Mike Licona vs. Richard Carrier debate review

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 15, 2010 in Debates,Reviews

Mike Licona and Richard Carrier debated each other on the resurrection of Jesus earlier this year, as they did back in 2004.

They have some talent at public speaking and debate. Within a couple years of each other, they will each release a large book detailing their historical methods and applying them to the Historical Jesus question. They are also both well-known advocates for their respective worldviews – Christianity and naturalism – the two dominant worldviews of American academia.

Licona’s opening

Licona opens by explaining historical method as he sees it, taking basically the William Lane Craig approach that you are probably familiar with from Craig’s debates about the historical Jesus. He then notes that Richard Carrier on his website seems to have endorsed a Bayesian approach to historical method. Licona says that Bayesian methods can’t work because they must always begin with a prior probability that is “subjective.” (I wonder what Licona thinks of the McGrews’ Bayesian defense of the resurrection in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, or of Craig resorting to Bayes’ theorem to argue for the possibility of knowing miracles occur in his debate with Bart Ehrman?) I’m sure this only confused the audience, for Licona did not explain Bayes’ theorem, even in a nutshell.

Licona cites Paul’s account of his own encounter with Jesus and Paul’s account of three group appearances of Jesus as evidence that Jesus was seen alive after his crucifixion. Actually, Licona often speaks as if Paul’s encounter with Jesus and the group appearances of Jesus were themselves facts to be accounted for by the historian, rather than noticing that it is Paul’s accounts of these events that are the facts to be accounted for by the historian.

Licona also argues that Paul’s language indicated that he thought Jesus had been resurrected in his physical body, which was transformed into an immortal body.

He then says that on these data, the hypothesis ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ has good explanatory scope and power. He says it also does not make any ad-hoc assumptions, for he is not assuming that God raised Jesus from the dead, and even if he were then this wouldn’t be an ad-hoc assumption because he thinks there is good evidence that God exists.

But then he seems to contradict himself by saying that the the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead does not lack plausibility like you’d think it would. Why? Because it’s only implausible if you assume Jesus rose from the dead naturally. It’s not an implausible hypothesis, he says, if you assume God exists and that God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead.

Even if we ignore the question of whether or not God exists, the hypothesis that God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead is a whopper. If you’re allowed to take on board that kind of assumption, almost literally anything could be ‘plausible.’ I could just as easily say “If God exists and God wanted the city of Delphi to defend itself with lightning bolts and magical spells, then it’s not at all implausible that the city of Delphi defended itself with lightning bolts and magical spells as reported by Herodotus.”

Nobody would take my argument seriously, and for good reason.

Licona’s argument makes use of another common piece of apologetic sophistry which claims that the opponents of the resurrection hypothesis reject it merely because they are naturalists. But no. One does not need to deny the supernatural altogether to have good reason to reject the miracles particular to the Christian tradition. After all, Licona does not deny the supernatural, but he does not appear impressed by the miracle claims about magical saviors from hundreds of other religious traditions.

Carrier’s opening

Carrier notes that if he said he owned a car, most people would be happy to believe him, because they know people like him often own cars. But if Carrier said he owned a nuclear missile, people would not believe him until he presented some pretty damn compelling evidence, because people like Carrier do not generally own nuclear missiles. And if Carrier said he owned an interstellar spacecraft, it would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to back that claim up, because nobody on Earth owns such a thing as far as we know, and such a device does not fit with what we know about the state of Earth-bound technology.

Carrier could produce photographs and even videos of his interstellar spacecraft, but even then we wouldn’t believe him, for we know it’s more likely those things were produced with CGI and PhotoShop than for them to actually exist. He could even show us his interstellar spacecraft in person, and we would still be quite doubtful, because we know David Copperfield has pulled off more impressive illusions. He could even have us board a large metallic spacecraft and take us on what appeared to be a trip around the galaxy, and we might still suspect it was an impressive and elaborate simulation like the ones you can ride at a theme park. Carrier would have to present incredible evidence to convince us he owned an interstellar spacecraft.

But then, “we have no more evidence for miraculous resurrections on our planet than we have for starships on our planet.” Human resurrection from the dead just does not happen to our knowledge, and it contradicts everything we know about biology and chemistry and so on.

Carrier invites us to assume Jesus’ body really went missing. But bodies go missing all the time, and we never conclude they rose from the dead. Why? Because usually it means somebody took the body, or it rotted away, or we’re checking the wrong grave, or something. These things are way more likely than resurrection to explain an empty tomb, and we all know it.

