Matt McCormick vs. Russell DiSilvestro debate review

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 20, 2010 in Debates,Reviews

Recently, two philosophers debated the resurrection of Jesus at Bridgeway Christian Church: atheist Matt McCormick and Christian Russell DiSilvestro. Watch the video here.

DiSilvestro’s opening

DiSilvestro defends William Lane Craig’s argument for the resurrection:

  • Four facts need to be explained by any theory about the resurrection: (1) Jesus was buried, (2) Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty, (3) some people reported seeing Jesus after he was dead, (4) Jesus’ followers preached the resurrection when they had every reason not to.
  • The best explanation of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

DiSilvestro presents the usual evidence for these “four facts”: gospel writers would not have invented a story that women, who were untrusted in ancient Palestine, were the first to find the empty tomb… and so on.

Next, is “God raised Jesus from the dead” the best explanation of these facts? DiSilvestro (like Craig) first quotes Christian historian C.B. McCullough’s list of criteria pointing toward a “best explanation”:

  1. Good explanatory scope (the hypothesis explains lots of data, not just a few data).
  2. Good explanatory power (the hypothesis makes the data more likely).
  3. Plausibility (the hypothesis fits with our knowledge).
  4. Not contrived (the hypothesis does not require additional, unproven assumptions).
  5. Fits with widely accepted beliefs.
  6. Beats rival hypotheses with regard to the above 5 criteria.

DiSilvestro then concludes that the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” meets these criteria better than rival hypotheses, for example the “hallucination” hypothesis.

This abuse of McCullough’s work is common, but not available to those who have not read McCullough’s work – as is explained by Hector Avalos and Chris Sandoval. (At least, I hope DiSilvestro has not read McCullough’s work. If he has, that makes him, like Craig, a bit dishonest in addition to mistaken.)

McCormick’s opening

McCormick does not call attention to this abuse, but rather opens with the work he has been developing for his forthcoming book, The Case Against Christ:

  • A story’s fidelity is degraded as it passes from person to person, like in the game Telephone.
  • When people report a miracle, the chance that their report is true is at best close to 0. (Think of Lourdes, where even the Catholic Church acknowledges only 67 of millions of reported miracles.)
  • Hallucinations of dead people are common.
  • Iron Age magical thinkers without the benefit of the last 2000 years of scientific explanation would have been far more likely to accept supernatural explanations without much evidence.
  • Memories are unreliable and can be invented easily.
  • The canonization process left unpreserved nearly all written accounts that disagreed with a particular narrative that the book-selectors sought to spread.

Rebuttals

DiSilvestro says the points McCormick raises are commendably honest, and says “these are exactly the kinds of honest, straightforward conversations we should be having within all of our churches, or for that matter our mosques, our synagogues, and temples.” If only!

He then says that even if we accept McCormick’s points, it’s not clear we have to give up any of the “four facts” listed earlier. And yet, he disputes some of McCormick’s points:

  • The New Testament documents are better-attested in history than many other ancient documents.
  • The canon was chosen so that the most accurate documents were preserved, not just to prop up a particular story.
  • If the gospels were written to preserve a consistent story, there wouldn’t be so many apparent inconsistencies in the texts.

McCormick responds that DiSilvestro’s four facts should not be considered “facts.” We don’t know them so certainly; our witnesses are not that reliable.

McCormick also points out that if he had explained his skepticism about other accounts of magical deeds in history, such as the origins of Islam or the Salem Witch Trials, the Christian audience would agree that these are reasons to be skeptical. But they hold a double standard for the resurrection of Jesus, even though we have better evidence for witches at Salem than for the resurrection of Jesus.

He also says: Notice that you don’t need to defend any particular story about what happened at Salem in order to reject the “actual witchcraft” hypothesis.

DiSilvestro says that we should apply consistent standards, but that he’s “not convinced” that witchcraft didn’t happen in Salem! Wow. Talk about biting the bullet!

McCormick illustrates his point about the unreliability of ancient superstitious witnesses by referencing Ishi, the last Iron Age Native American to have lived completely outside the influence of European-American culture (until he wandered out of isolation and spent the rest of his life being studied by anthropologists).

McCormick concludes by asking why a good God who wants us to believe in him would not have provided better evidence for the supposed central event in history.

