of all possible universes with all possible universes containing the God of the Kalam) Since there are a large number of possible Gods, only of which maybe one or a few in which we would expect the Resurrection, then the Kalam does not help the prior probability much.

Patrick –

If I understand Schaeffer correctly he means that there must be an original concept of diversity, which is the source of all subsequent occurrences of diversity.

I’m not sure this is even coherent. Diversity can be reduced to human thoughts, which can be reduced to neural activity, which is natural. Even if we did assume some kind of Cartesian dualism and say diversity had to come from somewhere, then there are still platonic forms, for instance.

Patrick –
If by “having to die” you mean “ceasing to exist” then from a Christian point of view man hasn’t such a quality, as he continues existing after death. Nevertheless I still wonder if being alive is really on a par with being dead. The fact that we can turn a living object into a dead one but not the other way round may be an argument for such a view.

Once you say, from a Christian point of view, the argument becomes circular. The only way I can apply this argument to our conversation is saying, “Hey we experience love. That mustve come from somewhere. Yadda yadda God” I’f you are already assuming Christian principles, then you have skipped ahead of the point we are on.
And the fact that we can turn a living object into a dead one but not the other way around is mainly a matter of technology. However, I fail to see what point this makes.

Patrick –
From passages such as Matthew 4,4, John 4,31-34, and John 6,25-51, one can conclude that “having to eat” may indeed by a divine quality, albeit in a different manner than we might think.

Once again you are skipping ahead. If you want to seriously increase the prior probability of the resurrection, you need to stop assuming it true already.

Patrick –
I think your analogy with the chess playing AI is fallacious, as the machine that accomplishes the chess game is not made out of nothing but out of already existing entities of which man can make use. In other words, this human creation is not a creatio ex nihilo. God, however, creates out of nothing, and therefore what He creates cannot have greater qualities than He Himself has.

How does the AI not being Creatio ex nihilo take away the principle that it is possible to create something of “more” of a quality than yourself (for all possible qualities)?

Patrick –
If personality is nothing but neural activity, i.e. impersonal physical processes, it means that personality is only an illusion.

So, by your logic, the Mona Lisa is an illusion because it is reducible to chemicals… Personality does exist in the physical sense, so what is the illusion?

Patrick –

If there are objective moral values, there must be someone providing the ultimate standard for such values, namely God. If the Biblical concept of God is the most reasonable one, the Biblical commandments are to be regarded as such an ultimate standard.

It depends on your meaning of the word objective. I’ve noticed theists tend to use a special definition of objective in this case. Also, not even Richard Swinburne argues that since moral truths are necessary, and exist in all possible worlds, then they cannot depend on God, assuming Morals are necessary, the ultimate in objective. It is also far from certain the God of the bible is the most reasonable one.
So depending on your definition of the word objective, secular moral philosophies do exist: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2982

Patrick –

I don’t see why this should be the case. To use an analogy, whenever someone leaves an object to another person based on the prospect that the object will be paid by someone else, the payment has a retrospective effect. In the same way God could forgive the Old Testament saints by applying Jesus’ work of redemption to them beforehand. That this may indeed have been the case can be seen from passages such as Matthew 17,1-4 and John 8,56.

It sounds like it is possible, but still a stretch. These passages mention a few saints, a very small tiny piece of the population. So, for the rest of the people, the original objection still stands. However, as I have been saying before, none of this is expected. The God of the Kalam is unchanging. So the prospect of God switching to a new system of salvation is not expected, even if it may be compatible (not quite sure if it actually is). If it wasn’t compatible, then the God of the Kalam would disprove the God of Christianity. There is also no reason to assume God is all-good or even good at all. So we have less reason to expect God would do anything Good for us, let alone in the random fashion he did.

Patrick –

People also had the chance to be saved before the Resurrection. This can be seen from passages such as Luke 16,22, 18,14, 23,42-43, and Romans 4,1-8. As for people who never hear the Gospel, they may be worse off because of this, but on the other hand, if they rejected the Gospel they would be better off in this situation. An important question in this respect is if man has a right to be saved or, put it another way, if God is obliged to save people.

If these people had a chance to be saved before the resurrection, then why is there a need for the resurrection? And even if you want to use the concept that the resurrection was in retrospective, then you still have the new requirement for the New Testament, which is acceptance of Jesus. This all is still one hell of a random way to go about saving mankind.
Let me ask you a question. If you went to a land that did not make its laws clearly available to you, yet arrested you for breaking said laws, would you consider that land just, especially if they hand delivered copies of the laws to certain people. It would not be expected of a just land. So, if we assumed that God was all-just, then the fact that your proposed God does not make his laws clear enough so I can tell they are true laws, then we would not expect your God to be the all-just one.
Also, lets say for example the kalam considered God to be all good. Lets look at two “good” men. One person does not give to charity and the other does. Would we not consider the latter to be “more good?”
These are all reasonable expectations of an all-good, all-just God. Remember that, according to the Christian Religion, God set up this system. If God set up this system, and is ultimately responsible for the way mankind is, then he is responsible to mankind if he is all-good and all-just.
Basically, as I have said before, there is no reason to assume God is all-good or all-just. However, even if you did, you still have to contend with the fact that the Christian God is not what you would expect from an all just-all good god.

Patrick –

I don’t see why it isn’t just if people are judged according to what they know.

If people who aren’t given the evidence needed to make a rational decision to accept Jesus can still be saved, then it may be possibly just. Of course, it is not expected as it is one random form of being just.

In my opinion gratuitous evil can be put down to the fact that we humans are free-willed agents. To use Biblical examples, the deaths of Naboth in the Old Testament (1 Kings 21) and John the Baptist in the New Testament (Matthew 14,1-12) are the results of the evil acts of King Ahab in the former and of Herodias in the latter case.

Let me put it this way. Let’s say you have a friend. He spends a lot, apparently a bit more than he actually takes in. Doesn’t this fact alone lead you to doubt, at least a little, that he is financially responsible? He may still be for some unknown reason though. Now what if you see him buying a massive boat, that’s way out of his price range, using a loan from a crooked company? Wouldn’t this give you even more reason to doubt that he is financially responsible? What if this happens over and over again? Would this not give you even more reason to suspect he is not financially responsible? In fact, if you heard of an award for the most financially responsible person in the world, would you honestly expect this person to win the award? So this is the problem. The more evil we see, the more reason we have to suspect that God is not all-good, just like we wouldn’t expect this spend-crazy friend of ours to be the most financially responsible person in the world. So just because gratuitous evil may be logically compatible with an all good God, it is certainly not expected.

Patrick –
As for the concept of omnipotence it is not only logically impossible acts that set limits to it, but also God’s properties. This means God cannot commit deeds that are incompatible with His character.

Yes. Exactly. Of course, if we assume God has the traits listed on that site, then we see a kind of logical contradiction. Even if free will can be used to show there is no logical contradiction (freedom is “better” than utopia, which is far from intuitive in some senses), the more things we experience that have to be rationalized, the less we should expect this kind of God exists. One analogy that runs counter to the “freedom is better than utopia” rationalization is this: Would a good parent allow their child to stick a fork into an electrical socket just to let it be free? A good parent may let a child play football with the risk of being slightly hurt, but a good parent would certainly not let a child shoot a gun at an apple on a friends head. So, because of this, we have further reason to doubt that an all good God exists, due to the existence of gratuitous evil.

Patrick –
I’ve never assumed that God is not perfectly good. What I said is that He is much more than only perfectly good, and when looking at the Problem of Evil one also has to take the other properties of God into account.

Well now I have to ask what kind of reasons God would have for allowing evil, in regards to his other qualities? Does he have a ranking of qualities? Is one more important than the other? Does he have some kind of reason that
Remember this all points to a very random concept of God.

Patrick –
Here again, the question is if God is obliged to save a person. Moreover, being a Christian is more than just acknowledging God’s existence, but to love and serve Him.

I have already justified this earlier.

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Eric March 1, 2011 at 12:18 am

By the way. I am really busy so It may take a while for me to respond to comments. I’m also going to be less verbose when it comes to arguments I’ve successfully made, and successfully defended already.