The same goes for appearances of the dead. People often experience dead friends and relatives, especially when under emotional distress. They even talk to the dead and their experiences are so compelling they swear they are real. This happens all the time. What doesn’t happen is people rising bodily from the dead.

Even the Shaker cults and the Cargo cults claim to have experienced visitations on mass, an event Licona said was “extremely rare.” Maybe, but we know it happens, and bodily resurrection does not.

Carrier cites a biography of St. Geneveve, written only 10 years after her death, which claims her prayers righted capsized ships, that she performed miraculous healings, and that people who stole from her got sick, and that she cursed a tree, causing monsters to spring from it and breathe a foul stench on the nearby people. So legends do arise in quick order.

Carrier goes on to cite many other historical documents which claim eyewitnesses say all kinds of absurd miracles – miracles we all deny, and for good reason. The conclusion is this: We know that historical documents and multiple witnesses make false, legendary claims all the time. We also know dead humans don’t rise from the dead. So when confronted with religious documents claiming their hero rose from the dead, which is the more plausible explanation? The answer is obvious.

Carrier also notes that in addition to all this, we have good reasons to be suspicious of yet another story about a dying and rising god offering salvation. Such stories had been told about Romulus, Osiris, and others before the Christian period, and were well known during the time of Jesus. It seems plausible this was a story template adopted by Christians following the apparent death of their hero. What would we think of someone who argued that unlike the similar stories about Osiris and other dying and rising gods, the story about Romulus was true?

Carrier also draws on the psychology of religion. We already know that people who are prone to visions and hallucinations tend to congregate around religious people and talk to imaginary friends. So, again: we know that happens. And we have every reason to believe bodily resurrection of dead people does not happen. So when we read Paul’s story, what is the more likely explanation?

Carrier then argues that the idea of Jesus appearing to only believers and one outsider (Paul) makes little sense if Jesus wants to save the world. He could easily have appeared to Roman leaders, people in America, people in China. Indeed, he could have appeared before the crowd at Licona and Carrier, and settled the debate. Carrier says, “I would [give such appearances] if I were in his position, and I can’t be more compassionate than God…”

Cross-examination

During cross-examination, Licona shows himself to be highly credulous about supernatural claims. He doesn’t even want to admit that most such claims are legendary or false, and in fact says that if Bill Craig says he saw Richard Carrier get into an interstellar spaceship, his testimony alone would be enough to believe that Richard Carrier owned an interstellar spaceship.

Holy.

Fucking.

Shit.

Then, what happens next?

Richard Carrier…

Says…

That if Mike Licona phoned a few different people…

And they confirmed that Richard Carrier had just boarded his interstellar starcraft…

Then that would be good reason to believe…

That Richard Carrier owned an interstellar spacecraft.

I watched this part of the debate four times. It totally happened.

The rest of the debate was kind of a blur for me. I have nothing to say about it.

Though I do remember one part where our two debaters were comparing the size of their cocks. Or maybe it was dissertations. I can’t recall.

Update: Carrier Responds

I asked Carrier if I had misunderstood him in the above article, and he gave me permission to post his reply:

The condition he set was a reliable confirmation that I had traveled 1500 miles in ten minutes (requiring transport well in excess of Mach 12, esp. counting time to disembark and walk to the venue etc.–he then added a Mach 6 transit of another 3000 more miles an hour before that). And he was talking about “evidence like” the case he mentioned, and of the specific claim he described, i.e. not the “interstellar” aspect but just a super-fast-moving levitating transport. Since that is all he was talking about. That was all I was agreeing to. Likewise, he agreed to interrogating them to rule out alternatives (he just didn’t go into detail–we thus both granted for the sake of argument that those details would be satisfied).

In general he’s right (after my correction of his mistaken reliance on a single witness, and his neglect of testing of alternative theories). It is certainly possible for several personal conversations to be sufficiently extraordinary evidence for interstellar-spaceship-owning–provided the witnesses are independent, you interrogated them to your satisfaction, you have considerable background evidence of their integrity, their testimony verifies the fact, and nothing suspicious occurs in this process (e.g. they don’t sound the same as you remember, or say things you take as odd for them, or the scene they describe sounds like a set-up, etc.). On those conditions the probability of that collection of witnesses being duped or lying would be extraordinarily low, lower in fact than the probability of my actually having such a transport. Of course we left aside quibbles such as whether that would be sufficient to prove I *owned* the thing rather than just hitching a ride; but that was his point about emphasizing evidence “like” the example he gave–certainly he would agree that we’d need more for each particular added detail to the claim, like ownership (or star traversing).