Conclusion

In many ways, this is an ideal debate. The debaters respect each other. They are both clear that there is much being left out, and a one-hour debate cannot decide the issue. They summarize standard arguments given by both sides. Moreover, it almost helps that neither is a professional historian or New Testament scholar, as they didn’t get locked on arguing about arcane details like the correct translation of certain Aramaic phrases.

However, both contestants could done a better job of summarizing their case and why they think it is superior to their opponent’s case, something William Lane Craig always does.

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh May 20, 2010 at 6:24 am

Maybe I need to watch the debate, because this:

“He then says that even if we accept McCormick’s points, it’s not clear we have to give up any of the “four facts” listed earlier”

seems pretty insane. I mean, of course you don’t HAVE TO give up the four facts… but it would seem that it’s slightly less of a good idea to take them as the primary evidence for Jesus’ resurrection anymore.

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Erika May 20, 2010 at 6:55 am

I wonder what the audience’s reaction was like. I know that some of my Christian friends (the type who attend a Seattle megachurch) would find even DiSilvestro’s admission that McCormick may have some valid points as reason to dismiss him as unreliable (while McCormick would have no chance at all).

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Ajay May 20, 2010 at 7:10 am

I watched almost all of this debate and I was so happy when Matt disputed the very idea that we have “facts” regarding the supposed resurrection of Christ. If so, then we have a pretty low threshold for what constitutes a “fact”, even a historical one. That really undercut DiSilvestro’s whole argument. I also agree that both sides could’ve summarized their points better.

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 8:24 am

Ajay,

Yes. I doubt Christians would be so cavalier with the word ‘fact’ when discussing the details about miracle claims from other religions.

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Roman May 20, 2010 at 8:24 am

Thanks Luke, I found this interesting. I’ve been thinking about these things lately.

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Mark May 20, 2010 at 8:42 am

At several points DiSilvestro repeats that there’s widespread agreement by scholars on the four facts. Aside from the inconvenient truth that most NT scholars are already theologically committed to the facts before they even begin their studies, it’s impossible to draw strong conclusions from such consensus without investigating the degree of probabilistic support behind the consensus. For instance, if every meteorologist on Earth agreed that there’s a 50.00001% chance it’ll rain next Wednesday in Seattle, then technically there’s strong consensus that “it’ll probably rain in Seattle next Wednesday” even though the amount of support this consensus confers is rather minimal. Probably it wouldn’t cause you to risk anything significant that depends on there being rain. Similarly, one has to ask not just whether NT scholars agree that, e.g., the tomb was probably empty, but how strong they agree our evidence for this claim really is. This must be answered not just relative to the typical amount of historical evidence we find in ancient documents (which is rather little), but in absolute terms. My guess is that when we do this, the answer won’t be so comforting to apologists.

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John D May 20, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hey Luke have you read Chris Sandoval’s book? Is it any good?

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 9:03 am

John,

Sandoval’s book is a lot like Hallquist’s book. I’ve read pieces.

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Josh May 20, 2010 at 9:19 am

A further comment is that I definitely think that McCormick is doing the right thing by bringing up Lordes. I think it works for him in two ways: Primarily, it works how he wants it to, which is to say that even the goddamned Catholic church doesn’t think miracles happen all that often. But it also works because no doubt many protestants are highly dubious that ANY miracles occur there at all.

I think he also does a good job of addressing why being skeptical of Zombie Jesus doesn’t mean we have to be super duper skeptical of all history.

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Reginald Selkirk May 20, 2010 at 9:35 am

Four facts need to be explained by any theory about the resurrection

In which a “fact” is defined as an event described only in the book whose veracity is in question in the first place. Next up: the fact that an old woman lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

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Reginald Selkirk May 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

… gospel writers would not have invented a story that women, who were untrusted in ancient Palestine, were the first to find the empty tomb… and so on.

I always thought that was a dumb argument. If you are trying to get a foothold in an established market, it makes perfect sense to appeal to those who are not doing so well under the current system. Just like the emperor’s new clothes can only be seen by the poorest child in the land.

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Reginald Selkirk May 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

The canon was chosen so that the most accurate documents were preserved, not just to prop up a particular story.