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Patrick March 3, 2011 at 5:44 am

Eric: “You can never know all the relevant data in physics either. Like I said, I am not a physicist. So, once again, is relativity theory subjective because of this?“

I’m not a physicist, either. But for all I know relativity theory is entirely undisputed among physicists, as all the relevant data, like the speed of light, are available.

Eric: “Like I said, I have not read his book. However, I have seen him in debates and the evidence he presents are weak. Mike Licona assumes the prior probability is not that low, and thus allows a very slightly higher probability of the resurrection given theism and atheism to confirm the resurrection. As I have explained over and over, the prior probability is too low for slightly higher probabilities to work.“

The prior probability of the Resurrection is dependent on the probability of the existence of the God of the Bible, and about this people certainly can reasonably disagree.

Eric: “What experts? I see one guy on Amazon.“

In the section of the book with the blurbs you can see comments of several experts.

Eric: “You are comparing seven years to the course of maybe a few hours? Seriously!? A lot can happen to a person in seven years.“

I think you don’t see my point. Without the drought lasting seven years Joseph’s brothers wouldn’t have gone to Egypt to ask Joseph for food. But without such an event Joseph’s dreams wouldn’t have come true.

Eric: “This doesn’t even make coherent sense, unless you are speaking of a B-theory of time. In that case, as William Lane Craig admits, you lose your first reason to even suppose a god exists, the Kalam. In a B-theory universe, humans can’t have free will either, unless free will is merely reducible to stochastic action. This may satisfy a concept of free will from the idea that Free Will is not determined by any action preceding it, but it still means that a certain action cannot metaphysically have been otherwise. Basically, if God knows every action someone will perform, then that person simply cannot do otherwise, else God could be wrong, which would make God fallible, and thus mean that he doesn’t KNOW what people will do at any moment in time. So removing God from time doesn’t help the problem, and actually makes the problem worse in other regards. This may be part of the divide between the philosopher’s and theologian’s god.“

I must admit that I lack the expertise to go into this argument.

Eric: “But it is still falsifiable since it didn’t happen at the beginning of the universe.“

I’m really not an expert about Meteorology, but if we humans are able to influence the climate and with it the wheather, as adherents of global warming claim, why should it not be possible for God to do so? Moreover, if the course of the wheather was really so deterministic, I wonder why there are only reliable wheather forecasts for a few days.

Eric: “The belief was that God made the wind blow in the locusts. That was the specific claim. Nothing indirect about that claim.“

Here again, why should it be impossible for God to change the course of the wheather at some given time?

Eric: “Muhammad was not in the Christian Bible. And the Qur’an is considered to be littered with his miricles, by traditional Islamic belief.“

Muhammad is not mentioned in the Bible, but Biblical persons, such as Jesus, and some of their miracles are mentioned in the Qur’an. But these miracles cannot count as specifically Islamic miracles.

Eric: “As I also mentioned before, The Qu’ran is considered to be his supreme miracle.“

The meaning of the word “miracle” here is clearly different from how we have so far used it.

Eric: “Buddha, although rejecting the concept of miracles, is said to have performed quite a few himself, such as the Golden Bridge:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha“

The question is if these miracles are as well-documented as the Resurrection. Looking at the Wikipedia articles ‘Miracles of Gautama Buddha’ and ‘Pāli Canon’ I very much doubt that this is the case.

Eric: “Hold up, WHAT? Where did this come from?“

I don’t understand this comment.

Eric: “For the purposes of argument, I won’t press this any further. However, I’m still doubtful of your methods of skepticism. It just seems like this is going way off track. Suffice it to say, your arguments for certain events being supernatural are weak and cannot overcome the low prior probability. And to work towards some kind of objective skepticism, you cannot accept claims that are only true given a high prior probability of Christianity, without first justifying the high prior probability without fallacy and circular reasoning.“

To miracle claims of all religions I apply the same standard, based on Bayes’ theorem.

Eric: “But inferior beings and also bypass the laws of nature. How is life more basic than the laws of nature?“

I really don’t see why such a common thing as bypassing the laws of nature should be on a par with creating life.

Eric: “And as I have shown, those arguments fail. If those arguments fail, then you are back to square one.“

It may be that the arguments as I have formulated them fail. But there may be better arguments that are not that easily refuted.

Eric: “You may need to be clearer about what you are saying. I cannot figure out what point you are trying to make.”

A typology of miracles could consist of the following categories:

- Miracles merely provoking amazement, such as the Hindu milk miracle.
- Miracles helping people such as miraculous healings or the miraculous feeding of people.
- Well-documented miracles.
- Poorly documented miracles.

My assumption is that well-documented miracles helping people are more common in Christianity than in other religions.

  (Quote)

Eric March 3, 2011 at 10:25 am

Patrick –
I’m not a physicist, either. But for all I know relativity theory is entirely undisputed among physicists, as all the relevant data, like the speed of light, are available.

So it really doesn’t have anything to do with how much information you personally know, just what information you know to exist. In this case, there’s not sufficient information available to conclude the probability of the resurrection, given naturalism, is anywhere near as low as the prior probability of an event being supernatural (even given the existence of the God of the Kalam)

Patrick –
The prior probability of the Resurrection is dependent on the probability of the existence of the God of the Bible, and about this people certainly can reasonably disagree.

Yes the prior probability of the resurrection is dependent upon the existence of the God of the bible, but as I pointed out, theres no reason to assume the God of the kalam is the God of the bible. So as a result, the God of the bible is one of many many possible Gods. So, because of this, the God of the bible is very low, minus a successful and non-trivial argument of piece of evidence to the otherwise. Believing in something with such an astoundingly low probability is quite obviously not reasonable. So no, the whole point of my response to your arguments is that people cannot reasonably disagree on this. And I have given plenty of reasons why this is so.

Patrick –
In the section of the book with the blurbs you can see comments of several experts.

Seeing as how I do not have the book in front of me, I have no idea who these experts are. However, approval from a few individual experts does not mean the book actually accurately reflects good scholarship. The Dissent From Darwin list claims to have ~1000 experts, yet it supports a conclusion in which 87-97% of scientists disagree. So it absolutely depends on who these experts are and how well they reflect the general consensus. And even if most biblical historians are Christian, it doesn’t mean they are Christians because they see evidence in the New Testament strong enough to overcome the low initial prior probability. Some may not think the prior probability is very low, which is a subject more the domain of philosophers. Some may be Christians for other reasons (since a lot of these schools that teach biblical history are Christian schools, it’s not far shot to assume most of them were already Christian for other reasons). So just the existence of some arbitrary experts doesn’t say much about the actual scholarship of this book, or even if Christians and atheists can reasonably disagree on this subject.

Patrick –
I think you don’t see my point. Without the drought lasting seven years Joseph’s brothers wouldn’t have gone to Egypt to ask Joseph for food. But without such an event Joseph’s dreams wouldn’t have come true.

Okay now I do fail to see your point. Seeing as how God could have caused the drought, then would that not be an instance of this being God-guided?

Patrick –
Eric: “But it is still falsifiable since it didn’t happen at the beginning of the universe.“
I’m really not an expert about Meteorology, but if we humans are able to influence the climate and with it the weather, as adherents of global warming claim, why should it not be possible for God to do so? Moreover, if the course of the weather was really so deterministic, I wonder why there are only reliable weather forecasts for a few days.

The claim that humans cause climate change is indeed falsifiable, as we can track the energy signatures from the excess heat and basically, find the source; greenhouse gases. We can also check past and present conditions over the content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by various methods. We can also measure the greenhouse gas content being expelled into the atmosphere by humans versus natural processes. So your analogy is one that is falsifiable. So if in fact God is influencing weather in this way, it should be falsifiable.
And the example of weather forecasting has to do with our knowledge of all the relevant variables affecting weather at any given point, not whether or not it is deterministic.

Patrick –
Here again, why should it be impossible for God to change the course of the wheather at some given time?

But, in the case of the bible, this is almost certainly a claim of direct causation, or possibly only SLIGHTLY indirect, which is falsifiable.

