Apply Your Thinking Skills to Your Own Religion

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 7, 2010 in Video

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Newman April 7, 2010 at 9:02 am

C’mon Luke, you’re way too smart for this stuff.

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

LOL! Classic! How about answering some of the questions, then?

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 9:45 am

Note that the videos address ‘educated Christians’ then gives examples of people in that group.

Non-Christians aren’t being addressed at all.

Note also that the examples of ‘educated Christians’ includes people from wider society, and not the usual suspects (theologians or philosophers).

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drj April 7, 2010 at 10:23 am

Simple questions, but sometimes the most potent! Its easy to forget them amidst all the hifalutin philosophical talk sometimes.

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Joshua Blanchard April 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

What’s stupid about this video is that its target audience is the most likely to have already done what it is asking.

Accordingly, you should delete it. Perhaps replace it with another one of the nonstampcollector’s videos, which constitute the best satirical atheology since Voltaire, in my highly idiosyncratic opinion.

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katie April 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm

the problem with this video is it lacks theoloy knowledge the question about the body and the blood is not talking about the phyical body and blood it is talking about the mystery of his spirit being in the breas and wine he is a sacrifice for our sins. I can’t go into too much deal on it because Im not a expert, but that is what I know

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Joshua Blanchard: What’s stupid about this video is that its target audience is the most likely to have already done what it is asking.

Nope. Not even close. The questions are perennial and often show that the people answering them haven’t really thought about these issues very much if at all. See for yourself;

* Search the messages. (Recommended search “10 questions” (with quote marks and ‘Search in topic subjects only’ checked).

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Katie, the video isn’t for theologians. It addresses “educated Christians”; people who commonly don’t have theology degrees.

BTW: The theologians tend not to give much better answers, just longer ones (many pages long). Note that, as the video points out, even your answers are long and complex and (I’ll add) require a special decoder ring to even encode an answer, where if there were no God the answers are short and consistent, requiring no special acrobatics.

That said, nobody has bothered to answer any of these easy questions. Say, how about the first one? Anyone? What is the answer to “Why won’t God heal amputees?”?

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Joshua Blanchard April 7, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Nope.Not even close.The questions are perennial and often show that the people answering them haven’t really thought about these issues very much if at all.See for yourself;* Search the messages.(Recommended search “10 questions” (with quote marks and ‘Search in topic subjects only’ checked).  

In light of this shocking new evidence of the poor quality of discussion on Internet message boards, I surely stand corrected.

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Derrida April 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

This video should certainly be a wake up call for anyone who takes an acceptance of Christianity for granted, like Michael Martin’s disproof of a common conception of God:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/disproof.html

In answering these questions, the Christian has to stick their neck out further and further to the point of absurdity.

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Jscottkill April 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm

That said, nobody has bothered to answer any of these easy questions. Say, how about the first one? Anyone? What is the answer to “Why won’t God heal amputees?”

God won’t heal amputees because they aren’t sick.

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Lorkas April 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

God won’t heal amputees because they aren’t sick.  

On the contrary, losing a limb can cause psychological trauma that lasts sometimes until the person dies. Many people are suffering extreme pain when they lose their limb, and that pain often endures in the “phantom limb” that is left behind. Imagine how it feels when you have an awful cramp in your leg. Hard to think about anything else when it feels as though your muscles are going to pull away from your bones.

Now imagine that that pain is constant and permanent and it’s in a leg you don’t even freaking have anymore.

In any case, the point isn’t “God should heal amputees”–the point is that God only seems to “heal” things that people might have gotten better from anyway. He never heals people with conditions that are permanent and irreversible, like cystic fibrosis, or an amputated limb, or Down Syndrome. Furthermore, when analyzing the recovery rate of diseases that people do get better from, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not people pray for his healing. Christians and non-Christians recover from such diseases at roughly the same rate.

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Jscottkill: God won’t heal amputees because they aren’t sick.

Thanks for the response.

Assuming you are a Christian(?), here are a few questions;

* Why is being ‘sick’ a necessary condition for a prayer to be answered? (Chapter and verse if you have them.)

* Do you think that prayers are never answered in the case of people who are desperate but not suffering from a specific ailment such as cancer? For example, in the case of someone who is going through marital troubles, or someone who desperately needs a modest amount of money?

* If non-sickness prayers are answered, do you think that no amputees — ever — prayed to be ‘made whole again’ or if they are not amputees prayed for other people who are amputees to be ‘made whole again’?

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drj April 7, 2010 at 4:30 pm

God won’t heal amputees because they aren’t sick.  

What about quadriplegics, paraplegics, or folk with irreparable kidney damage, liver damage, or folk with MS, diabetes, AIDS, alzheimers, the list goes on? Surely it cannot be denied that some of them are sick.

And yea, you should read a book called Phantoms of the Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran. In it, he deals extensively with amputees who have phantom limbs, and some of the strange disorders that they suffer as a result (as well as other weird brain issues). Both fascinating and a little horrifying. I don’t think one could claim that many amputees are well, even if “sick” might not be the right word.

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Jscottkill April 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm

@Lorkas,

You’re missing the point that the video seems to wish to make. According to the video, the amputee’s prayer is not “God, take this phantom pain away!” but “God, regrow my limb.” If the prayer is the former, you might have an argument, because phantom pain is the product of some kind of psychological illness. If God never offers healing to those suffering from this illness, I’d grant your point. However, simply not having an limb is not equivalent to being sick.

The point I want to make however, with my glib response is that the question itself is an absurd one that offers no defeater for the theist position. It is sad that so many contemporary Christians and atheists are distracted by it. The question itself is formulated linguistically so as to ensure strange theodicy projects by believers, but on its face, it is barely even logically valid because of the informal use of the term “heal.”

There are tougher, logically consistent questions for theists to answer. Let’s all move on, please!

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drj April 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

The question itself is formulated linguistically so as to ensure strange theodicy projects by believers, but on its face, it is barely even logically valid because of the informal use of the term “heal.”

It seems like a rather straightforward question to me; the naturalist can answer it directly and effortlessly, without the need to resort to some convoluted theodicy project. That’s the point.

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Jscottkill, I look forward to your answers to my 3 questions.

For now, to add to what drj wrote, the word ‘heal’ is entirely unambiguous when theists make claims like ‘God healed my cancer!’. Why should terms like ‘theodicy’ be needed now when most people who make claims such as ‘God healed my cancer!’ have no need for them?

The “why won’t God heal amputees?” question is not about the problem of evil, by the way. It’s about prayer. A concept that is immediately available to non-theologians, non-philosophers, and even uneducated Christians, though the emphasis is on “educated Christians” who use reason and logic in their day-to-day activities such as at work.

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othereric April 7, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Jscottkill: The question itself is formulated linguistically so as to ensure strange theodicy projects by believers…

i don’t get it. the question is stated simply in plain english. i think everyone understands that “healing” the amputee would involve returning their lost limb(s).
it simply points out the logical hoops that believers in prayer jump through to justify a scenario where god only answers prayers where the results could also be explained as coincidence, rather than providing truly miraculous results.

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Hermes April 7, 2010 at 7:39 pm

FWIW, below is a basic transcript of the video covering the first question — “Why won’t God heal amputees?” — and it explicitly describes what the phrase means so there should be no confusion for anyone who actually viewed the video;

[ emphasis added ]

[1:20] Question #1 – Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?

[1:25] It’s a simple question, isn’t it?

[1:27] We all know that amputated legs do not regenerate in response to prayer.

[1:33] Amputees get no miracles from God.

[1:36] If you are an intelligent person, you have to admit that it’s an interesting question:

[1:41] - On the one hand, you believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles.

[1:45] - On the other hand, you know that God completely ignores amputees when they pray for miracles.

[1:51] How do you deal with this discrepancy?

[1:55] As an intelligent person, you have to deal with it, because it makes no sense.

[1:59] In order to handle it, notice you have to create some kind of rationalization.

[2:02] You have to invent an excuse on God’s behalf to explain this strange fact of life.

[2:08] You might say:

[2:10] “God must have some kind of special plan for amputees.”

[2:15] So you invent your excuse, whatever it is, and then you stop thinking about it because it is uncomfortable.

I think the above clearly describes what we see here now;

* The question is clear and unambiguous.

* It is scoffed at, dismissed, or and not taken seriously because it raises uncomfortable questions that have a simple answer — God is imaginary — that Christians do not want to deal with.

* Those who do comment on it at all invent excuses for why the question itself is a bad one, or is trivially simple to answer, or that it requires specialized knowledge, but what we do not see is an actual answer addressing the question.