Many of the noncanonical writings were rejected for theological doctrinal reasons. How exactly does one go about establishing which version of theology is most “accurate”?

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Reginald Selkirk May 20, 2010 at 9:44 am

DiSilvestro says that we should apply consistent standards, but that he’s “not convinced” that witchcraft didn’t happen in Salem! Wow. Talk about biting the bullet!

That’s the point where you realize maybe it is futile to be attempting a rational discussion with someone, and start backing slowly away.

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Martin May 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

I looked at the link about how Craig misuses McCullagh, and I disagree:

But why do most historians, including McCullagh, not usually accept that the king was killed through witchcraft? McCullagh refers to his criterion of “plausibility” and tells us: “As for the second hypothesis, a decision about whether the evidence which it explains also renders it probable to any extent, depends upon one’s view of the occult. Do dreams and portents of events which subsequently occur make it likely that evil powers are at work, or not? If the answer is that they do, then the reports of those dreams and portents do confer plausibility upon the second hypothesis; but if the answer is negative, then the reports do not contribute to its plausibility.”

But in Craig’s case, he first argues for the existence of God, and then argues for the Resurrection. So, indeed, the whole point is that he makes that option plausible, just like McCullagh says.

Whether it convinces you or not is of course another matter, but I think Craig is doing his job correctly here.

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Lee A.P. May 20, 2010 at 10:31 am

“DiSilvestro says that we should apply consistent standards, but that he’s “not convinced” that witchcraft didn’t happen in Salem! Wow. Talk about biting the bullet!”

Of course! Why is anyone surprised about this? When I read McCormick’s blog about his upcoming book, in which he compares the Jesus stuff with Salem I thought to myself “Shit, thats easy! Most evangelicals believe that there WERE witches at Salem”.

I think that sometimes smart theists lull us to sleep and make us forget that they believe in a wealth if stupid supernatural shit. And of course they do this selectively and/or through their fundamentalist lens. A lot of Christians, even smart ones that I know believe in UFOs but they think they are demonic in nature. Most believe in witches and witch craft.

I’d be willing to bet that Craig believes there were witches at Salem.

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Lorkas May 20, 2010 at 10:48 am

But they hold a double standard for the resurrection of Jesus, even though our evidence for their being witches at Salem than we do for the resurrection of Jesus.

Good post, but this sentence needs revision for grammar.

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Andy Walters May 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

I wish McCormick would’ve more forcefully made the point that the four “facts” were nothing of the sort. Instead, it came out sounding like something of a minor point because he failed to spell out exactly why it undercut the thrust of DiSilvestro’s argument.

And regarding the Salem Witch Trials–

That’s the point where you realize maybe it is futile to be attempting a rational discussion with someone, and start backing slowly away.

haha, agreed.

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Blair T May 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm

1) How is a story about a guy who dies, makes a few mystical appearances, then disappears anything other than a ghost story. It’s not like Jesus continued living – he died.

2) There are no historical ‘facts’ in this story. I do historical research and I find lots of discrepancies between documents about mundane ‘facts’. The general rule is that a document created closer to an event is more likely to be accurate. For example a birth certificate is more likely accurate than a death certificate in determining place of birth and parents. Anonymous sources written by people with no first hand knowledge of what they are reporting would not even qualify as a source in the research that I do.

3) Even if you take the ‘four facts’ argument seriously – the obvious flaw in this line of reasoning is that they are cherry picking which four facts are best explained by the resurrection. That is, there are other parts of the bible stories which are not best explained by those facts, and there are millions of other claims to supernatural events which remain unexplained by the resurrection story, but are explained in general by the fact that people tell stories that are not true – even if they believe them to be.

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ayer May 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

“But in Craig’s case, he first argues for the existence of God, and then argues for the Resurrection. So, indeed, the whole point is that he makes that option plausible, just like McCullagh says.”

Exactly. If the existence of God is taken as part of the background knowledge (which Craig assumes explicitly when arguing for the resurrection–see, e.g., his opening statement in his debate with Richard Carrier) then his use of McCullagh’s criteria is completely consistent with their purpose. He argues for the existence of God as part of the background based on the cosmological, teleological, moral and ontological arguments. There is no “abuse” of McCollagh here.