Patrick –
Muhammad is not mentioned in the Bible, but Biblical persons, such as Jesus, and some of their miracles are mentioned in the Qur’an. But these miracles cannot count as specifically Islamic miracles.

Those specific miracle may not be exclusive to Islam, but those are not the only Miracles that are claimed to exist by Islam.

Patrick –
The meaning of the word “miracle” here is clearly different from how we have so far used it.

The writing of the Qur’an is supposed to be supernaturally inspired, so how would it be any different?
Eric: “Buddha, although rejecting the concept of miracles, is said to have performed quite a few himself, such as the Golden Bridge:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha“

Patrick –
The question is if these miracles are as well-documented as the Resurrection. Looking at the Wikipedia articles ‘Miracles of Gautama Buddha’ and ‘Pāli Canon’ I very much doubt that this is the case.

The resurrection is documented in a few biased (all towards one side), mostly pseudonymous, and conflicting (both with history and each other) sources. This does not sound remotely well documented, at least all that much better than these Buddhist Miracles

Patrick –
Eric: “Hold up, WHAT? Where did this come from?“
I don’t understand this comment.

Obviously, I could not figure out how your comment pertained to the issues at hand.

Patrick –

To miracle claims of all religions I apply the same standard, based on Bayes’ theorem.

Then I will hold you to this. See Below:

Patrick –
I really don’t see why such a common thing as bypassing the laws of nature should be on a par with creating life.

Without the laws of nature, life could not exist naturally. The laws of nature are what make the earth habitable for life. The laws of nature are what cause something to be alive in the first place (unless you believe in the extremely outdated concept of vitalism). The laws of nature are responsible for every natural phenomenon we see in the universe. So, if it’s not on par with creating life, please provide an argument.

Patrick –
Eric: “And as I have shown, those arguments fail. If those arguments fail, then you are back to square one.“
It may be that the arguments as I have formulated them fail. But there may be better arguments that are not that easily refuted.

Once again, Astrologists, Holocaust Deniers, Climate Change Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, young earth creationists, flat-earthers, etc could all have better arguments that are not that easily refuted. So must we reasonably disagree with these people? Is there any subject that people are not reasonable in disagreement?

Patrick –
A typology of miracles could consist of the following categories:
- Miracles merely provoking amazement, such as the Hindu milk miracle.
- Miracles helping people such as miraculous healings or the miraculous feeding of people.
- Well-documented miracles.
- Poorly documented miracles.
My assumption is that well-documented miracles helping people are more common in Christianity than in other religions.

Earlier you said:
“To miracle claims of all religions I apply the same standard, based on Bayes’ theorem.”
What does it matter to Bayes’ whether or not these Miracles help people?

  (Quote)

Patrick March 9, 2011 at 1:40 am

Eric: “We cannot have precise figures because we don’t have precise numbers. However, we can have approximations.
“And so a lot of the things where you can say things like that, where you might not know the exact probability, but you know where the limit is, and you can go a little further beyond that limit and be really sure; and I show how this is actually statistically valid. It’s actually logically valid and mathematically valid reasoning, based on the statistical study – the statistical mathematics – of confidence levels and error margins.”
- Richard Carrier: (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10150)
The objective criteria would be a rough estimate of the probability of something happening given naturalism, divided by the prior probability of that thing happening in general. You can come up with bounds and evaluate those bounds. There are obviously going to be grey areas, but theists get nowhere near those areas. For example, a probability similar to the one the McGrews gave about the probability of the resurrection given naturalism would suffice, if it were actually justified.”

A naturalistic explanation of the post mortem experiences of Jesus is the idea that the people having them had hallucinations. If your statement that nearly a third of the population will hallucinate at some point in their life is correct, the prior probability of this explanation is 0.3. The question is whether or not the number of witnesses and the likelihood ratio term can overcome this prior probability.

Eric: “I’m confused, how can you justify knowing that science was very underdeveloped and people were superstitions, with accepting their miracle accounts? I’ve already given plenty of reasons to be very skeptical of miracle accounts. I don’t deny that SOMETHING happened they interpreted as a miracle. However, as anyone familiar with skepticism knows, it doesn’t take much for people to think an event was non-natural. And practically the only way we’ve been able to discover they weren’t was through scientific investigation. This, as well as the knowledge that the kind of science needed for that level of skeptic practice, was not available to these people back then, and it seems far from troubling to think of a large number of potential natural explanations. However, its hard to rule many out since we have so little from the time.”

The miracles mentioned in the biography about Blumhardt happened in 19th century Germany. At that time science wasn’t very underdeveloped and people were not exceedingly superstitious.

Eric: “What passages are these? Since our memory is not very good, and one miracle will bring the expectation of another miracle, then (as we saw with the miracle of Fatima), it’s not hard to imagine repeated experiences happening naturally. I need to see these specific passages though for further analysis.”

In Acts 1,3 we read that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days.

Eric: “I didn’t say it was the case of Paul’s testimonies. Notice how they were not included (I said Paul’s DISPUTED letters). And remember I have already justified why this kind of speculation is warranted.”

Concentrating on Paul’s undisputed letters and assuming together with you that Paul was not a fraud, from passages such as 1 Corinthians 15,3-8 it is quite clear that Paul was not the only person to have post mortem appearances of Jesus. Although not being an expert in Psychology it’s hard for me to see what psychological mechanism there could be that make different people in different places have exactly the same hallucination. If there are no parallel events supporting such a hypothesis it seems to me quite far-fetched. The incident in Fatima is of quite a different type.

Eric: “Someone’s memory was likely off, or else the story would have been told accurately. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by the people who experienced the event. Remember that the VAST majority of experiences in the NT were written second, third, and fourth, hand.”

Whether or not the supposed automatic writing on the wall in the Borley Rectory happened was certainly of minor relevance to the people telling this story. With respect to the Resurrection the situation is much different. For the respective witnesses the question whether or not this account was true was of major importance. This can be seen from 1 Corinthians 15,12-19.

Eric: “With a few of those people, yes that is second hand. Some second hand accounts could likely fall under a category similar to the event at Fatima, such as Paul’s claim to have testimonies of 500 people (unnamed). As with his friends, it could have been a case of group think. Since all these people aren’t really independent (all but James were devout believers), possibilities are abound.”

As I pointed out towards Matt McCormick, Paul wasn’t under any peer group pressure to testify to the Resurrection.

Eric: “It’s not ruled out apriori. The probability is very low however, as I have justified over and over throughout this post.”

One might argue whether or not the prior probability of the existence of the God of the Bible is low. But with respect to paranormal events the situation is quite different. To evaluate the reliability of reports about paranormal phenomena much more is needed than the two articles that we have discussed.

Eric: “I WON THE LOTTERY! Do you believe me? You are very gullible. I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. I have justified this using Bayes’ and you just flat out disagree without tackling exactly where my analysis fails. So if some random person came up to you in the street and told you he/she won the lottery, you would seriously believe them?! Or if they said they had a very rare disease?! Dear Gawd!

[…]

P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)
The probability of an event, A, given the fact of testimony, B, is definitely dependent on the prior probability of A. Seriously, I cannot spell it out any clearer than this! Do I need to break this down MORE Barney style?! If you are going to discount what we learn about probability from Bayes theorem, yet still advertise the DePoe paper, then I’m finished with this conversation. I don’t have the time or energy to rebuild such a basic wheel.”

In general I would believe a person claiming to have won the lottery, as I simply don’t see any plausible reason why someone should make such a claim without it being true. I think as long as there are claims about events that people generally expect to happen, the prior probability of the event is rather irrelevant. It seems to me that it becomes only relevant when people are confronted with claims about unique or extraordinary events.

Eric: “Seriously, this long and you’re still making straw men. Its not that one supernatural claim has failed. Its that A WHOLE BUNCH of supernatural claims have failed, and NOT ONE has succeeded. Now I know I am repeating myself.”