Hence you *far* overstate my argument in your previous summary. You give the impression I used the examples you did, but I didn’t. For example, the “theme park trick” is too absurd to credit–that is not warranted skepticism. That’s dogmatic skepticism. It’s irrational. Unless you actually observed evidence such a trick was (or could be) underway, there would be less warrant to assume that hypothesis than to concede you went into space. This is because the nature of that experience would be wholly beyond any present theme park tech to reproduce. For a perfect example, watch the series Stargate: Universe, from the pilot forward. The computer programmer (Eli) is a perfect philosophical stand-in for what it would take to be rationally convinced the government owned an interstellar spaceship. Notice how stupid he would sound if he kept rejecting that conclusion with the “theme park trick” counter hypothesis. Now think how much evidence would be enough for him to rationally persuade you, if you met him here on earth, without even showing you a single photo or other proof: a sufficient number of trusted corroborating independent eyewitnesses (himself and, say, Dr. Rush and Colonel Young, granting that you know all three men remarkably well and thus have abundant background evidence as to their sanity, integrity, etc., i.e. as well as you know them as a viewer of the show, and granting you can freely and critically interrogate them to verify agreements on details, etc.) would be enough to convince you of at least a greater than 50% chance he’s right. Think of the three people on earth you trust the most (and think of why you do), and imagine every one of them visited that ship as those guys did, and you could question them freely (and critically) to verify this. Would you honestly not believe them after that? I would. And you should, too. (at least provisionally, but all knowledge is provisional).

I seem to recall making the distinction in conversation later between “interstellar” and merely flying off. Like the detail of “owning” vs. hitching, that was besides the point given his specific example. It would take far less evidence to be warranted in believing I stepped into a levitating craft that flew me out of sight at Mach 12, than to further believe that craft could traverse star systems. Hence if I could interview several of my closest friends who all witnessed Licona doing the former, that would be sufficient to believe them–on that one specific claim. I just don’t get to conduct that interrogation of ancient Christian witnesses, nor do I have any credible background evidence regarding their integrity, sanity, reliability, etc., such as I do people I personally know. The added detail of star traversing could be supported only by interrogation of those witnesses if they actually went along on the trip, too (otherwise, how would they know?). Hence my Stargate example.

Although read my treatment of this same topic in The Christian Delusion (or better, also the longer treatment online in Why I Am Not a Christian): there is still a huge difference between interstellar spacecraft and supernatural resurrection–as the former is actually possible even with known tech (it’s just unlikely given the expense involved), whereas we don’t have any background evidence confirming even the possibility of the latter. Which creates a far greater probability gap for new evidence to overcome. I present the formal math in TCD. Which, BTW, is my answer to Licona’s mocking “does it glow?” request for what counts as extraordinary evidence: literally, an extraordinary claim is a claim that is by definition extraordinarily improbable, which logically entails the only evidence that can verify such a claim is evidence whose alternative explanation is even less probable than that, which entails such evidence must also be extraordinary, in fact exactly as extraordinary (or more), so defined.

Thus you might be confused about what counts as extraordinary evidence. All that that means is extraordinarily improbable on any other explanation. Thus, in principle, even a single person’s merely verbal testimony can be extraordinary evidence–provided it is extraordinarily improbable that they are incorrect. But, yes, it’s getting testimony that is that reliable that’s the trick. You are right that Licona was over-credulous–hence my correction of him. He mistakenly thought a single once-trusted witness being incorrect would be extraordinarily improbable, when you and I know that’s almost never the case. And the conditions in which it would be the case would indeed be describable as extraordinary.

We could have (had we time) gone into more detail about what he would actually need to verify the reliability of his friends’ and wife’s testimony, e.g. the first alternative hypothesis to test would be a scam involving two doubles of me, hired to pose as me, and perform some extraordinarily expensive illusion work, all to prove a point at a debate in Kansas the opposite of the point I was actually making–a behavior itself extraordinarily improbable, as is my having the resources to carry out such a trick (even finding two doubles of me, much less consummate magicians and millions of dollars in budgets to spend). Some basic probing questions of his three named witnesses would be sufficient to verify that this alternative hypothesis would be, indeed, extraordinarily improbable, exactly what makes such testimony into the required extraordinary evidence to verify the original extraordinary claim.