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Shane Steinhauser May 20, 2010 at 2:28 pm

It’s awesome that someone actually questioned whether those four “facts” are facts in a debate.

Here’s some real facts…

1. There are no prophecies about Jesus in the OT.

2. The NT authors quotemined and outright lied about OT prophecy.

3. According to the three main Gospels Jesus said the world was going to end before his apostles died off.

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Haukur May 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

DiSilvestro says that we should apply consistent standards, but that he’s “not convinced” that witchcraft didn’t happen in Salem! Wow. Talk about biting the bullet!

I keep trying to tell you that Christians believe, or are willing to concede the possibility of, all sorts of weird things. A constantly recurring idea here (see the masthead quote) is that Christian thinking is exactly like atheist thinking except for a few core supernatural ideas required by Christianity. But that’s not an accurate or useful model. Christianity is not some sort of near-atheism, it’s a completely different worldview.

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Lee A.P. May 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm

“1. There are no prophecies about Jesus in the OT.”

You are correct. There is not single, clear, concise, non-vague reference or “prophecy” of Jesus in the Old Testament. Not a single one. When I first lost my faith, reading the so called prophecies and how ambiguous they were was one of the big kickers. It is just a lame as sifting through Nastrodamus’ writings after a big historical event and looking for prophecy.

“2. The NT authors quotemined and outright lied about OT prophecy.”

This is another big thing. The gospel authors got prophecy wrong! This is clear!

“3. According to the three main Gospels Jesus said the world was going to end before his apostles died off. ”

I think that this is actually evidence for at least some historical accuracy as pertaining to the gospels. Why would anyone leave that in there otherwise?

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TaiChi May 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm

DiSilvestro presents the usual evidence for these “four facts”: gospel writers would not have invented a story that women, who were untrusted in ancient Palestine, were the first to find the empty tomb… ~ Lukeprog”

This doesn’t ring true. If women were so untrusted in ancient Palestine, then how is it that we have a religion based on their testimony?

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phyzics May 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

@TaiChi

I think the point of the argument is that normally any religion that tried to use women witnesses would have failed. Christianity succeeded because it was the true religion of God.

With the women appearing at the tomb, I thought Vridar did a good job showing that since in none of the gospel stories the women are trusted and the apostles check for themselves, and that this “women discovering the tomb” doesn’t give any credence to the theory since the fact they were there first becomes irrelevant after the men check for themselves.

Also, if this was such a blunder for the early church wouldn’t we have seen a progressive downplay from gospel to gospel? If I remember correctly, NT historians use the criterion of embarrassment to reveal facts about Christ’s life (i.e. the constant downplay of the St. John the Baptist scene shows that there was some embarrassment in the church in the idea that Christ had to be baptized). However, if the women appearing at the tomb was such a blunder, wouldn’t we expect to see a similar downplay here?

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm

TaiChi,

Shush. Don’t ask questions. Have faith.

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Joshua Allen May 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Speaking of “biting the bullet”, the evidence about the formation of Islam seemed pretty impressive last I looked. I’m not talking about the evidence for preservation of the text: that seems like a mess. But it’s really hard to believe that the miraculous victories and so on were faked. Has anyone attempted a really serious rebuttal of this record?

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TaiChi May 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

“I think the point of the argument is that normally any religion that tried to use women witnesses would have failed. Christianity succeeded because it was the true religion of God.” ~ phyzics

Ugh. I hope that’s not how the claim is defended – that would be begging the question.

“Shush. Don’t ask questions. Have faith.” ~ Lukeprog

:) Oops. Speaking of faith, did you lose the faith and reason bibliography in the hack?

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ayer May 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm

“Ugh. I hope that’s not how the claim is defended – that would be begging the question.”

No, it is usually defended on the basis that if the NT writers were making up a story that would sell well in 1st century Palestine, they would have the empty tomb discovered by males, who were considered reliable witnesses, not by women, who were considered unreliable witnesses in that culture. To admit that women discovered the tomb would be embarrassing, and thus indicates it was written that way because that is the way it really happened (the “criteria of embarrassment” in textual scholarship).

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm

TaiChi,

No. It’ll go up again shortly, with one addition that was given in the comments to it (which are unfortunately lost).