I concede that some supernatural claims have failed, but certainly not a whole bunch. Looking at my definition of the supernatural, based on detecting design-imposed, it is quite clear why it is much more likely that phenomena once thought to be supernatural turn out to have naturalistic causes than the other way round. It is much more likely that a phenomenon that at first appears to show design-imposed turn out not to have this feature than that it would be the other way round.

Eric: “But DNA evidence is not the only way to be sure someone is guilty. There are loads of material evidence than can be used, despite not having DNA evidence. In fact, practically all cases that have been vindicated using DNA evidence have been ones where the defendant was convicted almost solely on eyewitness testimony. So DNA evidence doesn’t give us reason to seriously doubt all cases, just those based solely on eye-witness testimony. The procedure of relying solely on eyewitness testimony may be a candidate for rejection however. However, later confessions and DNA confirmations have vindicated this crappy method for at least a few inmates. So its still stronger than the case for supernatural explanations, since it has been confirmed. And once again, there have been numerous failed supernatural explanations, not just the stability of the universe. I have labeled quite a few, and your creative attempt to say they weren’t failed (by changing their claim to one they almost certainly didn’t have), is wishful thinking. I seriously feel like I am reinventing the wheel if I’m having to justify the fact that many many supernatural claims have failed in the past.”

But it would certainly be an overstatement to say that eyewitness testimony never is of any use when evaluating a crime.

Eric: “But, I didn’t necessarily say he was. William Rodriguez is not necessarily a fraud.”

Of course, when dealing with a person who lived so long ago it’s difficult to evaluate such a person’s psychological state. But unless we have clear evidence that Paul can’t be trusted due to his mental state, I don’t think it is more reasonable to assume this than not do so. To do otherwise would be begging the question.

Eric: “For one, that passage does not show that it is possible, only that people during this later time period believed it was possible. I have still shown the logical contradiction that appears as a result of this. I have given you countless reasons to show why the difference, as we are evaluating claims from the past, is incredibly important. You keep on giving me the same analogies and stories and they all have the same problems. Remember the bullet analogy you gave where I showed you the problem. Stop dodging these problems and ACTUALLY SHOW HOW THE ANALOGY IS FLAWED.”

The issue of the historicity of the Biblical accounts is not relevant here, but the Biblical concept of God.

Eric: “You are still missing the point. If I tell you I won the lottery, do you believe me just because the prior probability of SOMEONE winning the lottery is high? Of course not. This is the same with the resurrection, although we cannot tell for sure supernatural phenomenon ever actually occur.”

When determining the prior probability of the Resurrection John M. DePoe doesn’t ask how probable it is that some given people had certain experiences, but how probable it is that the Resurrection happened.

Eric: “Since the only kind of actual appearances that could have happened would have to be post-mortem, I’m assuming you mean whether they actually had an experience they interpreted as such. However, this is insufficient as it does not suggest the experiences were supernatural. Remember the entire point is that these experiences would not have been able to have happened naturally, or would have had to be incredibly improbable given a natural world.”

The issue here is how the prior probability is determined and not the nature of the appearances.

Eric: “You know, it’s a lot more convenient when you block quote exactly what you are talking about. Just a hint for next time. Because I spend way too long trying to figure out EXACTLY what you are responding to.”

Using the search function is helpful in this respect.

Eric: “You know, it’s a lot more convenient when you block quote exactly what you are talking about. Just a hint for next time. Because I spend way too long trying to figure out EXACTLY what you are responding to. Anyway, I’m not sure exactly what you are responding to but I’ll make a point about this.
As I assume you are talking about the lottery, I’m assuming you mean modest in terms of “not filthy rich.” Given a person who lives a modest life, what are the chances that person is rich? Non-rich people in general live a modest life, as they have no other choice, minus the occasional exception to the rule. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that only half of rich people don’t live modest lives. The prior probability that someone is filthy rich is also very low. So this means the probability of someone living a not-modest life is very low.
A = Someone is not living a modest life
B = Someone is filthy rich
P(A)*.51=P(B) since P(A) is a subset of P(B), and is a little large than half the size of P(A) since there are the few exceptions of poor people living non-modest lives.
=> P(B)/P(A) = 1/.51
P(A|B) = .5
P(B|A) = P(A|B)*P(B)/P(A)=.5/.51 is very close to 1.
So the probability that Someone is filthy rich, given that person is not living a modest life, is very high. Bayes is fun. Maybe you should start trying it to see if certain facts ACTUALLY affect the probabilities in the way you think they do.
Hopefully this dealt with what you were talking about. Once again, since you didn’t quote what I said, and I don’t have the time to go searching for it. It not my fault you ignore what I say when it should be easy to find.
Also, my ball analogy still stands.
Just a note, this is a case where the prior probability is completely cancelled out. However, this is because P(A) is basically a subset of P(B). Such a relationship does not exist when applying this to the resurrection though.”

The general issue was whether or not the reliability of a testimony depends on the frequency of the event, state or phenomenon to which the testimony refers. Just my experience tells me that that’s not how people usually evaluate testimonies. Besides, it seems to me that it may sometimes even be difficult to determine the event about which a prior probability is to be suggested. Let’s assume someone tells you that at a given time at a given place he had a car accident. What exactly is the event here? Is it just “a car accident” or “a car accident happening at the given time at the given place”. In the latter case the prior probability is much lower than in the former. But apart from this, I assume that when someone tells you such a thing, you don’t try to find out what the probability of a car accident is and then decide whether or not you believe this person.

Eric: “Even if the Christian God is compatible with the God of the Kalam, the Christian God still not expected. Since the Christian God is not expected to follow from the Kalam, then the Kalam doesn’t really increase the prior probability of the supernatural resurrection that much. In fact, since the prior probability was low before the Kalam, the Kalam may not even have a negligible effect on it (it depends on the comparison of all possible universes with all possible universes containing the God of the Kalam) Since there are a large number of possible Gods, only of which maybe one or a few in which we would expect the Resurrection, then the Kalam does not help the prior probability much.”

There may be a large number of possible gods, but there are not many actual gods that come close to the God of the Kalam. As far as I can see all existing concepts of a personal creator of the world are in one way or another connected to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Eric: “I’m not sure this is even coherent. Diversity can be reduced to human thoughts, which can be reduced to neural activity, which is natural. Even if we did assume some kind of Cartesian dualism and say diversity had to come from somewhere, then there are still platonic forms, for instance.”

I think my interpretation was not correct and Schaeffer means the idea of “unity in diversity”.

Eric: “Once you say, from a Christian point of view, the argument becomes circular. The only way I can apply this argument to our conversation is saying, “Hey we experience love. That mustve come from somewhere. Yadda yadda God” I’f you are already assuming Christian principles, then you have skipped ahead of the point we are on.”
Eric: “And the fact that we can turn a living object into a dead one but not the other way around is mainly a matter of technology. However, I fail to see what point this makes.”

I just wanted to show that your objection that there are properties that don’t have their origin in God may not necessarily be correct.

Eric: “Once again you are skipping ahead. If you want to seriously increase the prior probability of the resurrection, you need to stop assuming it true already.”

These passages have no connection with the Resurrection. I just mentioned them to show that your argument about God’s properties mentioned before is not necessarily correct.

Eric: “How does the AI not being Creatio ex nihilo take away the principle that it is possible to create something of “more” of a quality than yourself (for all possible qualities)?”

But God had to create out of nothing. It’s difficult for me to imagine that God could create something that has “more” of a quality than Himself, especially as He sustains things.

Eric: “So, by your logic, the Mona Lisa is an illusion because it is reducible to chemicals… Personality does exist in the physical sense, so what is the illusion?”

This example doesn’t support your case, as it is obvious that what constitutes the Mona Lisa is not reducible to chemicals. As a matter of fact there was a personal agent, namely the painter, who created this figure. A chemical analysis of this painting is therefore an inappropriate means to interpret its meaning.

So, this example supports the theistic view of personality. An example supporting the naturalistic view of personality would be a rock looking like Mona Lisa.