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Howard Dean April 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm

God does not heal amputees because he does not want his presence to be that obvious. He does not want people who critically analyze evidence, hold no double standards and people who tend to be more independent minded to glorify his name 24/7 after they have died. Instead, God wants people who are scared shitless of hell to give him a forced false love. People who are willing to suspend their rationality, be super biased and who can not be true to themselves by forcing themselves to believe in evolution and Christianity or people who outright say evolution is false even when confronted by evidence. He also really loves “simple minded” people and people who pretend to be open minded, analyze atheistic arguments, and when they feel as if they are going to lose their faith, return to their ignorant state of mind.

It just simply comes down to this. While he also does love the majority of the people on the planet who are not Christians, he would rather have them burn for all of eternity than giving them a clear cut sign. It’s his strange way of saying, “I love you.”

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Newman April 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm

He never heals people with conditions that are permanent and irreversible, like cystic fibrosis, or an amputated limb, or Down Syndrome. Furthermore, when analyzing the recovery rate of diseases that people do get better from, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not people pray for his healing. Christians and non-Christians recover from such diseases at roughly the same rate.  

Well, there is the case of the restoration of Giovanni Savino’s missing eye, attributed to St. Pio, which is well documented: three witnesses apparently confirm that Mr. Savino was admitted to the hospital with an empty right eye socket after a construction injury; a couple days later, after an alleged miraculous visitation by St. Pio, Mr. Savino had an eye in his right socket, which resulted in the ophthalmologist ceasing to be an atheist. You can read more about it here: http://www.amazon.com/Padre-Pio-Bernard-C-Ruffin/dp/0879736739/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270709892&sr=8-1

There is also the case of Pierre de Rudder, which is described in this book: http://books.google.nl/books?id=5mnefXWMqk4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Healing+Fire+of+Christ:+Reflections+on+Modern+Miracles-Knock,+Lourdes,+Fatima&source=bl&ots=Wxb2z97wx2&sig=BMJDR9J-MmLif6nKwqFRouu6W_0&hl=nl&ei=kIC9S7iHHoGmOKef2a4O&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false and there is this story: http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=1781436&sponsor=

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Alex April 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Well, there is the case of the restoration of Giovanni Savino’s missing eye, attributed to St. Pio, which is well documented:three witnesses apparently confirm…

It’s settled! Three witnesses ‘apparently confirming’ and an event is well documented. In addition your description (of the official description) is not accurate:

‘Suddenly Savino exclaimed that he could see.
When the doctor asked him to turn his head so that Giovanni could see him with his left eye, Giovanni exclaimed that it was his right eye he could see with. The doctor insisted that the right one had been totally destroyed and that he must be mistaken. However, there was no mistake. Giovanni had completely regained the sight in his right eye, although it remained nothing but “a mess” until his death twenty-five years later at the age of sixty.’

http://www.basilica.org/pages/ebooks/Brother%20Lawrence%20Mary-The%20Miracles%20of%20Saint%20Padre%20Pio.pdf

So his eye didn’t grow back, instead they claim he could see through his still mangled eye. So where’s this great documentation? The event supposedly took place in 1949 and the man lived for a further 25 years, it’s not as if there wasn’t an opportunity to get some independent verification. There’s no excuse for presenting this kind of anecdotal nonsense as well documented, we remain suitably unimpressed.

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Jscottkill April 8, 2010 at 2:58 am

1:20] Question #1 – Why is there something instead of nothing at all?

[1:25] It’s a simple question, isn’t it?

[1:27] We all know that out of nothing, nothing comes.

[1:36] If you are an intelligent person, you have to admit that it’s an interesting question:

[1:41] – On the one hand, you believe that everything is the natural world has an explanation of its existence.

[1:45] – On the other hand, you know that God could not have possibly created the universe, because He doesn’t exist.

[1:51] How do you deal with this discrepancy?

[1:55] As an intelligent person, you have to deal with it, because it makes no sense.

[1:59] In order to handle it, notice you have to create some kind of rationalization.

[2:02] You have to invent an excuse on the universe’s behalf to explain this strange fact of life.

[2:08] You might say:

[2:10] “The universe caused itself to exist.”
or
“I don’t know, but God certainly didn’t do it, because he isn’t real.”

[2:15] So you invent your excuse, whatever it is, and then you stop thinking about it because it is uncomfortable.

Perhaps the above example makes more clear exactly the strategy the video is employing. There are thoughtful, non-theist answers to “Why is there something instead of nothing at all?” but if I set up the question this way, then I can immediately accuse the non-theist of “rationalizing” to solve the problem. Do you get what the video is trying to do? If you provide a thoughtful and thorough answer to the question, you’re “rationalizing.” Now, if the only point of the video is that people don’t provide careful thoughtful scrutiny to religious ideas, then I’d say the video is effective, but does the question “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” offer any solid refutation for the power of prayer, or the existence of God? Not at all.

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 3:04 am

Thanks Alex!

Newman, I’ve investigated dozens and dozens of claims similar to the one Alex just did.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Let’s say that — even though I’ve never found onesomewhere some serious flesh injuries are healed; missing fingers, toes, eyes, legs, arms, … are regrown like a lizard regrows a tail, or *poof!* the missing part simply reappears.

With that in mind, here’s the question for you;

Why aren’t those traumatic flesh injuries — such as but not limited to amputees — not being healed on a regular basis?

For example, there are many flesh injuries of people in war zones or on farms/factories caused by people using weapons or heavy machinery or mishaps with livestock.

Yet, some diseases are said to be cured by the actions of the Christan deity Yahweh (as well as other deities from other religions) on a regular basis.

Let’s stick with Christianity. In the Christian religious text, there are passages that show Jesus himself promising that prayers will be answered;

* If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. [Matthew 21:21]

* If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. [John 14:14]

* Ask, and it will be given you. [Matthew 7:7]

* Nothing will be impossible to you. [Matthew 17:20]

* Believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [Mark 11:24]

A common complaint is that these quotes are used out of context, and that they mean something other than what they seem to as isolated sentences. That is not the case, You can check them yourself and see if these quotes are actually used out of context;

http://www.biblegateway.com

So, why are there so many people claiming ‘God healed my cancer!’ but so few claiming ‘God healed my missing leg!’?

Consider also;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH0rFZIqo8A

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 3:06 am

Jscottkill, I’ll give a more detailed reply later. I think you should review what has been posted, though, as your analogy is a bit strained. Consider that yours is abstract, and mine deals with actual people.

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 4:16 am

Jscottkill, first off, I’m still waiting on your reply to my 3 questions;

* Why is being ’sick’ a necessary condition for a prayer to be answered? (Chapter and verse if you have them.)

* Do you think that prayers are never answered in the case of people who are desperate but not suffering from a specific ailment such as cancer? For example, in the case of someone who is going through marital troubles, or someone who desperately needs a modest amount of money?

* If non-sickness prayers are answered, do you think that no amputees — ever — prayed to be ‘made whole again’ or if they are not amputees prayed for other people who are amputees to be ‘made whole again’?

Additionally, the reason why I gave a partial transcript to the video is because of your main comment;

The question itself is formulated linguistically so as to ensure strange theodicy projects by believers, but on its face, it is barely even logically valid because of the informal use of the term “heal.”

Yet, the video itself has this (starting at time index 1:20);

Question #1 – Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?

It’s a simple question, isn’t it?

We all know that amputated legs do not regenerate in response to prayer.

As such, and as I pointed out generally without identifying you at first, “there should be no confusion for anyone who actually viewed the video”.

I am asking you now to acknowledge that you were mistaken, and that the question is a very simple and direct one;

Why won’t God heal amputees?

Will you at a minimum acknowledge that this is a simple and direct question, that the word “heal” means what the video says, so we can move on?

Will you also answer the three questions I gave as a reply to one of your earlier messages?

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Martin April 8, 2010 at 7:32 am

Luke, I find your blog frustrating. In one post you’ll (correctly) criticize the sloppy reasoning of “new atheists,” and then in the next post you’ll fall prey to the same naivety.

Many of the first questions in this video fall under the problem of evil. I know you’re aware that this problem has been dealt with extensively in the philosophical literature, by both parties. The person in this video seems to think he’s come across some new criticism that nobody has ever thought of before.

Then it addresses why no evidence is left behind of Jesus’ miracles. Huh? I don’t even understand that. Are we expecting to find fish bones on a hilltop, or vases with traces of wine in them or something?

Then it asks why Jesus has never appeared to Christians. Is he supposed to? I think many Christians would answer that he has appeared to them, or alternatively that God is not a magician who performs tricks at will. And the hiddeness of God is an issues that has been addressed extensively in scholarly literature by both sides as well, with both good answers as well as strong rebuttals.

The video maker then says that the drinking and eating of Jesus’ blood and body is absurd. So, argument from personal incredulity, then? By the same rationale I can conclude that quantum physics is not true because it’s just weird that matter could be both a particle and a wave at the same time.