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Joshua,

Serious scholarship on the origins of Islam has only just begun. For centuries, Western scholars just took everything Muslims told them on faith. Even Germans did! :)

But now things are starting to get critical as they have with Judaic and Christian scholarship and it looks really bad for the origins of Islam.

Some good summary works have been written by Ibn Warraq.

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Rhys Wilkins May 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Damnit, that’s just what we need. Another thing for the Muslim extremists to be insecure, defensive and generally psychotic about. I can so envision a man bellowing and holding up a sign “Butcher those who critically examine the historicity of the Koran and come to the conclusion that it’s central claims were not grounded in verisimilitude!”

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Mark May 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I think Bart Ehrman offers a plausible explanation of the women at the tomb, but I have a different question that I don’t see asked. What is our evidence that women’s testimony wouldn’t have been trusted by the audience of the Gospels?

I have no doubt that the evidence exists and makes the claim probable. I assume it will take the form of citing known legal protocols of the ancient world discounting women’s testimony from court cases, or something. If so, this does seem like reason to think women’s testimony wouldn’t have been trusted by the NT’s audience. But it’s not an extraordinarily strong reason. There must have been lots of men who took women’s word seriously on an everyday level, so without knowing anything about the actual people in the Gospel of Mark’s audience it’s hard to make firm judgments about what they would or wouldn’t be willing to believe about the women. Furthermore, perhaps the Gospel audience was already Christian and so weren’t holding the Gospel to the same critical threshold of evidence as they would a court case. Ordinarily you don’t believe the testimony of drunk people (it’d be tossed out in a court of law), but if we’re at a party and I’m telling you a funny story about something that happened to me when I was drunk, you’ll probably believe me.

From my armchair, the probabilities just seem incredibly weak here. Sure, I guess they’re more than 50% in favor of the apologists’ claim. But not very much more than that. There are so many basic, important details that we’re missing. To use the phrasing of my above comment, it doesn’t seem like we have strong enough evidence for this “fact” to risk anything important on.

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Joshua Allen May 20, 2010 at 9:27 pm

@lukeprog – Thanks, I’ll check out Ibn Warraq. I know you’ve featured him here, but I didn’t realize he was collating other people’s research — I just assumed he was one of the “I converted so now I’m a celebrity” types.

I’ve read the Quran several times, as well as Maududi, Qutb, and Hassan al Banna, so it will be interesting to read a skeptic.

@Rhys – Hey, I’m not the one who suggested critical analysis! I plead the “Billy Goats Gruff” defense. “Mr. troll, my brother Ibn Warraq is much tastier than me; please behead him first!”

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Martin May 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Mark,

From my armchair, the probabilities just seem incredibly weak here. Sure, I guess they’re more than 50% in favor of the apologists’ claim.

I think that’s just it, though. It isn’t really an open and shut case in either direction, and it isn’t meant to be. To quote Craig: “I’ve never said that Christian theism is a slam dunk — just more plausibly true than false.”

Personally I think they make a decent case (say, 55% in favor, maybe?), but ultimately I appeal to personal lack-of-experience. Properly basically, it just doesn’t seem like anybody is out there to me. The universe just feels indifferent.

But…

I’ve been wrong before…

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Bebok May 20, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Haukur,

Nice to see you back.

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Mark May 20, 2010 at 10:29 pm

I think that’s just it, though. It isn’t really an open and shut case in either direction, and it isn’t meant to be. To quote Craig: “I’ve never said that Christian theism is a slam dunk — just more plausibly true than false.”

I didn’t complain Christianity had a probability only marginally over 50%. If Christianity was even 51% likely to be true, that would be enough. I’m instead saying that if the evidence for the resurrection is that it best explains facts A, B and C, but none of A, B or C is really all that certain, then the abductive inference here is going to be fairly inappropriate. For example, it could be that facts A, B and C are each individually probable, but the probability of the conjunction A&B&C is quite low. (It’s probable of any given entrant of a raffle that he’ll lose the raffle; but it doesn’t follow that probably, no one will win the raffle.) It could be that A&B&C on our evidence is still over 50%, but only to such a small extent that we still favor a naturalistic explanation that explains all our historical and scientific evidence. (A meteorologist may say it’s only 49% likely to rain today. But the best explanation of this fact plus the fact that it suddenly got really overcast is that it’ll rain after all.)