Eric: “It depends on your meaning of the word objective. I’ve noticed theists tend to use a special definition of objective in this case. Also, not even Richard Swinburne argues that since moral truths are necessary, and exist in all possible worlds, then they cannot depend on God, assuming Morals are necessary, the ultimate in objective. It is also far from certain the God of the bible is the most reasonable one.
So depending on your definition of the word objective, secular moral philosophies do exist: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2982”

Assuming that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is successful and therefore some creator god who is the origin of everything exists, it seems obvious to me that this god also must be the origin of moral values. Who or what else could be the origin?

As for the reasonableness of the Biblical concept of God I made it clear that my suggestion only applies IF the Biblical concept of God turns out to be the most reasonable one. Whether or not this is the case is a matter apart.

Eric: “It sounds like it is possible, but still a stretch. These passages mention a few saints, a very small tiny piece of the population. So, for the rest of the people, the original objection still stands.”

These passages don’t say anything about the number of the saints. It is by no means clear that the number of such people was tiny.

Eric: “However, as I have been saying before, none of this is expected. The God of the Kalam is unchanging. So the prospect of God switching to a new system of salvation is not expected, even if it may be compatible (not quite sure if it actually is). If it wasn’t compatible, then the God of the Kalam would disprove the God of Christianity. There is also no reason to assume God is all-good or even good at all. So we have less reason to expect God would do anything Good for us, let alone in the random fashion he did.”

There is no new system of salvation in the New Testament, as can be seen from passages such as Romans 4.

Eric: “If these people had a chance to be saved before the resurrection, then why is there a need for the resurrection? And even if you want to use the concept that the resurrection was in retrospective, then you still have the new requirement for the New Testament, which is acceptance of Jesus. This all is still one hell of a random way to go about saving mankind.”

As I pointed out before there is no new requirement for salvation in the New Testament.

Eric: “Let me ask you a question. If you went to a land that did not make its laws clearly available to you, yet arrested you for breaking said laws, would you consider that land just, especially if they hand delivered copies of the laws to certain people. It would not be expected of a just land. So, if we assumed that God was all-just, then the fact that your proposed God does not make his laws clear enough so I can tell they are true laws, then we would not expect your God to be the all-just one.”

Romans 2,14-16 says, and I think this is indeed the case, that all men, irrespective of their knowledge of God’s written law, know by virtue of their conscience what is right and what is wrong. But even if this is not the case, as I pointed out earlier, some Biblical passages seem to suggest that the degree of punishment for sins depends on the sinner’s awareness of God’s commandments.

Eric: “Also, lets say for example the kalam considered God to be all good. Lets look at two “good” men. One person does not give to charity and the other does. Would we not consider the latter to be “more good?”
These are all reasonable expectations of an all-good, all-just God. Remember that, according to the Christian Religion, God set up this system. If God set up this system, and is ultimately responsible for the way mankind is, then he is responsible to mankind if he is all-good and all-just.”

You seem to suggest that God is not perfectly good because He does not act as charitably as He could. There are two ways to answer to this objection: From Isaiah 59,1-2 one can draw the conclusion that it’s people’s sins that prevent God from acting more charitably. Moreover, it might be that God, having man’s eternal fate in mind, allows temporal, earthly suffering in order to prevent more suffering in the afterlife. My impression is indeed that suffering has rather the effect of drawing people to God than to alienate them from Him.

Eric: “Basically, as I have said before, there is no reason to assume God is all-good or all-just. However, even if you did, you still have to contend with the fact that the Christian God is not what you would expect from an all just-all good god.”

Whether or not the Christian God is what you would expect from an all just-all good god is a subjective matter. There may be people for whom He fulfills these requirements.

Eric: “If people who aren’t given the evidence needed to make a rational decision to accept Jesus can still be saved, then it may be possibly just. Of course, it is not expected as it is one random form of being just.”

You seem to assume that people deserve to being saved and that therefore if God doesn’t save them He is unjust. But according to the Bible salvation is a matter of grace and not something we deserve. We deserve to have a fair trial, and I’m quite confident that that’s what God provides for unrepenting people.

Eric: “Let me put it this way. Let’s say you have a friend. He spends a lot, apparently a bit more than he actually takes in. Doesn’t this fact alone lead you to doubt, at least a little, that he is financially responsible? He may still be for some unknown reason though. Now what if you see him buying a massive boat, that’s way out of his price range, using a loan from a crooked company? Wouldn’t this give you even more reason to doubt that he is financially responsible? What if this happens over and over again? Would this not give you even more reason to suspect he is not financially responsible? In fact, if you heard of an award for the most financially responsible person in the world, would you honestly expect this person to win the award? So this is the problem. The more evil we see, the more reason we have to suspect that God is not all-good, just like we wouldn’t expect this spend-crazy friend of ours to be the most financially responsible person in the world. So just because gratuitous evil may be logically compatible with an all good God, it is certainly not expected.”

If we assume that people who suffer from gratuitous evil may in one way or another be compensated for it in the afterlife, this point may no longer be valid.

Eric: “Yes. Exactly. Of course, if we assume God has the traits listed on that site, then we see a kind of logical contradiction. Even if free will can be used to show there is no logical contradiction (freedom is “better” than utopia, which is far from intuitive in some senses), the more things we experience that have to be rationalized, the less we should expect this kind of God exists. One analogy that runs counter to the “freedom is better than utopia” rationalization is this: Would a good parent allow their child to stick a fork into an electrical socket just to let it be free? A good parent may let a child play football with the risk of being slightly hurt, but a good parent would certainly not let a child shoot a gun at an apple on a friends head. So, because of this, we have further reason to doubt that an all good God exists, due to the existence of gratuitous evil.”

Your analogy of a parent looking after a child is not appropriate, as God obviously treats us as adults and not as children.

Eric: “Well now I have to ask what kind of reasons God would have for allowing evil, in regards to his other qualities? Does he have a ranking of qualities? Is one more important than the other? Does he have some kind of reason that
 Remember this all points to a very random concept of God.”

In my view there is no ranking of qualities, but God can’t act according to one quality at the expense of another quality.

  (Quote)

Eric March 13, 2011 at 4:17 am

Patrick –
A naturalistic explanation of the post mortem experiences of Jesus is the idea that the people having them had hallucinations. If your statement that nearly a third of the population will hallucinate at some point in their life is correct, the prior probability of this explanation is 0.3. The question is whether or not the number of witnesses and the likelihood ratio term can overcome this prior probability.

There are some probability objections to this, but I won’t go into them because all we have are a few written testimonies. And the only one for which we know anything about the writer is Paul, which our knowledge is about him is almost completely based on his writings.. So now we have a startling number of other possibilities for other alleged testimonies. And given that one person hallucinates, it is more likely another related to them will hallucinate something similar, due to expectations (think of my example of the Fatima of the sun) so this is one of the reasons it is so important for the testimonies to Independent, which they certainly are not. What paul experienced could also have been a misinterpretation of a natural phenomena, for which his memory has eliminated these details. This is a pretty common phenomenon. If we say 20% of people have this or something else that would lead to a misinterpretation of a natural event (such as a dream or waking dream), then the probability moves from .3 to .5! So since there are very few independent testimonies (potentially only 1!), it is certain those testimonies cannot overcome the low prior probability, for which I’ve justified countless times.

Patrick –
The miracles mentioned in the biography about Blumhardt happened in 19th century Germany. At that time science wasn’t very underdeveloped and people were not exceedingly superstitious.

Yes, but we know that nowadays, people do have experiences they consider to be supernatural (take ghost hunters), even if there is a natural explanation (Joe Nickel has debunked tons of these). So even if scientific investigation exists, we should expect people to still have these experiences and not apply scientific investigation to them, only more of them can be debunked now.

Patrick –
In Acts 1,3 we read that Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days.

We don’t know who wrote acts and do not know almost any of the details behind this statement.

Patrick –
Concentrating on Paul’s undisputed letters and assuming together with you that Paul was not a fraud, from passages such as 1 Corinthians 15,3-8 it is quite clear that Paul was not the only person to have post mortem appearances of Jesus. Although not being an expert in Psychology it’s hard for me to see what psychological mechanism there could be that make different people in different places have exactly the same hallucination. If there are no parallel events supporting such a hypothesis it seems to me quite far-fetched. The incident in Fatima is of quite a different type.