And what’s with the condescending weasel words? “Weird rationalization?” So if a Christians answers the objection, it’s a priori a weird rationalization and so therefore is rejected before it’s even heard?

Critical thinking indeed.

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 7:53 am

Martin, the primary question in this video — Why won’t God heal amputees? — is not an example of the problem of evil. It focuses on the effectiveness of prayer.

As for your other comments, if that brief explanation is acceptable, I’m willing to discuss them point-by-point as well.

How about you?

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lukeprog April 8, 2010 at 7:59 am

Martin,

By posting a video on my blog, this does not mean I endorse every proposition asserted within it.

Furthermore, the video presents some difficulties for Christian thought at a layman’s level. I’m sure the speaker is aware there are Christian defenses, he’s probably just not very persuaded by them.

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Lorkas April 8, 2010 at 8:11 am

Hermes, I don’t think Jscott is willing to answer those questions because he doesn’t have good answers. He also ignored the point at the end of my comment:

In any case, the point isn’t “God should heal amputees”–the point is that God only seems to “heal” things that people might have gotten better from anyway. He never heals people with conditions that are permanent and irreversible, like cystic fibrosis, or an amputated limb, or Down Syndrome.

And drj’s point right after it:

What about quadriplegics, paraplegics, or folk with irreparable kidney damage, liver damage, or folk with MS, diabetes, AIDS, alzheimers, the list goes on? Surely it cannot be denied that some of them are sick.

It seems to me the point is obvious, but apparently it isn’t so clear to some.

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Lorkas April 8, 2010 at 8:15 am

In any case, I don’t think that Jscott meets my bible-based criteria for determining whether or not someone has enough faith in God that I should listen to their arguments on His behalf, which is the ability to move a mountain by simply telling it to move.

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Martin April 8, 2010 at 8:49 am

Hermes,

The amputee situation seems to me to indirectly fall under the issue of divine hiddeness. The arguer is implicitly stating that if prayer to God caused amputees to regrow limbs, his existence would be finally clenched once and for all. Since he does not do this, he remains hidden.

One theist answer to this is that God remains hidden to avoid compelling people to act a certain way. Atheists like to point out that some Christians obey moral laws only because they fear Hell. So the atheist is saying (correctly, in my opinion) that it’s better to act good because of your own moral development as a person than out of fear or compulsion.

By the same rationale then, if God’s existence were as obvious as the Sun then this compulsion to act a certain way would in fact exist. Everyone would act good because it’s obvious the Christian God exists and they fear his judgment, not because they are good people.

While I’m sure you can think of objections, I don’t think that’s a half bad answer. Especially because it addresses a criticism atheists often make.

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Newman April 8, 2010 at 9:59 am

Alexander Pruss has some good remarks here in the comments.

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drj April 8, 2010 at 10:05 am

While I’m sure you can think of objections, I don’t think that’s a half bad answer. Especially because it addresses a criticism atheists often make.

Divine hiddeness always strikes me as a strange, if not amusing, line of reasoning, coming from those within a revealed religion, where God supposedly came down to Earth, healed the sick, walked on water, turned water into wine, was conceived by an angel in a virgin, was a burning bush, parted a sea, sent plagues, killed firstborns in houses who failed to adorn their doors with lambs blood on the proper night, and for his coup de gras – resurrected from the dead. Then, of course, he made sure to divinely inspire some people to recount his exploits in a book, that we are all to read and believe. Seriously, just how the heck to you get square with that?

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Josh April 8, 2010 at 1:23 pm

One theist answer to this is that God remains hidden to avoid compelling people to act a certain way. Atheists like to point out that some Christians obey moral laws only because they fear Hell. So the atheist is saying (correctly, in my opinion) that it’s better to act good because of your own moral development as a person than out of fear or compulsion.

By the same rationale then, if God’s existence were as obvious as the Sun then this compulsion to act a certain way would in fact exist. Everyone would act good because it’s obvious the Christian God exists and they fear his judgment, not because they are good people.

While I’m sure you can think of objections, I don’t think that’s a half bad answer. Especially because it addresses a criticism atheists often make.

The problem with this explanation is that it makes no bloody sense. Let’s say I had conclusive proof that god exists and I would be sent to hell for not beating my children who do work on the Sabbath. This, in NO WAY compels me to beat my children AT ALL. So if God made himself obvious, it wouldn’t do anything of the sort.

Moreover, as drj points out, god was certainly not hidden in the past—coincidentally in a time when people were far more gullible and superstitious than they are now.

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Zeb April 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Question #1 in this video should be precisely worded, “If it is the case that God fills requests for supernatural interventions, why is it that claims of supernatural intervention which could in fact be natural are much more numerous than claims could not be natural?” Here is my answer. I don’t know that God does intervene supernaturally in the world, and if he does intervene supernaturally (or naturally) I don’t know if there would be any correlation between the way he does and the prayers of living humans. He may respond to prayer only spiritually, giving people in need the grace, comfort, strength, virtue, companionship, etc. to help them. I suspect that any miracles he causes are natural miracles, and that he bases them on the propriety of the situation and not on the requests of humans. I’m afraid positing that prayer causes God to act would detract from his freedom. Nevertheless, I don’t reject out of hand the possibility of God regenerating a limb, and I doubt many Christians would reject it. Apparently there have been claims of regeneration, and while you may reject them and I may remain agnostic towards them, they demonstrate the consistency of Christian belief in God’s power and some people’s interpretation of the power of prayer.

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Lorkas, indeed. Just when you need them, the one true Yahweh Mountain Relocation Specialists call in sick. Oh, the humanity! …or divinity, or inanity, or something.

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AHBritton April 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm

To those critical of this video,

Although I do agree that this is not the most philosophically deep attack on theism, I don’t think it is completely devoid of good arguments. I happen to think the one they use as their website address, “why doesn’t God heal amputees?” is a good one that both raises deep philosophical questions for the theist and is relatable to the general public.

I have much more of a problem with its being directed at the “educated professionals.” Seeming to claim that say a farmer could not have taken college math and science courses (as many farmers in fact do), as opposed to all those who hold office jobs (who do not necessarily have a college degree or experience in math nod science).

That aside I think this leads to a deeper issue. Should atheist’s only use precise argumentation based purely on complex issues of modal logic and quantum mechanics to make their arguments? Or is there room for a more popular style to be used? Granted this falls somewhat into the realm of propaganda, but is that necessarily bad? The main reason I ask is because it seems to me that if you restrict your arguments and actions to purely academic issues then you are basically giving up on any popular support. Similarly these simplistic videos I believe sometimes can lead people into deeper subject matter.

Theists are constantly evangelizing in great numbers all across the world. Now I don’t think atheists should use that tactic but it is a reality. Therefore avoiding ANY form of populist argument means that you seem to believe in a sense that only those in academic institutions or incredibly independently motivated to research these ideas should be exposed to atheist ideas. This is not to say some academic issues can’t be made moor accessible.

I don’t know, just some ideas.

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Here is something to consider for the folks that automatically dismissed this video and turned their nose up at it’s droll crudeness. A simple thing. An unambiguous thing. Truly crude, and philosophically vacant.

YouTube rankings;

#2 – Most Discussed (All Time))
#2 – Most Discussed (All Time)) – Howto & Style
#53 – Most Viewed (All Time)) – Howto & Style
#32 – Top Favorited (All Time)) – Howto & Style

These numbers for the first item get more interesting when you see what the #1, #3, and #4 videos were; free giveaways. Contrast that to the over 900,000 messages posted on the 10 questions video where there was no bribe.

While I appreciate the sophistication of the comments from other You Tubers, this set of videos and this video specifically is effective in generating comments and discussions with both Bible/philosophy geeks and people capable of understanding the arguments but who may not have spent a lifetime dedicated to these discussions; it energizes educated Christians and has convinced quite a few to not be Christians anymore.

Here are some numbers for the top # of views of the top video on specific popular and/or insightful YouTube channels;

Thunderf00t – 851K views
RichardDawkinsDotNet – 672K views
QualiaSoup – 421K views
GoGreen18 – 192K views
DonExodus2 – 162K views
ProfMTH – 143K views
dprjones – 91K views
DeistPaladin – 7K views

Compare that to;

GiiVideo 5,266K views (10 Questions)
GiiVideo 3,550K views (Best optical illusion)
===Thunderf00t===
GiiVideo 812K views (Prove Jesus is imaginary)
GiiVideo 698K views (Top 10 reasons Bible is repulsive)
===RichardDawkinsDotNet===
GiiVideo 494K views (How we know Christians are delusional)
===QualiaSoup===
GiiVideo 333K views (Proving nobody can get to Heaven)
GiiVideo 218K views (Proving prayer is superstition)

… and on for a few more videos.