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 12:37 am

Here’s a recent example which I think illustrates my point. There’s a story about an Indian yogi that’s been circulating recently (e.g., here). According to the story, the yogi professes not to have eaten or drunk anything for years, and scientists successfully tested/confirmed his claim by constantly monitoring his intake him for 15 days.

The story is obviously some evidence for the claim that human beings don’t need food or water to survive. The story comes from AFP, which is a respected news organization, so as far as I know, every detail in the story is individually probable (i.e., probability greater than 50%). Certainly I have no direct evidence against anything the story says; at best, I can point to other cases where serious scientists have been hoodwinked by charlatans or committed outright fraud, but I have no particular reason to think these scientists are hoodwinked or fraudulent beyond the content of their claims. I believe, moreover, that the best explanation of the reported facts, all taken to be 100% certain and literal, is that the yogi’s powers are real. Nevertheless, I’m not going to go about revising my credence in the basic physiological story just yet. Why is this? Because given the sketchy nature of the information, the support the story confers is extremely minimal. It’s just not clear that the scientists were monitoring the yogi in a sufficiently rigorous fashion. We have too few details on the methodology, and there are tons of possible ways that a charlatan could get around lax surveillance, as any competent stage magician could tell you.

To reiterate, I have no direct, positive evidence that the surveillance was indeed lax. However, the indirect evidence (from other paranormal investigations) and the “thinness” of our primary sources (the news reports) makes the lax surveillance hypothesis not too implausible. When you combine this fact with the severe implausibility of the paranormal claim in question, I think we can all agree that the best explanation doesn’t involve taking the yogi’s claim seriously. Of course, if more data is released and a larger body of physiologists reviews it positively, then we may have cause to change our minds. But until then, none of us is going to be particularly troubled by dismissing the story as a mere oddity.

The case for the resurrection is a lot like that. We just don’t know with any real degree of firmness how the women’s testimony would have been, or was, received by the Gospel author’s intended audience, even if we know enough to place it somewhere in the “>50% likely” category. Nor do we know with any degree of firmness, e.g., how many of the disciples gave their lives for their faith. To draw sweeping metaphysical conclusions from paltry information such as this is surely to build castles in the air.

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Atheist.pig May 21, 2010 at 5:03 am

Personally I think they make a decent case (say, 55% in favor, maybe?), but ultimately I appeal to personal lack-of-experience. Properly basically, it just doesn’t seem like anybody is out there to me. The universe just feels indifferent.
But…

I’ve been wrong before…

This is a very peculiar comment to me, are you honestly saying you think there’s a 55% chance christianity is true and your still not a christian. Maybe you should stop listening to christian fundamentalists like William Lane Craig and other theists featured on this site before you reach the point of 100% certainty that christianity is true. Most of the people I know who are religious are not religious because of probabilities or facts, religion is a way of life to cope with the hardships they face, to put anything like a probability on that would be to demean the whole point of it.
The best way I’ve heard this being said is by Robert Pollack. A favourite theist of mine :)

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 5:40 am

Atheist.pig,

As I said, two forces pull me in two directions: decent Christian arguments with weak atheist responses on one side, vs lack of any religious experience on the other.

I side with science, evolution, methodological naturalism, pragmatic atheism, etc on the one hand, but when sitting down and considering the actual arguments for and against, it just doesn’t look like the “against” side has as strong of a case as the “for” side. This isn’t from Craig; this is from reading various philosophy articles in general.

Which is why I’m the closest you’ll ever find to a perfectly 50/50 agnostic. :)

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 5:48 am

Mark,

To draw sweeping metaphysical conclusions from paltry information such as this is surely to build castles in the air.