They didn’t necessarily have the same hallucinations. They were reported to by Paul, but as we can see from the Fatima account, there is a significant chance they were not all the same. They could have even have been contradictory, as many were in the Fatima account. Go back and read through the account and se if you can’t find any parallels between Paul and Father John De Marchi (that apply to what we are discussing). Remember that my point was that Paul’s testimonies were second/third hand…

Patrick –
Whether or not the supposed automatic writing on the wall in the Borley Rectory happened was certainly of minor relevance to the people telling this story. With respect to the Resurrection the situation is much different. For the respective witnesses the question whether or not this account was true was of major importance. This can be seen from 1 Corinthians 15,12-19.

Minor relevance!? It means the difference between something natural and supernatural! And there are a large number of events that could have been interpreted as Christ being raised from the dead. Once again, we don’t know exactly what these testimonies are, only Pauls telling. And paul doesn’t have to be a fraud to be unconsciously guiding and selectively interpreting their stories. Such things happen all the time. It is an honet mistake. If paul was looking for something in these testimonies, he could have not noticed conflicting data, like Father John De Marchi. So the fact that it is of special significance should lead us to doubt even more accounts second and third hand. Did paul speak of any testimonies he heard that he thought were not genuine?

Patrick –
As I pointed out towards Matt McCormick, Paul wasn’t under any peer group pressure to testify to the Resurrection.

I wasn’t talking about Paul, just these other testimonies he reports.

Patrick –
One might argue whether or not the prior probability of the existence of the God of the Bible is low. But with respect to paranormal events the situation is quite different. To evaluate the reliability of reports about paranormal phenomena much more is needed than the two articles that we have discussed.

I have given ample justification for why the prior probability of the God of the Bible is low. And why is the prior probability of paranormal all that much different than the prior probability of the god of the bible? If you are talking about a generic kalam style God, then yes, it is different because one could argue there are only two possibilities. However, since the God of the bible is one of MANY MANY possible Gods, then the prior probability of the God of the bible is low. However, I will not that I am more interested in the prior probability of a specific event (one that could be thought to be supernatural). The existence of the Christian God would certainly boost the prior probability for certain events that would be expected of this God (the resurrection, for instance), however remember that they are two fundamentally different probabilities. One is just boosted by the fact of the other. Of course, as I have demonstrated throughout this post, neither probability is high.

Patrick –
In general I would believe a person claiming to have won the lottery, as I simply don’t see any plausible reason why someone should make such a claim without it being true. I think as long as there are claims about events that people generally expect to happen, the prior probability of the event is rather irrelevant. It seems to me that it becomes only relevant when people are confronted with claims about unique or extraordinary events.

Seriously? Here are a few possibilities:
1. They could be joking. Think about it this way. How many people just make arbitrary jokes? In my experience, I have found many many people who say things, in the “I’m fucking with you” sort of way. This happens very very often. And I’m sure you have found many many people who do the same. In fact, I’d venture to say this is the single MOST LIKELY reality, given that someone claimes to have won the lottery. Maybe they stumbled upon this post and wondered if you really were as gullible as you claim to be…
2. They could be seriously lying. People in general lie a lot more often than they win the lottery. Reasons abound…
3. They could have been fooled into thinking they won the lottery. Maybe they JUST got fooled and haven’t realized they have been fooled.
In general, although these possibilities may in fact not be incredibly probable, they are nonetheless much more probable than that arbitrary person ACTUALLY having won the lottery. I will note though, in the interest of differentiating this analogy from the supernatural, that it is much easier for someone to be fooled (not necessarily by a person) into thinking a supernatural occurrence happened when in fact none did. So the appearance of testimony for the supernatural gives a lot less an increase in probability than it would for the lottery.

Patrick –
I concede that some supernatural claims have failed, but certainly not a whole bunch. Looking at my definition of the supernatural, based on detecting design-imposed, it is quite clear why it is much more likely that phenomena once thought to be supernatural turn out to have naturalistic causes than the other way round. It is much more likely that a phenomenon that at first appears to show design-imposed turn out not to have this feature than that it would be the other way round.

You are changing the definition of supernatural then. If thunderstorms were actually DIRECTLY controlled by the gods, as ancient peoples thought, then by your definition, this would not be supernatural! So now you are playing word games. However, if you are instead saying that events of the kind you describe are more likely to be supernatural, then you still have to give an argument for why that is so. You have to argue why, given the existence of some arbitrary supernatural force, we would expect these kinds of events to be explained by that supernatural force, as opposed to others.

Patrick –
But it would certainly be an overstatement to say that eyewitness testimony never is of any use when evaluating a crime.

Yes, but that is because eyewitness testimony has been confirmed to be truthful given natural events (such as crimes), probably more often than not. And, given other evidence, the prior probability of the natural event may not be all that low, depending on the event. So testimony in general will increase the prior probability. I’m not denying that. Just not all that much… So it doesn’t really help with incredibly low prior probabilities.

Patrick –
Of course, when dealing with a person who lived so long ago it’s difficult to evaluate such a person’s psychological state. But unless we have clear evidence that Paul can’t be trusted due to his mental state, I don’t think it is more reasonable to assume this than not do so. To do otherwise would be begging the question.

Remember all Paul has to be is an average person and his mental state becomes questionable enough to provide doubt about any claim he makes. Given that 30% of American hallucinate, its not all that clear that Paul has to be crazy or a fraud in order for us to have a healthy skepticism about his testimony, especially when dealing with something he is so passionate about. As I said, testimony will increase prior probability. However, it is not nearly the amount as does physical evidence or vast amounts of independent testimony.

Patrick –
The issue of the historicity of the Biblical accounts is not relevant here, but the Biblical concept of God.

Wait what? Do you understand the difference between something being believed to be possible and ACTUALLY being possible? The contradiction still stands, regardless of the god you construct, as long as you claim it knows the future of free willed beings.

Patrick –
When determining the prior probability of the Resurrection John M. DePoe doesn’t ask how probable it is that some given people had certain experiences, but how probable it is that the Resurrection happened.

I think you may have mis-applied the analogy
Let’s define some sets:
Set A: Set of all people who enter the lottery
Set B: An arbitrary set of people, for argument purposes, this set is a subset of set A.
Pf(x) = the probability that someone from set x will win the lottery.
In my lottery analogy, set B consists of just one person. So Pf(B) << Pf(A). However as set B grows, limiting at the size of set A, Pf(B) becomes equal to Pf(A).
Now let’s see if we can do the same thing with the resurrection:
Set C: Set of all people who could experience a resurrection miracle.
Set D: An arbitrary set of people, for argument purposes, this set is a subset of set C
Pg(x) = the probability that someone from x will experience a resurrection miracle.
Pg(C) is not necessarily high. In fact, I’ve argued it is quite low. Pg(D) may be lower than Pg(C), however it is not the issue. And making Pg(D) the same size as Pg(C) won’t necessarily make a difference to Pg(C), which is what the issue here is. Remember I am using Pg(B) as an analogy for Pg(C), so Pg(A) does not have anything to do with it, just as Pg(D) has nothing to do with Pg(C). So in other words, you aren’t comparing apples to apples when you mis-interpret the point of the analogy.

Patrick –
The issue here is how the prior probability is determined and not the nature of the appearances.

But if the nature of these appearances is natural, then it defeats the entire point of acting as evidence for anything supernatural.

Patrick –
Eric: “You know, it’s a lot more convenient when you block quote exactly what you are talking about. Just a hint for next time. Because I spend way too long trying to figure out EXACTLY what you are responding to.”
Using the search function is helpful in this respect.

It can still take quite a while. Just do me a favor and paste what you are talking about.

Patrick –
The general issue was whether or not the reliability of a testimony depends on the frequency of the event, state or phenomenon to which the testimony refers.