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Martin April 8, 2010 at 6:20 pm

AHBritton,

I certainly am not advocating not using any form of populist argument, but rather for atheists to get clarity of reasoning. Most of the arguments in this video are silly, and the remaining ones have been dealt with extensively in the academic literature.

So go to the literature, learn the arguments and possible theist responses, and then create simpler versions of same for the populist angle.

You want weird rationalization? Try “atheists lose debates against Bill Craig because he is good at debating, not because he has good arguments.”

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Hermes April 8, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Martin, while I disagree with your assessment, the point of the videos isn’t to be philosophically perfect. The intended audience is not theologians or philosophers, after all.

In the long run, people will figure out many of the important details for themselves. If one step in that direction is hearing an argument that they vehemently disagree with, and is not perfect, then I consider that better than a 200 page tome that — as a former girlfriend used to tell me — makes their head hurt just thinking about it.

(BTW, she had a doctorate, and was quite sharp otherwise — just not philosophically minded. Life is too short to befriend or date dumb people.)

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lukeprog April 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Hermes,

Those numbers are amazing. Wow.

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AHBritton April 8, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Martin,
Why is that “weird rationalizing?” There are many arguments Craig makes that are rather silly. He does present them well, what is wrong with admitting that?

Are you saying because some atheists are willing to complement his debating skills, that makes him correct? I’m sure if many in the theist community weren’t so arrogant they would be able to admit the same of some of their opponents.

Personally, despite the fact that I readily admit his debating skills… he is also kind of a jerk some times. Not that there aren’t atheists of which I could claim the same :)

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 5:01 am

In normal discussions on theist/atheist forums and blogs, the comments trend toward more detailed discussions of apologetic arguments regardless of if those arguments have merit, or if they have been addressed in detail many many times before or not. This Christian apologetic perspective often shows up even where there are no Christians around. (This later attitude is related to what Alonzo Fyfe has discussed over the past few weeks.)

This tendency to assume a Christian perspective — including many unspoken ideas — is well known by people who have monitored these discussions for years to decades (like me). So well known that people who don’t go along with it are often seen as being either nit picky, obtuse, stubborn, or just plain rude.

The Christians see their ideas supported by both Christians and non-Christians and assume that they must have the right ones. Conversely, they also tend to assume that ideas that aren’t from Christianity — such as baning slavery — only came about because of Christianity when their religious text often says the opposite.

Yet, let’s not get distracted looking at a single tree. The forest is wide ranging.

When Christian apologist arguments or statements are addressed, the reaction of the Christian and many non-Christians is to resort to the famous “Is not!” defense.

If boredom sets in, or shock that an argument isn’t working is vaguely acknowledged, there is still no shortage of Christian apologist arguments to fill the “Yeah, but!” queue.

A sample of those arguments run from the laughable young earthers and Noachian flood proponents who boldly ignore evidence as well as appropriate mockery (‘So, how big was the blender used to fill that boat?’ Did they use a funnel?), through to well worn apologetic arguments based on non-Biblical abstract quasi-deistic ideas and claims that most Christians would not recognize as being remotely connected with the religion they actually practice. This is probably because many of those ideas and claims aren’t Christian, but are instead like splints and bandages; extra material not original to the beast used to keep it standing in the face of mounting osteoporosis.

To be blunt, it takes quite a bit of time to teach someone about basic reality when they insist that red is green, that they got there first, they own morality, and most annoyingly that nobody else thought of the ideas that make their religious beliefs the uniquely special little snowflake that it is.

To counter or even dismiss any of these unsupported ideas is to invite Christians and many non-Christians to criticize you for not being thoughtful and to raise demands that you justify yourself. I find that quite bizarre.

The video’s author, rightly or wrongly, is not entering a dog into that fight, and I can’t blame him.

The 10 Questions video and the other GIIvideo videos are directed at educated Christians not Christian apologists or the many poorly trained by Christian apologists. The scope is limited and the author does not drag in issues that are largely irrelevant to what the author intends to address.

Importantly, the author also shows no interest in avoiding issues that Christians have claimed to have answers for. Why? If an issue is analyzed for decades or centuries, yet the presupposition is self-referentially Christian, what is the benefit of a non-Christian assuming a Christian perspective when that non-Christian doesn’t find Christian apologetics and presuppositions very convincing?

As such, there is no reason to start with that long list of unsupported ‘what ifs’ and bold assertions that Christian apologists emphasisze. Those arguments will come up, no doubt, so why start with them?

With that in mind, I close with this quote;

Too many liberties have already been taken. Religious dogma has been allowed to encroach on ground it has no right to occupy, and to claim authority where it has no authority to claim anything.

And I don’t think this is a matter for polite debate, especially when all you’re going to get is the usual raft of glibly held but unexamined certainties hammered home like coffin nails at every opportunity.

–Pat Condell, Why debate dogma?

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 5:28 am

AHBritton,

There are many arguments Craig makes that are rather silly.

See, right there. That’s the attitude atheists are going to have to get over. Craig is an academic philosopher; he’s not Ray Comfort. His arguments have been published in the peer-reviewed philosophy journals. If his arguments are so obviously silly, then please publish this silliness in the journals and collect your honorary doctorate.

As we speak Craig is setting up Reasonable Faith chapters all over the place, training Christians in excellent reasoning skills. In the meantime atheists are spinning their wheels with nonsense like “we don’t have a burden of proof” and “we just lack belief” and “you can’t prove a negative” and then patting themselves on the back about how rational they are.

Personally, I think creationism is the primary force responsible for lulling atheists into a false sense of Christian stupidity.

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oliver April 9, 2010 at 6:08 am

well worn apologetic arguments based on non-Biblical abstract quasi-deistic ideas and claims that most Christians would not recognize as being remotely connected with the religion they actually practice

I like. Well said, Hermes!

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oliver April 9, 2010 at 6:18 am

@ Martin

See, right there. That’s the attitude atheists are going to have to get over. Craig is an academic philosopher; he’s not Ray Comfort. His arguments have been published in the peer-reviewed philosophy journals. If his arguments are so obviously silly, then please publish this silliness in the journals and collect your honorary doctorate.

LOL. Have you heard him try to justify Yahweh’s ordering the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites?

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

In my opinion ‘silly’ would be an understatement as a description of his argument in this regard.

Was it peer reviewed too?

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drj April 9, 2010 at 6:28 am

See, right there. That’s the attitude atheists are going to have to get over. Craig is an academic philosopher; he’s not Ray Comfort.

But Craig does make many laughable arguments. He’s not immune from absurdity just because he has a Ph.D. after his name, and is peer reviewed. He says quite a few silly things about evolution, and homosexuality. Really absurd, silly things, that really make you scratch your head, wondering how such a smart guy can be so dumb.

His moral argument is especially bad, as well are his defenses of old testament atrocities.

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drj April 9, 2010 at 6:46 am

In any case, I agree that some of the questions in the video were dumb, or kind of silly – but the first question is definitely the good one.

Its clever. It has the potential to set in motion a certain trajectory of rationalization, where hopefully – at some point a light bulb goes off, and its realized that each rationalization is simply meant to explain why God still might exist in a world that looks totally godless – and syncs up effortlessly with atheist expectations. Somewhere along the line those rationalizations stop being explanations, and transform into lifelines needed to keep the belief from bleeding to death.

At that point, one can recount the story of Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon.

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 7:16 am

He’s not immune from absurdity just because he has a Ph.D. after his name, and is peer reviewed.

He’s not immune himself, but his well-worn arguments for the existence of God have done the peer-reviewed rounds.

why God still might exist in a world that looks totally godless

But see, that right there is just stating your worldview. It’s obviously godless to you, but to a theist it’s quite obviously godful. A theist would be just as baffled by your attempts to rationalize god away as you are of his attempts to rationalize god into existence. Which is why both sides need to build a positive case using evidence and argumentation.

At that point, one can recount the story of Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon.

And this story doesn’t apply to Craig’s arguments at all. Craig provides positive arguments, using evidence from the real world. You might think the arguments are weak, you might disagree with how he interprets the evidence, but one thing they are not is evasive like in Sagan’s story.

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 7:47 am

The questions aren’t the point. It’s the answers that are interesting (if any are given at all). Take a look;

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?board=4.0

The forums there have over 850,000 posts (+300K posts on the
new board plus +550K posts on the old board (archived)).

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 8:06 am

Hermes, keep away from forums like that. The naive arguments from lay Christians are exactly the type of thing that is lulling atheism into a false sense of confidence.

Who makes the better boxer? The one who trains against puny nerds, or the one who trains against expert boxers?

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

Martin, it’s dirty work but don’t turn your nose up on it. There’s gold (of various types) there that can’t be found in any ivory tower. Plus, people do ‘get it’ and do revert from Christianity, thanking the people who helped along the way.