But I think my point still holds. Taken alone, like your story, you are correct. But Craig builds a cumulative case, first arguing for the existence of God and then using that as a plausible explanation for the Resurrection. If in your example the naturalistic explanations remained paltry, we would still be justified in assuming a natural explanation. But if a “yogi apologist” built a good case for the existence of Vishnu (or whatever), and that Vishnu has the power to do such things, and then offered that as a plausible explanation in light of our absence of naturalistic ones, well, at the very least I would think he would have built himself at least a decent case that the yogi’s powers were real. At least in a “lawyerly” way.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 6:42 am

Martin,

Hmm. I didn’t necessarily mean my point to apply to Craig specifically. There are plenty of Christian apologists who think the resurrection in itself counts excellent evidence for the existence of God, such as Timothy McGrew (who’s a much better apologist than Craig is). Presumably, this entails they believe there’s excellent evidence for the resurrection that doesn’t depend on supposing God exists. It’d still be pretty major for the apologetics community if this belief is mistaken, no?

Putting this aside, though, I think your point is wrong. Christians do believe there’s an entity capable of sustaining the yogi without any nutrition: God. Moreover, the yogi situates his powers in an explicitly spiritual context, even if they think some of the details of that context – i.e., the Hindu framework – are wrong. So they ought to believe the yogi if your point is right. But they don’t, or at any rate they won’t.

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Zeb May 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

Martin, I used your comments as an illustrative example here where I was trying to defend the value of the distinction between “atheist” and “agnostic” in the common usage. If you have anything to add to that thread I’d be very interested to hear it.

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 6:57 am

Mark,

Thanks for the McGrew suggestion. I’ll check him out. I don’t see how the Resurrection can possibly have enough evidence to make, as you say, sweeping metaphysical statements. I suppose I like Craig’s approach better. I think it is, as he says, “reasonable.” At the very least for someone who is already Christian.

Christians do believe there’s an entity capable of sustaining the yogi without any nutrition: God.

I think we’ll just have to disagree here. I think Christians would say that Jesus made specific claims about his relationship with God and his mission, and that there is a reason to think that God broke into the world in this case. And that there is no reason to think that he would have done the same with the yogi, unless a case could be built that would support a reason why he would have done so.

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Zeb May 21, 2010 at 6:59 am

Martin, if you go to that thread, you may want to skip 2/3 of the way down the page to the comments dated May 20.

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 7:33 am

Zeb,

I added a comment to the thread.

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Rob May 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

“There are plenty of Christian apologists who think the resurrection in itself counts excellent evidence for the existence of God, such as Timothy McGrew”

That’s an argument I’d like to see. Here is a video arguing otherwise. Also, this guy would be a fun interview Luke.

http://www.youtube.com/user/SisyphusRedeemed#p/u/20/30xTjoJ8YMQ

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Tito May 21, 2010 at 8:15 am

I know I’m late to the party, but here is a great (IMHO) explanation of the use of the women discovering the tomb as consistent with Mark’s theme of role reversal throughout his book. I found it quite compelling:

Women at empty tomb

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 8:30 am

I think we’ll just have to disagree here. I think Christians would say that Jesus made specific claims about his relationship with God and his mission, and that there is a reason to think that God broke into the world in this case. And that there is no reason to think that he would have done the same with the yogi, unless a case could be built that would support a reason why he would have done so.

I don’t really understand this response. I assume the yogi makes specific claims about the intervention of some sort of aspect of divinity that sustains him while fasting, as mystics are wont to do. What’s the difference?

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 9:13 am

I assume the yogi makes specific claims about the intervention of some sort of aspect of divinity that sustains him while fasting

Yes, but since it’s (presumably) Rama or Krishna doing this, then it’s implausible unless an apologist can first argue for their existence. The Christian will argue that his God, YHWH, doesn’t have a clear reason for intervening in this case.

Jesus had connections to the specific god YHWH, whereas the yogi is probably appealing to a connection to Hindu deities. The Christian might argue that there is no reason to think YHWH intervened with the laws of nature in the case of the Hindu yogi.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 10:15 am

Yes, but since it’s (presumably) Rama or Krishna doing this, then it’s implausible unless an apologist can first argue for their existence. The Christian will argue that his God, YHWH, doesn’t have a clear reason for intervening in this case.

He seems to claim that the goddess Amba is sustaining him when he fasts with an “invisible elixir.” However, it’s open to the Christian to imagine that he’s simply filtering some more generically theistic experience or relationship through the lens of his parochial religious glasses. Nothing in the Bible says that God doesn’t participate in relationships with those who have severely mistaken beliefs about him.