Hume argued that miracles are rare events, but this can be misleading. The probability of some arbitrary person getting in a car crash within the course of a day may be low. But, if you were to increase the amount of time, then the probability would increase. However, this is not the case with miracles, as the prior probability of a miracle event occurring doesn’t change by anything more than negligible amounts when looking at longer time periods. This is because Miracle events are improbable based on factors that aren’t all functions of time. The fact that a miracle is a “violation” of natural law is an example of this. Remember the resurrection is necessarily a violation of natural law as people don’t just come back from the dead naturally. “Violations” of natural law don’t in principle become more probable when looking at larger period of time or area of space. So calling a car crash rare is different from calling a miracle rare. It sounds like you are trying to evaluate my analogies in ways that don’t apply to miracles.

Patrick –
Just my experience tells me that that’s not how people usually evaluate testimonies. Besides, it seems to me that it may sometimes even be difficult to determine the event about which a prior probability is to be suggested. Let’s assume someone tells you that at a given time at a given place he had a car accident. What exactly is the event here? Is it just “a car accident” or “a car accident happening at the given time at the given place”. In the latter case the prior probability is much lower than in the former. But apart from this, I assume that when someone tells you such a thing, you don’t try to find out what the probability of a car accident is and then decide whether or not you believe this person.

I’m confused. Events happen in time and at particular place. However, I may kinda see the point you are trying to make. This is similar to my analogy about set and probabilities associated with those sets. Looking at a particular time, the prior probability a person got in a crash at that time is very low. But as time increases, the probability they will get in a car crash increases. So you are still unconsciously factoring in prior probability when evaluating whether or not to believe someone who claims to have gotten in a car crash. Anyway, it seems we have gone far off track because none of this applies to miracles since the prior probability of a miracle is very low for reasons other than frequency of event. The reason I posted these other analogies are because they are events with low prior probabilities. So it seems all we are doing is arguing about details that have nothing to do with the analogy.

Patrick –
Eric: “Even if the Christian God is compatible with the God of the Kalam, the Christian God still not expected. Since the Christian God is not expected to follow from the Kalam, then the Kalam doesn’t really increase the prior probability of the supernatural resurrection that much. In fact, since the prior probability was low before the Kalam, the Kalam may not even have a negligible effect on it (it depends on the comparison of all possible universes with all possible universes containing the God of the Kalam) Since there are a large number of possible Gods, only of which maybe one or a few in which we would expect the Resurrection, then the Kalam does not help the prior probability much.”
There may be a large number of possible gods, but there are not many actual gods that come close to the God of the Kalam. As far as I can see all existing concepts of a personal creator of the world are in one way or another connected to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Any god that is timeless and immaterial will satisfy the criteria of the God of the Kalam. And we do not necessarily have to have a working theory of this God, other than the existence of these qualities. In fact, if you were to produce an argument for this, you would disprove the Christian god since there was a time within human existence in which the concept of the Christian God was not known to exist. So there are actually a very large number of possible Gods which fit the criteria of the kalam. As for your last sentence, you are using a fallacy: Here’s a similar fallacy:
All cars have wheels.
A bike has wheels.
Therefore a bike is a car.
Here is whatr your statement basically says:
The kalam shows that God must be timeless and immaterial.
The Christian God is both timeless and immaterial.( “As far as I can see all existing concepts of a personal creator of the world are in one way or another connected to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition”)
Therefore the Christian God is the God of the Kalam.
If God has these qualities, then the Christian God can possibly be the God of the Kalam, as opposed to impossibility. It doesn’t mean the Christian God is probably the god of the kalam. And showing the Christian God is probably the God of the kalam is what is needed for the kalam to significantly raise the prior probability of any Christian miracle, such as the resurrection.

Patrick –
Eric: “I’m not sure this is even coherent. Diversity can be reduced to human thoughts, which can be reduced to neural activity, which is natural. Even if we did assume some kind of Cartesian dualism and say diversity had to come from somewhere, then there are still platonic forms, for instance.”
I think my interpretation was not correct and Schaeffer means the idea of “unity in diversity”.

This doesn’t make a difference as this concept can also be reduced to neural activity.

Patrick –
I just wanted to show that your objection that there are properties that don’t have their origin in God may not necessarily be correct.

It is possible they have their origin in God. I’m not saying it is impossible. However, you have to show that it is probable and/or necessary for them to have their origin in God for the argument to be successful.

Patrick –
Eric: “Once again you are skipping ahead. If you want to seriously increase the prior probability of the resurrection, you need to stop assuming it true already.”
These passages have no connection with the Resurrection. I just mentioned them to show that your argument about God’s properties mentioned before is not necessarily correct.

Ah I may have misinterpreted your point with that. Let me repost what you said:
” From passages such as Matthew 4,4, John 4,31-34, and John 6,25-51, one can conclude that “having to eat” may indeed by a divine quality, albeit in a different manner than we might think.”
This does not make my argument about God’s qualities incorrect. I chose arbitrary properties and “Having to eat” was just one. And you are mixing up qualities that God must have with qualities that God gave humans. Your argument assumed the premise that qualities that humans have must also be possessed by God. These passages don’t say God has the quality of “having to eat.”

Patrick –
Eric: “How does the AI not being Creatio ex nihilo take away the principle that it is possible to create something of “more” of a quality than yourself (for all possible qualities)?”
But God had to create out of nothing. It’s difficult for me to imagine that God could create something that has “more” of a quality than Himself, especially as He sustains things.

Qualities in this sense are abstract. This argument only makes since if God is the originator of the abstract. However, the Kalam only says that God is the originator of the concrete. In other words, 2 + 2 = 4, which is an abstract truth, is still true regardless of whether or not a God exists. Abstract beings, such as qualities (or properties) are abstract so they exist necessarily. So, because of this “creatio ex nihilo” has nothing to do with “ the principle that it is possible to create something of “more” of a quality than yourself (for all possible qualities).”

Patrick –
Eric: “So, by your logic, the Mona Lisa is an illusion because it is reducible to chemicals… Personality does exist in the physical sense, so what is the illusion?”
This example doesn’t support your case, as it is obvious that what constitutes the Mona Lisa is not reducible to chemicals. As a matter of fact there was a personal agent, namely the painter, who created this figure. A chemical analysis of this painting is therefore an inappropriate means to interpret its meaning.
So, this example supports the theistic view of personality. An example supporting the naturalistic view of personality would be a rock looking like Mona Lisa.

Actually the example does support my case. You are saying that, because personality is reducible to chemicals, it is just an illusion. This is the same as saying the mona lisa is just an illusion because it is also reduced to chemicals. What does a personal agent have to do with it? This has nothing to do with your original argument. For something to not be an illusion, it doesn’t have to have been designed.
The example you gave is incoherent to the argument you originally gave. You took an already existing object (the mona lisa) and compared it to a rock that “looks like” that object. Since there is and can only be one mona lisa, this analogy creates too many red herrings. There can be multiple different personalities.
To avoid this red herring, ill give another analogy. Is a cactus an illusion just because it is reducible to chemicals? C
My feeling is that you may be using a definition of illusion that is of no use to the conversation. Also, even if personality was an “illusion,” by your definition, what makes this fact an argument for the existence of the Christian God, as we were discussing?

Patrick –
As for the reasonableness of the Biblical concept of God I made it clear that my suggestion only applies IF the Biblical concept of God turns out to be the most reasonable one. Whether or not this is the case is a matter apart.

I mistook your argument for an argument from objective values. I said there was no reason to assume God was “good.” The belief in a “good” God is what you were assuming when you suggested that salvation has a retrospective effect. So yes, there are no problems IF the Christian God is the most reasonable, however, I just pointed out a lot has to be done to show the Christian God IS the most reasonable of all possible Gods with the properties of the Kalam. This means the Christian God is competing with at least one possible God with qualities almost exactly the same as the Christian God. For example, there could be a God that provided salvation to man from the instant they evolved 100,000 years ago. It could have nothing to with Man’s belief in God or in the existence of this act of salvation. Such a God seems at least as reasonable as the Christian God. However this God seems to fit in much better with our moral intuitions than the God of the Christianity. So even if God was good, we’d have other Gods which seem more reasonable. If we don’t assume God is good, then a God that would act like the God of the Christian Bible, is one of a multitude of possible gods.