In contrast to your requesting that I stay away from such places, I encourage people here to get their fingers dirty and seek those places out.

Would you trust your own thoughts, abstracted from application, or a hands-on anthropological investigation with notebook, brush, and pick in hand?

* * *

Back to the 10 Questions.

While you find them not worthy, I find them to be amazingly well thought out as they gain results that other videos and more overtly thoughtful books do not (as seen above and in prior posts).

They are also useful in understanding what a variety of people actually think as opposed to an imaginative guess.

For example, note the answers given to question #5 (slavery).

Those answers show that;

1. Most Christians don’t know or ignore the nasty bits of the Christian Bible.

2. The rest have no morals, make up excuses that aren’t in line with reality, or are actively suppressing what are moral thoughts to keep them in line with what they think the Christian Bible contains.

Also, question #10 (divorce rates) has some weight. Most people who reply show that they didn’t understand question #10 or chose to answer something else in place of it.

The extra details explaining question #10 are important, yet ignored. When they come and make up excuses on this one, details can easily be provided showing that those excuses have no merit. For example, the born-again divorce rate, for example;


Variation in divorce rates by religion:

Religion % have been divorced

Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

But, they have to come first.

If the questions are perfect, then they will not come and attempt to show how stupid the questions were. That is one of the reasons why there are over 900K replies on YouTube. That is why there are over 850K replies on the forums.

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Josh April 9, 2010 at 8:38 am

AHBritton,
See, right there. That’s the attitude atheists are going to have to get over. Craig is an academic philosopher; he’s not Ray Comfort. His arguments have been published in the peer-reviewed philosophy journals. If his arguments are so obviously silly, then please publish this silliness in the journals and collect your honorary doctorate.
As we speak Craig is setting up Reasonable Faith chapters all over the place, training Christians in excellent reasoning skills. In the meantime atheists are spinning their wheels with nonsense like “we don’t have a burden of proof” and “we just lack belief” and “you can’t prove a negative” and then patting themselves on the back about how rational they are.
Personally, I think creationism is the primary force responsible for lulling atheists into a false sense of Christian stupidity.  

Except that the moral argument IS a silly argument (it just so happens that 90% of atheists who debate Craig completely miss the point). Craig’s argument about the resurrection is also pretty obviously dumb. Moreover, though you say that Creationism has lulled atheists into a false sense of Christian stupidity, I should point out that both Craig and Plantinga are creationists.

By the way, don’t start the burden of proof argument again.

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drj April 9, 2010 at 8:49 am

But see, that right there is just stating your worldview. It’s obviously godless to you, but to a theist it’s quite obviously godful.

I don’t think I’m smuggling in or presuming my worldview here. The point of the line of questioning is to get a believer to confront details about the world that are best explained by Godlessness, and poorly explained by God belief. You don’t have to be an atheist to realize that atheism explains the amputee question much better than divine hiddeness, by pretty much every accepted norm used to compare and judge explanations.

Though, in retrospect, I’m not sure its all that effective, since it seems the most common reaction, if this thread is to be any judge, has been to clam up and get huffy at the “sillyness” of the question. One wonders if that sort of reaction might occur because the question has more teeth than many want to admit.

A theist would be just as baffled by your attempts to rationalize god away as you are of his attempts to rationalize god into existence. Which is why both sides need to build a positive case using evidence and argumentation.

Sure – and people have done just that, and we could literally all spend our entire lifetime reading and learning about all these positive cases, and their critiques, and the critiques of their critiques, etc, etc. That doesn’t make exercises like the one in this video pointless or useless.

And this story doesn’t apply to Craig’s arguments at all. Craig provides positive arguments, using evidence from the real world. You might think the arguments are weak, you might disagree with how he interprets the evidence, but one thing they are not is evasive like in Sagan’s story.  

I was not suggesting that the story was any sort of reply to Craig – Craig has just been a tangential point in this thread because you referred to his debate success as a sore point that atheists tend to rationalize away, in a silly manner.

The sorts of lines of thought that potentially result from the “Why doesnt God heal amputees question”, segway nicely into the story, is all, as they all raise questions about the nature of explanation.

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

Except that the moral argument IS a silly argument

Call me a skeptic, but if it were that obviously refutable I would think you should publish your refutation in one of the major philosophy journals.

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 9:05 am

Sure – and people have done just that, and we could literally all spend our entire lifetime reading and learning about all these positive cases, and their critiques, and the critiques of their critiques, etc, etc.

:) Many people characterize debating this age-old question as “debating the un-debatable.” I think I agree. I don’t think anything will ever really be resolved, but it’s fun mind food. Maybe I’m just a big nerd. :)

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Zeb April 9, 2010 at 9:08 am

I don’t see how that first question is clever, challenging, or profound. I don’t know God as a wish granting genie, and I don’t know many Christians who do. Prayer is not an all powerful magic spell. So what?

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

I don’t think anything will ever really be resolved

Of course these questions are resolved. They are every time a religion dies or transmutes into some other religion.

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drj April 9, 2010 at 9:32 am

I don’t see how that first question is clever, challenging, or profound. I don’t know God as a wish granting genie, and I don’t know many Christians who do. Prayer is not an all powerful magic spell. So what?  

I guess that depends on the Christian you talk too. Few, in my experience, take the stance that prayer is never answered by miraculous intervention in the world, by God.

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drj April 9, 2010 at 9:33 am

Many people characterize debating this age-old question as “debating the un-debatable.” I think I agree. I don’t think anything will ever really be resolved, but it’s fun mind food. Maybe I’m just a big nerd.   

I think its a good bet that we are all pretty big nerds:P

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Josh April 9, 2010 at 9:54 am

Call me a skeptic, but if it were that obviously refutable I would think you should publish your refutation in one of the major philosophy journals.  

Craig’s argument is (literally)

1)If god does not exist, then there is no objective morality
2)There is objective morality
3)Thus god exists!

Clearly the argument is deductively VALID. But how does Craig justify premise #2? “LOOK INTO YOUR HEART YOU KNOW THERE’S OBJECTIVE MORALITY!!” That, my friend, is a silly argument.

Moreover, it has often been pointed out the Craig by other peer reviewed philosophers that objective morality has more basis on theism than atheism, due to the Euthyphro dilemma. Of course, Craig says it’s a false dilemma and says some nonsense about “God’s nature is to be good” which of course is actually completely agreeing with the “God says it’s good because it is good independent of god” horn of the dilemma. This therefore invalidates premise 1 of the argument as well.

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

I don’t see how that first question is clever, challenging, or profound. I don’t know God as a wish granting genie, and I don’t know many Christians who do. Prayer is not an all powerful magic spell. So what?  

Well, of course. The question you are responding to isn’t the question that is being asked.

Here is a detailed review of the issue.

Here is a very brief overview;

1. The Christian Bible has promises in it.

2. The promises are said to be kept in ambiguous situations; found keys, cancer remissions, … .

3. The promises are not kept in unambiguous situations, such as but not limited to amputees.

So, what can we say is possible based on comparing the promises made in the Christian Bible to the what we see in reality? A few potential conclusions come to mind;

1. The book is wrong, but the Christian deity Yahweh exists.

2. The book was right, but the Christian deity Yahweh no longer honors the book though it could.

3. The book was right, but the Christian deity Yahweh no longer honors the book because it can’t.

4. The book is not relevant to the questions it raises because the Christian deity Yahweh doesn’t exist.

5. The book is not relevant to the questions it raises because some other deity or deities exist, not the Christian one, and that deity or deities don’t honor what they did not sign up for.

6. The book is not relevant to the questions it raises because some other deity or deities exist, not the Christian one, and that deity or deities do honor similar promises to those who pray to them or offer some other communication or gift as a bribe for the miracle. (Example: Hindu miracles.)

I’m going with #4. What about you?

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Hermes April 9, 2010 at 10:07 am

The point of question #1;

If the Bible is correct, amputees getting restored limbs and other supernatural miracles should be as plentiful as confetti on the sidewalk after a parade.

Why should that the case? The author of the videos writes this about the topic;

You can see that the amputee experiment reframes our conversation. No longer are we talking about “religion” or “faith” or “God’s existence”. What we are talking about here is the basic human ability to process factual information. Jesus makes a number of promises about prayer in the Bible:

* If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. [Matthew 21:21]

* If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. [John 14:14]

* Ask, and it will be given you. [Matthew 7:7]

* Nothing will be impossible to you. [Matthew 17:20]

* Believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [Mark 11:24]

Are Jesus’ promises true or false? By looking at amputees we can see that they are false. Jesus/God never answer prayers to spontaneously restore lost limbs, despite the promises in the Bible.

If you are a believer, and if this is the first time you have thought about the situation faced by amputees seriously, you may have a set of rationalizations and excuses swirling through your head right now.