It is mathematically mistaken to say that spaceships (though, again, we were really just talking about superfast levitating transports in that exchange, not the ownership or star trekking aspects) are less frequent than double-double inexplicably acquired-and-spent multimillion-dollar contrary-to-my-every-motive interstate trickery, therefore the latter would always remain the best explanation. Indeed, I doubt it could even be validly said that such transports are inherently less probable than such tricks (given all the conditions against the latter just stated, I would rank the ships more likely). But that’s besides the point. Since it isn’t the frequency of the phenomena that is measured by prior probability, but the frequency of being mistaken/duped about such vs. not mistaken and not duped about such, which depends on the background evidence he has pertaining to the witnesses’ reliability etc. and the information he gets out of them on interrogation. I don’t think Licona understands this. But we didn’t have time to explore that point.

In my next book I use several examples to explore the mathematical logic of this. For example, if someone claims they were struck by lightning five times in their life, the prior probability they are telling the truth is *not* the probability of being struck by lightning five times, but the probability that someone who claims such a thing would be telling the truth. In other words, how often such claims (the reference class) are caused by someone actually being struck by lightning five times, in ratio to how often such claims are caused by error, delusion, or lies. Ditto a spaceship (or in the Licona example, a supertransport). The prior probability of a claim such a ship exists is not the probability such a ship exists, but the probability someone who claims to have seen one is not mistaken (whether lying, or hallucinating, or tricked, or what have you). And that probability changes with the nature of the witness, and with the nature of the information obtained from them (in Bayes’ Theorem these are elements of background knowledge, on which prior probability must always be conditioned). And the more witnesses and information, the lower the probability of alternative hypotheses (for three separate people in separate states to have exactly the same hallucination in elaborate corroborated detail is certainly far less than one of them doing so), and again all presuming there is no contrary evidence (e.g. Craig and Habermas claiming to have seen the event in a place where national television should have had video of the event but didn’t–such a suspect state of evidence is more probable on alternative explanations, not less, thus pushing the final epistemic probability in the other direction).

In short, it *is* conceivable to be rationally warranted in believing an extraordinary claim on the kind of evidence Licona concluded with (after I got several qualifications out of him). But we still don’t have anything like that in the case of the resurrection. And yet the resurrection is even *less* believable than the supertransport Licona described, thus requiring even *more* extraordinary evidence, so the fact that it actually has less argues a fortiori against rational belief in the resurrection.

P.S. Note that prior probability is *in part* based on frequency, just not synonymously. Thus, the rarity of spaceships is a factor in ascertaining the prior probability of a claim to see one. It’s just that so is reliability of the source. What makes a claim of seeing a spaceship extraordinary is both the rarity of spaceships *and* the frequency of lies, hallucinations, tricks, errors, etc. which can produce the same claim. One could map out a subordinate Bayesian equation demonstrating this. Which simply reveals the fact that all priors are the outcomes of prior steps of reasoning which must likewise be (at least implicitly) Bayesian. Thus questioning the relationship between different frequency estimates (spaceships, lies, etc.) would be answered by running more Bayesian analysis, at a more fundamental level.

My Reply to Carrier

I wrote back:

Thanks for clarifying. The dialogue was messy, and I thought you were agreeing to more of Licona’s story than you actually were.

However, in this email you seem to indicate that if Licona really was talking about you hitching a ride on an interstellar spacecraft, then the report of a few independent witnesses could indeed be sufficient to establish such a claim (provided they were highly reliable witnesses, their claimed observations support the story that you rode an interstellar spacecraft, and so on), and so I have not misunderstood your position after all, even if I understood what you were committing to at that moment in the debate.

I still find this astonishing. Is it not still the case that a few super-reliable witnesses are not enough to establish that you actually rode in an interstellar spacecraft? An interstellar spacecraft is so incredibly implausible thing to find on Earth given our most reliable scientific knowledge to date, but our knowledge of humans allows for some plausible explanations of how their reports might be false.

For example, perhaps the three witnesses have decided to conspire to tell this lie, the first lie they have told me in all my years of knowing them. After all, they know their testimony will have incredible impact on me because of their past trustworthiness. And I have no reason at all to believe that these three people even know each other, let alone that they have conspired to lie to me as a practical joke. So despite my most rigorous interrogation of them, I have every reason to suspect they are independent witnesses and they are telling the truth just as they always have.

We can invent other such restraints, but it still seems to be that this hypothesis is a more plausible explanation for the data available to me than the hypothesis that you actually rode an interstellar spacecraft across the country before going to a debate with Mike Licona.

Do you think I’m wrong? Or have I misunderstood what you’re claiming? Or have I misunderstood the nature of our apparent disagreement?