Patrick –
Eric: “It sounds like it is possible, but still a stretch. These passages mention a few saints, a very small tiny piece of the population. So, for the rest of the people, the original objection still stands.”
These passages don’t say anything about the number of the saints. It is by no means clear that the number of such people was tiny.

For argument’s sake, I’ll cede this possibility.

Patrick –
Eric: “However, as I have been saying before, none of this is expected. The God of the Kalam is unchanging. So the prospect of God switching to a new system of salvation is not expected, even if it may be compatible (not quite sure if it actually is). If it wasn’t compatible, then the God of the Kalam would disprove the God of Christianity. There is also no reason to assume God is all-good or even good at all. So we have less reason to expect God would do anything Good for us, let alone in the random fashion he did.”
There is no new system of salvation in the New Testament, as can be seen from passages such as Romans 4.

Romans 4:13:” It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”
All this says is salvation through faith. In the Old Testament, this was faith in God. In the New Testament, you needed to have faith in God and the resurrection.

Patrick –
Eric: “If these people had a chance to be saved before the resurrection, then why is there a need for the resurrection? And even if you want to use the concept that the resurrection was in retrospective, then you still have the new requirement for the New Testament, which is acceptance of Jesus. This all is still one hell of a random way to go about saving mankind.”
As I pointed out before there is no new requirement for salvation in the New Testament.

This passage has nothing to do with:
““If these people had a chance to be saved before the resurrection, then why is there a need for the resurrection?”
Why would we expect the resurrection if God can give salvation to those who have faith.

Patrick –
Eric: “Let me ask you a question. If you went to a land that did not make its laws clearly available to you, yet arrested you for breaking said laws, would you consider that land just, especially if they hand delivered copies of the laws to certain people. It would not be expected of a just land. So, if we assumed that God was all-just, then the fact that your proposed God does not make his laws clear enough so I can tell they are true laws, then we would not expect your God to be the all-just one.”
Romans 2,14-16 says, and I think this is indeed the case, that all men, irrespective of their knowledge of God’s written law, know by virtue of their conscience what is right and what is wrong. But even if this is not the case, as I pointed out earlier, some Biblical passages seem to suggest that the degree of punishment for sins depends on the sinner’s awareness of God’s commandments.

But the ultimate sin is lack of faith in The Christian God and the Ressurrection. This is by no means intuitive. However, the main point of this analogy was to show that it would be counterintuitive to think an all just God is not obliged to save people, or at least give them equal opportunity.
It is not also all that clear men know by their virtue what is right and what is wrong. This is the whole point of arguments about moral cultural reletavism. In other words, a Muslim who flies a plane into a building, who does not know the Gospel is the word of God, and has the conscious belief that what he is doing is right (which perfectly describes many terrorists), would be saved under this God?
Remember that just knowing the gospels doesn’t mean the laws are clearly available. The analogy translation of this would be someone bringing you a book that says “The Law” on it and claiming it is the law of the land. Other people bring you other books as well. And when you goto the courthouse to determine which book is the real law, or if any are, you are not informed. This doesn’t sound just. So God MUST MAKE IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR the bible is HIS “LAW.” Else, if he is just, he cannot punish us for disobeying it. So if atheists and theists can reasonably disagree, then God must have not made it absolutely clear to atheists the bible is HIS LAW. If God is just, then he cannot punish those who do not know the bible is his law for not obeying his law. Since you claimed that Theists and Atheists can reasonably disagree, then he cannot punish atheists for not accepting the bible.
If this is the case, then one has to still wonder why he would ever have needed the resurrection in the first place….

Patrick –
You seem to suggest that God is not perfectly good because He does not act as charitably as He could. There are two ways to answer to this objection: From Isaiah 59,1-2 one can draw the conclusion that it’s people’s sins that prevent God from acting more charitably. Moreover, it might be that God, having man’s eternal fate in mind, allows temporal, earthly suffering in order to prevent more suffering in the afterlife. My impression is indeed that suffering has rather the effect of drawing people to God than to alienate them from Him.

I’m not talking about the existence of evil or suffering. I’m talking about salvation. When I speak of charity, I speak of God giving people the chance to be saved. So your second objection does not apply. The first objection could apply, although it is my impression that any person who knows God exists and knows God is good would not actually transgress against him. This would be whooly stupid as all hell!! And it’s far from obvious there are that many people who would be nearly that stupid. Now if God violated many of our moral intuitions, then yes, I could see people doing this. However, if we were to use any intuitional approach to thinking God is good, then this would be a wholly unexpected God anyway.
As for your last sentence, I’m not sure suffering actually brings people closer to God. People may see suffering as a reason to suspect no moral god exists. In fact, it seems odd that an all-powerful god would need suffering to bring people closer to him… God cannot bring people to him some other way? In fact this is very unexpected as this seems like a power God does not possess.

Patrick –
Whether or not the Christian God is what you would expect from an all just-all good god is a subjective matter. There may be people for whom He fulfills these requirements

I’m focusing on the objective element based on common human definitions of “just” and “good.” You would need a subjective definition of “just” and “good” to call this subjective. However, if you have a subjective definition, then there is less objective reason to suspect God has these random properties. Essentially, where did your definitions of “just” and “good” come from? If these definitions are subjective, then they are one of MANY possible definitions. And since they are one of many, there is BY DEFAULT no reason to assume God has THESE particular properties. Why does God fit your intuitions and not other people’s?
Also I need to remind you that, if you have to do post-hoc rationalization of Gods qualities to make them Just or Good, then these properties aren’t expected.

Patrick – .
Eric: “If people who aren’t given the evidence needed to make a rational decision to accept Jesus can still be saved, then it may be possibly just. Of course, it is not expected as it is one random form of being just.”
You seem to assume that people deserve to being saved and that therefore if God doesn’t save them He is unjust. But according to the Bible salvation is a matter of grace and not something we deserve. We deserve to have a fair trial, and I’m quite confident that that’s what God provides for unrepenting people.

A good God would give all people A FAIR CHANCE to be saved. Else this God flies in the face of all moral intuition. He is like the president of the country that expects you to obey a law you don’t know. Once again, if God does give us this fair chance, it is highly doubtful a person would disobey him. This also gives us reasons to doubt the bible stories as few people can identify with anyone so stupid as to knowingly disobey God.

Patrick –
Eric: “Let me put it this way. Let’s say you have a friend. He spends a lot, apparently a bit more than he actually takes in. Doesn’t this fact alone lead you to doubt, at least a little, that he is financially responsible? He may still be for some unknown reason though. Now what if you see him buying a massive boat, that’s way out of his price range, using a loan from a crooked company? Wouldn’t this give you even more reason to doubt that he is financially responsible? What if this happens over and over again? Would this not give you even more reason to suspect he is not financially responsible? In fact, if you heard of an award for the most financially responsible person in the world, would you honestly expect this person to win the award? So this is the problem. The more evil we see, the more reason we have to suspect that God is not all-good, just like we wouldn’t expect this spend-crazy friend of ours to be the most financially responsible person in the world. So just because gratuitous evil may be logically compatible with an all good God, it is certainly not expected.”
If we assume that people who suffer from gratuitous evil may in one way or another be compensated for it in the afterlife, this point may no longer be valid.

This is a post-hoc rationalization. If your friend has a buyer for everything he buys who will pay him a lot of money for these items, guaranteed, then these purchases would be expected, even if he was the most financially responsible person in the world. Just like in the case with God, you would not expect this to actually be the case. The more you have to rationalize, the more you wouldn’t have expected in the first place.

Patrick –
Your analogy of a parent looking after a child is not appropriate, as God obviously treats us as adults and not as children.

You are missing the point of the analogy. Compared to God we are children.

Patrick –
In my view there is no ranking of qualities, but God can’t act according to one quality at the expense of another quality.

According to the argument, God MUST act according to one quality at the expense of another. That’s the whole point of the analogy. God must be just at the expense of being good.

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Christopher Wright January 10, 2012 at 7:43 am

*cough*Aumann agreement theorem*cough*

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