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Martin April 9, 2010 at 11:02 am

Josh,

“LOOK INTO YOUR HEART YOU KNOW THERE’S OBJECTIVE MORALITY!!” That, my friend, is a silly argument.

That’s not Craig’s argument at all. That’s the truncated version he has to use in the twenty short minutes he makes his case in a debate setting. In his scholarly articles he discusses this in depth, and he answers objections, all cited. It may still not convince you, but I certainly would not define it as “silly” and it certainly isn’t shallow like you seem to think.

As for Euthyphro’s dilemma, there are good arguments for it’s being a false dilemma. Now, you may still not agree, but to flippantly wave it away as “silly” is, well, silly.

My point is that this is the very overconfidence that leads to atheists so often losing in debates. If you walk into a debate with Craig with these flippant responses, he would fry you up in a pan with butter, bacon and hash browns on the side, maybe a nice multi-grain waffle with some REAL maple syrup, perhaps a nice cup of coffee (I like Starbucks House Blend, myself, with a little pinch of salt), and grits (love grits!) and quite justly have you for breakfast.

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Zeb April 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Sorry Hermes, the question is about prayer (as you said in one response), not about the inerrancy of a certain literalist interpretation of the Bible. But if that’s the question you want answered, I’ll go with option #1, The [certain literalist interpretation of the Bible] is wrong, but the Christian God exists.

I grant that the discrepancy between the most obvious interpretation of scriptures vs life as we know it is a challenge. But I’m Catholic. We don’t believe our faith derives from the Bible, and we don’t believe in a literalist-inerrantist interpretation. Your question, Hermes, should accomplish no more than challenging how a person may be understanding and using the Bible.

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AHBritton April 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Martin,

While I think you have some good points you seemed to have missed something very important. I didn’t claim ALL his arguments were silly. I was just saying that SOME of them are and for what it’s worth not EVERYTHING he says is peer reviewed. I’m sorry, despite the fact that I admit Craig is an excellent debater and makes many complex well reasoned arguments, not all of them are that deep and impervious to critique. I don’t think he is the god of arguments beyond reproach and we should all bow down and refuse to criticize him. What is SO wrong about thinking some of his arguments and comments are shallow?

Plenty of atheists have tons of peer reviewed work arguing against the existence of God, what does it matter? Does that mean I can’t criticize such and such an atheist argument? Can I not think an atheist who is published makes bad arguments sometimes?

Despite the fact that Craig does a great job debating it and clouding the issue, his arguments related to the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection are very weak. You do not need to know all the peer reviewed literature on textual criticism and biblical history to realize that an event like the resurrection is not only impossible to PROVE through historical reconstruction, but it is difficult to assertion with a great deal of probability. Craig’s arguments SOUND GREAT, but they stretch the limits of credulity and the limits of the meaning of human language. How does he possibly come up with his numbers about the “probability” that the resurrection ever happened? THAT is NOT peer reviewed and is specious and INCREDIBLY unscientific is it not?

If you honestly believe that argument is rock solid I would be amazed. It SOUNDS great, but it is frankly silly and unscientific. There is no “miracle probability” field of scientific inquiry. One cannot take a “miracle statistics” class. No peer reviewed journal is titled “North American Journal on the Probability and Statistical Analysis of Miraculous Claims.” There are no statistical formulas for figuring such things out. Therefore when he quotes such a statistic, it is BASED on ERRONEOUS VALUES and MADEUP PROBABILITIES…. i.e. it is MADE UP!

Craig does this other places as well. He quotes people and research out of context making it sound like people that disagree with him agree with him (Vilenkin & Guth anyone?) and other underhanded tactics. Have you read many theoretical physics papers Craig has had published in peer reviewed journals? No, because they don’t exist! Yet he claims expertise on that is well. Can one not criticize his physics? Or is it suddenly OK because he is not published. If I told you I WAS published would you suddenly shut up and accept every argument I make?

Yes he publishes peer reviewed papers in philosophy and biblical history. Yes he is a good debater. Yes he makes silly arguments on occasion. Yes sometimes he makes them sound convincing. Yes they are still silly. and YES HE MAKES GOOD ARGUMENTS AS WELL!

You can’t change my mind by saying “why don’t you publish in a peer review journal then.” That is just childish. and the only appropriate response would be something along the lines of “I know you are but what am I.”

If you have a PARTICULAR issue you want to debate that is fine but claiming he is so peer reviewed that I can’t claim such and such an argument is silly is ridiculous and I have seen debates where he gets punked on certain topics in my view… you don’t have to agree but that is my own personal view and telling me not to see things the way I do won’t change anything.

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Martin April 10, 2010 at 5:42 am

AHBritton,

Of course I’m not saying Craig is beyond critique. All I’m saying is that professional atheologians who have devoted their lives to the study of atheology have the best chance of giving the best responses to his arguments, and they would do this in the literature. Craig has been using the same five arguments for twenty years, and if they were so obviously refutable then someone would have shown this by now and he would have stopped using them. To be overconfident about your objections is to fall into the same trap almost every atheist who debates him falls into.

Many of the objections you raise he has already answered; if you read his book Reasonable Faith you’ll see he already raises many of your objections, and then responds to them, at least half convincingly.

Just color me skeptical of anyone who says they have the answer.

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Hermes April 10, 2010 at 12:30 pm

[ repost with minor editing changes ]

Zeb: Sorry Hermes, the question is about prayer (as you said in one response), not about the inerrancy of a certain literalist interpretation of the Bible.

Zeb, as a former Catholic myself, I understand that position, though the quotes are non-denominational/non-sectarian. As they aren’t figurative, they are not problematic just for those who cling to literal interpretations.

They are accurate in context, as you can see for yourself using whatever version of the Christian Bible you prefer. See for yourself using BibleGateway or some other online Bible sites.

That said, I fully admit that I’ve seen one effective argument against one of the quotes and a plausible but not very convincing argument against another. Yet, even the one good argument was not a home run; I could see it either way, and as such I was willing to concede that one.

Unfortunately, the person who made the one good argument stopped there, and was unwilling to deal with the other ones with similar rigor or to admit that they plainly meant what they said in the context that they were provided.

I say this after listening to countless comments from various Christians, including theologians, who said the quotes were out of context yet were unable to show that was the case.

If you are saying that the Bible is not reliable or can be ignored (via Catholic doctrine), we can stop right now. On that point, I would agree with you. Since the Bible can be ignored in part or in whole, you should then either disregard it entirely or agree with one of the possible conclusions I already listed.

As before, details on why I am writing all this is provided in the link I mentioned earlier.

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Hermes April 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Nit. Sub “As they are not merely figurative but substantive” for ”
As they aren’t figurative”.

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AHBritton April 11, 2010 at 1:52 am

Martin,

I’m not exactly sure from where your critiques of my comments stem.

You stated “atheists are spinning their wheels with nonsense like ‘we don’t have a burden of proof’ and ‘we just lack belief’ and ‘you can’t prove a negative’”

All I said was that some arguments he makes are silly. That is my personal opinion. I never claimed theists have the burden of proof or that you cannot prove a negative or that all his arguments were silly.

“Personally, I think creationism is the primary force responsible for lulling atheists into a false sense of Christian stupidity.”

You could be right about that to some extent because creationism is surprisingly popular among theists and easily refuted… although I have studied and discussed many of their beliefs with them and they don’t find them easily refuted.

“Of course I’m not saying Craig is beyond critique. All I’m saying is that professional atheologians who have devoted their lives to the study of atheology have the best chance of giving the best responses to his arguments, and they would do this in the literature.”

I agree. I do not claim to compete with professional atheist philosophers. There are tons of them and they write may articles about these issues. I on the other hand am an amateur philosopher making a blog comment. I am sorry if I did not peer-review it before posting :)

I can address the argument you describe as “half convincing” from reasonable faith if you like. I would also say I would be INCREDIBLY surprised of many of these arguments are published in journals.

Much of his time building up to his argument about the historicity of the resurrection is spent giving somewhat interesting but largely irrelevant historical accounts of the history of historical biblical research (there’s got to be a better way to say that). Then he goes on to offer his arguments against relativism, postmodernism, anti-realism, constructionism, and so on. Again this is not really relevant to my complaints about the resurrection but I suppose is possibly necessary for a complete rebuttal. It also has the added benefit of painting some atheists and resurrection deniers as cooks who deny that a past history even exists, which might explain why he spend what I feel is an unnecessary amount of time on the subject, some of which seems redundant.