I don’t think the “reasons for intervention” thing is very persuasive. It’s not like we have independent evidence that God has a good reason to incarnate and be crucified outside of Jesus’ resurrection, so it’d be no use for apologists like DiSilvestro to demand such reasons beforehand. Their argument goes: “If God is independently plausible, then so is the resurrection,” not: “If God and Christian theology are independently plausible, then so is the resurrection.”

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Martin May 21, 2010 at 11:10 am

Their argument goes: “If God is independently plausible, then so is the resurrection,” not: “If God and Christian theology are independently plausible, then so is the resurrection.”

While I think their arguments for God are not too bad, I do think the bridge to Christianity in particular is a bit weaker. This is an area I need to explore a bit more myself. I think after they argue for God and the attributes he has, they try to show the Christian God as being the one with those attributes, as opposed to any of the other available deities.

How well this works, I don’t know.

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ShaneSteinhauser May 21, 2010 at 11:43 am

@Lee AP

“I think that this is actually evidence for at least some historical accuracy as pertaining to the gospels. Why would anyone leave that in there otherwise?”

Well it’s a bit of a double edged sword. If the Gospels are historically accurate then Jesus made a false prediction and could not be God. But if the Gospels are not accurate then that undercuts the historical argument for God.

I think that embarassing prediction of Jesus’ was left in for three reasons.

1. The early christian community was deeply devoted to the idea of the end times being right around the corner.

2. By the time everyone realized it was a false prediction it was far too late because the text had already been established.

3. Revelations was written and several theologies were constructed as ad hoc apologies (preterism, futurism, realized escatology SP?) in order to clean things up rather than change the text of a verse that was no doubt as famous and ingrained in the communal psyche as John 3:16 is now.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

While I think their arguments for God are not too bad, I do think the bridge to Christianity in particular is a bit weaker. This is an area I need to explore a bit more myself. I think after they argue for God and the attributes he has, they try to show the Christian God as being the one with those attributes, as opposed to any of the other available deities.

Well, O.K., but I’m not sure what difference this is supposed to make. It’s my (tenuous) understanding that Hindus regard their deities as aspects of some larger and more “ultimate” supreme being, in a way not too dissimilar from the Christian Trinity. So it’s hard to see why the Christian story is a priori more plausible than the Hindu one.

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Atheist.pig May 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

So it’s hard to see why the Christian story is a priori more plausible than the Hindu one.

I wonder if it has anything to do with this geographical distribution thing from the other thread :)

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Zeb May 21, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Without trying any html, here’s where I got the idea that Martin matched my example.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8849

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Zeb May 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Woops, I meant to put that comment in a different thread.

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Lee A.P. May 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Shane, I think your explanation is a good one.

Speaking of Hinduism, is Monism or at least some sort of pantheism more logical than Christian trinitarianism?

Atheism is criticized often by theist because “something can’t come from nothing” — however misguided that criticism may be.

But the Christian has their God creating stuff ex nihilo , using nothing at all (something from nothing again) and then he uses that stuff to create other stuff, eventually “breathing” life into man. Christians believe in “something from nothing” as well, it is just they believe their God formed it.

A monistic idea like Hinduism says that we are all, ultimately, when it is all said and done, God. Now I do not believe that is true, but I think it is more logical than the monotheistic stories. No “something from nothing” to deal with. Everything is a form of the same stuff.

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Nick Barrowman May 23, 2010 at 8:57 am

Mark wrote:

Here’s a recent example which I think illustrates my point. There’s a story about an Indian yogi that’s been circulating recently (e.g., here). According to the story, the yogi professes not to have eaten or drunk anything for years, and scientists successfully tested/confirmed his claim by constantly monitoring his intake him for 15 days.

I checked the news report, and it says:

[the yogi] has astounded a team of military doctors who studied him during a two-week observation period.

So they were physicians, not (necessarily) scientists. Physicians are often seen as being scientists, in part because a few physicians are also scientists. But, while conventional medical training involves some exposure to science, the vast majority of physicians do not conduct scientific research. (To be clear, I’m not saying they don’t practice scientifically-based medicine.)

It’s easy to fool people, particularly people who are not familiar with the design and analysis of scientific studies. In cases like this, where I image there is some trickery going on, I would recommend someone like James Randi.

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