Then he goes on to Spinoza, Hume, etc. in regards to the philosophical problem of miracles. Once again some of the arguments he debates, especially Spinoza’s, are weak. Craig doesn’t fare a whole lot better though making comments such as

“For example, if on the morning news you hear reported that the pick in last night’s lottery was 7492871, this is a report of an extraordinarily improbable event, one out of several million, and even if the morning news’ accuracy is known to be 99.99 percent, the improbability of the event reported will swamp the probability of the witness’s reliability, so that we should never believe such reports. In order to believe the report, Hume would require us to have enough evidence in favor of the morning news’s reliability to counter-balance the improbability of the winning pick, which is absurd.”

I personally think this argument is absurd. It is obviously not improbable that SOMEONE would win the lottery and I am pretty sure Hume would agree. Somehow Craig believes Hume would be oblivious to this and that somehow winning the lottery is in someway comparable to an unnatural miracle, which is absurd. Miracles aren’t statistically bound to happen as the lottery is. In fact it would become increasingly more improbable the longer the lottery goes without someone winning.

Intermixed in all this he goes about arguing semantics about whether or not miracle contravene nature, etc. Also interspersed he has weird appeals to emotion as always and for some reason compares Scrooges encounter in a Christmas Carol to doubting Thomas.

He EVENTUALLY gets to the meat of his argument. That, by declaring miracles highly improbable and nearly unprovable historically, ignores the realizations of Bayesian Probability.

I’ll let Craig explain. M = Miracle occurred B = Background Knowledge E = Evidence.

“Now whether the miracle is more probable than not will be determined by the ratios on the right hand side of the equation. In the first ratio, the numerator Pr(M|B) represents the intrinsic probability of the miracle, and the denominator Pr(not-M|B) represents the intrinsic probability of the miracle’s not occurring. We’re asking here which is more probable, M or not-M, relative to our background knowledge alone, abstracting from the specific evidence for M. In the second ratio the numerator (E|M&B) represents the explanatory power of the miracle, and the denominator Pr(E|not-M&B) represents the explanatory power of the miracle’s not occurring. We’re asking here which best explains the specific evidence we have, M or not-M.”

I am fine with this. In fact it in a sense adds very little. Basically it means that as long as there is even the smallest probability that God and miracles do exist than a significantly substantial set of evidence would tip the balance in favor of a miracle having occurred. Now keep in mind Craig avoids delineating any of these things in any sort of quantitative terms. Meaning he does not really specify what the intrinsic probability would be or what the weight of the evidence is because this mathematical formula maps very poorly to the reality of the very un-mathematical nature of determining the probability of historical events. Compounded we are attempting to find the PROBABILITY that if a God exists he will interfere in a specific situation!! I would also like to point out that as you know Craig is VERY intelligent and any omission, no matter how slight, I personally don’t believe is very often an accident, but an omission of convenience.

I will point out that I argued that it is silly to claim you can determine the probability that Jesus was resurrected. Keep that in mind. We are talking about the odds that if God exists he will do such and such a thing.

So Craig claims that Hume is silly when he declares “no testimony . . . is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless this testimony is of such a kind that . . . its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavours to establish.” I agree with Craig in the sense that this is loaded terminology, but I don’t agree that it fails to make a very good point, the same point the Bayesian analysis makes. Given that the likelihood of a miracle performing God is small it requires IMMENSE evidence to make it historically probable that any miracle, including the resurrection, occurred.

Craig initially focuses on the evidence side of the equation, but I believe that is a misdirection. The evidence does not really change when the Bayesian equation comes into place. Craig claims that Hume focuses too much on the intrinsic possibility of miracles, but I do not believe that to be true. Instead Craig tries to alter the “intrinsic probability” aspect of the equation himself.

As Craig says “In order to establish the occurrence of a highly improbable event, one need not have lots of evidence.” Followed by this brain twister of a statement

“What the skeptic seems to be saying… is that in order to believe rationally in a miraculous event, you must have an enormous amount of evidence. But why think that that is the case? ‘Because a miracle is so improbable,’ the skeptic will say. But Bayes’ Theorem shows that rationally believing in a highly improbable event doesn’t require an enormous amount of evidence. What is crucial is that the evidence be far more probable given that the event did occur than given that it did not. The bottom line is that it doesn’t always take a huge amount of evidence to establish a miracle.”

Now why would he say this? How is it possible that a miracle would not require a large degree of evidence? If the evidence side of the equation becomes small it means that the intrinsic probability must increase. What he is really arguing is that you don’t need a lot of evidence as long as it is intrinsically likely that the miracle DID occur!

I could go on but I need to wrap up for now. He continues on discussing the calculation of probability without a base frequency, etc. but basically his argument along Bayesian lines goes like this.

If Pr(M|B) is relatively high compared to Pr(not-M|B) than Pr(E|M&B) need not be necessarily much higher than Pr(E|not-M&B) to make it more probable.

In plain English if the probability that God exists and that Jesus’s claims to performing miracles and having a close relationship with God are ~ as likely as these things not being true than the evidence for his resurrection need only offer a slightly better explanation than the alternative to the evidence of his resurrection.

Or another way

If you accept that God exists and Jesus is his only begotten son it does not require much evidence to make his resurrection highly probable.

Hence this argument is SILLY! It is circular and begging the question. I can go into the rest of the argument but I think I am done for the moment.

Martin, if you can demonstrate that this is not a silly argument I would appreciate it. Just because it is complex does make it less silly. I admit I could be wrong in my analysis but from my perspective, as I originally stated, it is silly.

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Hermes April 11, 2010 at 7:05 am

I’ll take the current silence as an indicator that the video and questions might seem superficially silly or vapid, but on more rigorous investigation are not and actually raise some very important issues for the Christian theist (but not non-theistic Christians) to consider.

With that out of the way, I’ll touch on the issue of the burden of proof.

* * *

Burden of Proof: Part 1

Arguments over the burden of proof tend to go nowhere since the people arguing for or against others having the burden do not properly slice off what comments require it and what ones do not.

To simplify this, and to make it so that burdens can be assigned unambiguously regardless of the topic, I divide comments up into knowledge claims and statements of belief. (There are other types of comments that may appear in other conversations, but these are the ones that tend to impact theistic conversations the most, so for this discussion I limit it to those two.)

* * *

As an example, if I say “There are extraterrestrials visiting this planet!” That is a statement about shared reality; it is a knowledge claim and a statement of fact not my personal belief.

[Note that if I intended to limit the comments I make to my personal belief, I should have said something like "I believe there are extraterrestrials visiting this planet!". But, in this case, let's say I intended it to be a knowledge claim, not a belief statement.]

As such, if someone says “Show me!”, and I then say “I can’t because [ fill in the blank with a something like a 'conspiracy theory' ] — but I know in my heart that it is true!” I have not gotten away from being required to offer evidence for my original statement.

The ‘conspiracy theory’ angle can just be ignored as my attempt to knowingly deflect criticism, me grand standing by making an intentionally outlandish claim, or it may be an indication of my clouded perception and/or judgment.

[Or, as some have said, the conspiracy theory angle may just be the ET (or whatever) meme defending itself. While I find the idea of memes personally useful in minor ways, I do not find them convincing, so I do not use them here or in any serious argument.]

Note that it could be that, after many levels of investigation, the conspiracy theory may turn out to be demonstratively true, and through that investigation we might uncover a global network of ETs and those under the control or sympathetic to the ETs, proving unequivocally that the statement “There are extraterrestrials visiting this planet!” is an accurate reflection of reality.

Yet, it would not be reasonable or acceptable for me to shift the burden to others by making claims I can not demonstrate logically, empirically, or otherwise on the spot or to require other people to do much of the work to support my claims.

As has been said many times before, in many different ways, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Yet, many people make that type of statement and just move the words around attempting to get the other side to do all the work to disprove them. If no disproof is offered, then the side making a claim often stops there and declares victory.

In the general case, this is not the proper way to unambiguously determine who has the burden of proof. So, what is? We get back to knowledge claims and statements of belief — a topic I will go over in more details next.

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Hermes April 11, 2010 at 7:28 am

Burden of Proof: Part 2

So, at a high level;

1. Those who are making knowledge claims have the burden of proof to support those claims.

2. Those who are stating personal beliefs do not have the burden of proof. As the old joke goes ….

One way to demonstrate how to apply that to theistic conversations is to use a simple diagram, such as this one (click it).

The Y axis shows knowledge claims (gnostic to agnostic), while the X axis shows belief statements (theist to atheist).

So, knowing that gnostics are making positive claims of knowledge, the burden of proof is on them not those who disagree (skeptics generally) or those who make no claims to having definitive evidence (in the limited case of theism conversations, the agnostics).

So, who has the burden of proof? Unambiguously, we can say that both the gnostic theist/monotheist/polytheist/pantheist/… and the gnostic atheist have the burden of proof. [There are arguments where specific types of agnostics do hold some responsibility for offering support, but those can be convoluted conversations. Let's take care of the general case first before those exceptional cases.]

To be continued…

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Martin April 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

AHBritton,

Well, my main point was that atheists need to drop the overconfidence, but I’ll try to address your charge of silliness.

In debates, he says that the probability of the Resurrection occurring is unknown because it was a one-off event. He also says that it is an extremely unlikely event only if naturalism is true. On naturalism, which excludes the idea of God, the Resurrection would be unlikely and indeed require an extraordinary amount of evidence. But if the universe is not a closed system and God can act within it, the Resurrection becomes a much less unlikely event and thus does not require as much evidence. Which is why Craig first argues for the existence of God, and then argues for the reality of the Resurrection.

Now, you may not be convinced by his arguments, but I just don’t agree with you that they are silly.

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Martin April 11, 2010 at 8:41 am

Hermes,

But in your ET example, even if the believer fails in all his attempts to provide evidence, it may still be the case that he is correct. At most the skeptic would have to say “I don’t know whether ETs are visiting the earth or not.” The negative does not win by default just because the positive fails. This would be argumentum ad ignorantiam: the fallacy that a claim is false only because it has not been proven true.

On the question of God, the reality is binary. Either God exists, or he does not. Those on the “does not exist” side of the equation, whatever their certainty, bear a burden of proof to support that position. Same for the “exists” side of the equation.

Lay atheists love to point to the example of Santa Claus. They say that the reason they don’t believe Santa exists is because no one has made a serious case that he does. And they think the God question is the same.

But this is faulty reasoning.

We all bear a burden of proof as “a-Santa-ists,” and we all meet that burden. We just do it subconsciously. 1) There is no large warehouse at the North Pole, 2) There is no solid land at the North Pole, 3) Reindeer do not fly, 4) There is not enough time to deliver the presents, etc.

The same works for all the other gods as well. We all bear the burden of proof as a-Zeusists, and we all meet that burden: 1) Zeus is physical, but physical beings do not live long, 2) Zeus lives on Mt Olympus, but no one lives on Mt Olympus, etc.

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Hermes April 11, 2010 at 10:01 am

Burden of Proof: Part 3


>> You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

When a non-theist expresses any doubt about the existence of gods, Christian theists (our emphasis here) often get fired up. This goes for mainly the theologically/philosophically uneducated, but also for those who have investigated the subject in some substantial detail.

For now, let’s leave the more modest comments aside that appear when a Christian makes a bold statement, and the non-theist politely demurs; “I’m sorry, but I’m not a Christian”, “I’m not religious [meaning not a theist].” or simply “I have no gods”.

For clarity, let us focus on the bolder active statements, starting with the more modest generic ones and ending on a more definitive one;

“I do not believe there are any gods.”
“Of course, there are no gods”

… or the specific statement…

“The Christian god (Yahweh/…) does not exist”

Christians (a subset of theists) — and even non-Christian theists and often enough non-theists as well — say something like this in reply;

“You can’t prove there is no God!” : Usually meaning Yahweh/Jesus.

“You can’t prove there [is no God / are no gods]!” Usually meaning a generic, usually deistic but possibly pantheistic or polytheistic, set of deities.

When they say that, they do not mean ‘proof’ as in mathematics. To rephrase it, they potentially mean many things, such as but not limited to;

“I know that God exists, and I find it incredible that you can look around you and say otherwise!”

“No God, eh? Wow. What an arrogant jerk you are. Snap out of it.”

“You may be right, smart ass, but nobody can make such an incredibly arrogant and bold statement.”

“Of course there aren’t any gods. But that’s an opinion/belief, so don’t be pushy about what you can not know.”

In each case, and many more, there is little curiosity from theists or non-theist critics about the details, such as if the comment is one based on belief or knowledge, and what the combined belief statements and knowledge claims actually are.

There is also often little interest from the non-theists — who make the definitive comments on having no belief — to describe what they mean either.

The details do indeed matter, but rarely are they discussed because people in the conversation assume that the other person is just stubborn, unsophisticated, or even prejudicial because it is obvious to each person what the topic is that they are discussing.

Yet, that’s the rub. We often do not know what each other mean, and we aren’t helping each other by not explaining those important details.

The important question that must be asked is this;

What do you believe, and why do you believe it?

Until that level of discussion begins, there is not much to do, and the burden of proof can easily be misapplied.

* * *

…to be continued (probably later today if not sometime Monday~).

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Hermes April 11, 2010 at 10:06 am

Martin, I’m not done yet. Hold those thoughts.

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AHBritton April 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

Martin,

“Well, my main point was that atheists need to drop the overconfidence.” I agree, I feel in general people fail to even consider confirmation biases or entertain the possibility that they are wrong. Theists, atheists, libertarians, liberals, conservatives, Catholics, protestants, fans of Die Hard, etc. I think that is a very general trait and criticism among most, if not all, groups.

“In debates, he says that the probability of the Resurrection occurring is unknown because it was a one-off event.”

This is not true. I have heard him claim that given the existence of God, etc. that it is VERY plausible and probable that the resurrection occurred. I think you overstate his humility and willingness to concede this issue. In fact in Reasonable Faith he has an argument about the fallaciousness of this claim. He says you CAN determine the probability of events even if observed only once or never at all. He gives the example of proton decay, saying despite never having witnessed it scientists can still calculate the probability of it occurring.

“He also says that it is an extremely unlikely event only if naturalism is true.”

Well he goes beyond that. He states the obvious which is if there is no God, only naturalism, it is impossible Jesus was resurrected. Now this does not rule out false death or zombie like states, etc. but it does rule out resurrection in the biblical sense.

“[I]f the universe is not a closed system and God can act within it, the Resurrection becomes a much less unlikely event and thus does not require as much evidence.”

How much more likely? I think this is a red herring. Obviously is miracles exists it is more likely for a miracle to take place. That is just a tautology, it doesn’t really mean anything or explain anything. The more likely miracles are the more likely any claimed miracle is true, so what?

“Which is why Craig first argues for the existence of God, and then argues for the reality of the Resurrection.”

Exactly. This Bayesian argument adds NOTHING new. It is circular. The more probable you think it is that God exists and that Jesus was his son, the less evidence you require to believe. This is so obvious as to not require argumentation. It is silly. The only reason to include Bayesian formulas and such is to make it sound more complicated than it is.

The more likely the resurrection is, the less evidence required. The more likely it is that Mohammed flew on a magical beast to Jerusalem in the night, the less evidence required. The more likely it is that I had a sandwich today, the less evidence required. And so on.

It doesn’t EXPLAIN anything. It doesn’t even change Hume’s probability of belief statement. Since Hume finds it very unlikely that miraculous events occur he requires extraordinary evidence to support it.

Am I wrong to think this is absurdly circular? Is there something I am missing?

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 5:59 am

Martin, from your post, paragraph by paragraph;

1. When people thought that the Earth was flat, that the sun went around the Earth, it was still the responsibility of those who made those claims to show others. The burden of proof was on them.

Note also that I dealt with the ET advocates being correct as well, as well as claims on ‘who wins by default’ being an error.

2. Kinda misses the point. Just as the discussions of round/flat Earthers, if someone makes a positive claim, they have the responsibility to back it up. If they do not, and express beliefs, they do not.

To see what I mean, please rephrase your comments in paragraph 2 in the form of a set of knowledge claims and belief statements and … then guess what I’d say as a reply.

3 – 5. I wrote over 1,200 words on this issue yesterday, and you’re talking about something I didn’t even mention and is largely irrelevant.

To understand what I was saying, I point back to my comments on knowledge claims and belief statements where I gave several examples.

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 6:02 am

Burden of Proof: Part 4 (END)

Never mind.

You know what, after all that work yesterday — having it largely ignored — I see no need to go over any further details.

Those who get it don’t need my words, and those who don’t — won’t.

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Hermes April 12, 2010 at 6:05 am

Martin, if you want the last word … go for it. Note that I am not monitoring this blog post anymore.

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Martin April 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

AHBritton,

I haven’t really delved deep into Craig’s miracle probabilities arguments yet, so I won’t be able to add much to your criticism of it.

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AHBritton April 12, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Martin,

Fair enough. If you look into those arguments at some point and come up with a different interpretation let me know. I readily admit that it is my layman interpretation but I am pretty sure I grasped what he is arguing rather well. If anyone else has more expertise in this area I would be interesting to hear their thoughts.

Just to finish up applying this to the rest of our argument. I am perfectly willing to admit if I misinterpreted this argument or got something wrong. As far as I can tell it is a silly argument made to sound complex. Until someone points out a mistake I have made all I can do is go off of my best interpretation and I would be pretending it is a wonderful, thoughtful, or complex argument when I don’t actually believe that to be true.

Once again many other arguments Craig makes are often complex, thoughtful, etc. I just don’t find that to be true of this one.

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