June 30, 2010 Update

Carrier responded:

[Re: "the dialogue was messy"]

Yes, there were a lot of imprecisions and vaguaries. But open dialogue is always that way. You can only have a chance of avoiding it if you do this sort of thing in writing, and even more so if you run drafts through third party review. Which I like. It just isn’t what that venue was about.

[Re: "Is it not still the case that a few super-reliable witnesses are not enough to establish that you actually rode in an interstellar spacecraft?"]

All it requires is that they be sufficiently reliable (both as persons and in respect their specific testimony). The more reliable, the less probable error etc. will be (by definition). Thus, at some point, reliability can match any improbability. It would be fallacious to presume this was not possible a priori. You have to prove it case by case.

And the reason having independent witnesses is important is that their probabilities multiply, hence if the probability of error for a witness is x, then having two independent witnesses gives a P(error) = x^2; three gives x^3; etc. Geometric progression. Thus multiple independent witnesses produces massive increases in reliability very quickly. Whether that’s enough will depend on their independent reliabilities, and the improbability of the thing being claimed.

[Re: "An interstellar spacecraft is so incredibly implausible thing to find on Earth given our most reliable scientific knowledge to date, but our knowledge of humans allows for some plausible explanations of how their reports might be false."]

Yes. But when all the “plausible explanations” are extraordinarily improbable, then they themselves become “incredibly implausible.” Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Again, it’s fallacious to presume a priori that there is always a “non-extraordinary” explanation of any testimony. It’s too easy to imagine examples where that’s never the case; and I know many real-world cases, too. Hence when two explanations are competing to explain a testimony, and both are extraordinarily improbable, it doesn’t take much to tip the balance into warranted belief. In other words, plenty of explanations are just as implausible as spaceships, and when that’s all you have, spaceships become plausible. QED.

Hence stick to the specific example I gave: Eli, Rush, and Young are very close long-term friends whom you know as intimately as any viewer of SGU would, and they independently report the things that happened to them on that show, and meet your critical interrogations with success. It would be irrational to reject their testimony, because any hypothesis you conjured to explain it away would be less probable than the thing they are reporting.

[Re: "Perhaps three witnesses conspired to lie..."]

Which would be extraordinarily improbable. That’s the point. If it wouldn’t be extraordinarily improbable, then you don’t sufficiently trust those witnesses to begin with; but we are discussing highly trusted witnesses ex hypothesi. Thus your example is besides the point.

Ex hypothesi, we are proposing witnesses who are sufficiently reliable, i.e. you know and trust them well enough to know that the conspiracy you suggest would be less probable than their reports being true.

Remember, to meet the conditions, the lie you propose would have to be extraordinarily elaborate; because, again ex hypothesi, you will have interrogated them independently to your satisfaction–which means you would catch them making things up once you went off book (i.e. asked them things they didn’t anticipate), unless their conspiracy was extraordinarily detailed and well-planned. The more detailed and well-planned, the less probable it is. Hence my stated need for careful critical interrogation as a required condition.

[Re: "After all, they know their testimony will have incredible impact on me because of their past trustworthiness."]

Which would matter if your friends and wife were dicks. But we are presuming ex hypothesi that you know them well enough to know they wouldn’t exploit you this way (unless, again, they had good enough reason, but such a reason would be, again, extraordinarily improbable–just witness that such a “good samaritan best-friend spaceship conspiracy” has never happened before to anyone on record in three thousand years, and you’ll get the idea how rare, hence improbable, such behavior is).

[Re: "And I have no reason at all to believe that these three people even know each other, let alone that they have conspired to lie to me as a practical joke."]

Correct. This data is not in your background knowledge, and warrant only follows the facts known to you. Obviously belief is revisable with new information. But you can’t “presume” seemingly independent witnesses are conspirators when all your available knowledge argues strongly to the contrary. Yes, there is a tiny probability that you are wrong (which having the correct data would reveal). But the question is, how tiny? In the example posited, extraordinarily tiny.

[Re: "So despite my most rigorous interrogation of them, I have every reason to suspect they are independent witnesses and they are telling the truth just as they always have."]

Hence you should believe them.

You seem to be confusing warrant with truth. We have many warranted beliefs that are false. In fact, statistically we must. Of all beliefs that have a warrant sufficient to ensure they are 99% certain, by definition 1 in 100 of those will be false. But that’s why we trust those beliefs–because so few of them are false. Nevertheless, some of them are indeed false–and we will not know they are; we will instead believe them to be true. But we will be warranted in doing so–provided the probability of being wrong is indeed 1 in 100 (i.e. we have done our due diligence in calculating that degree of certainty). No belief is 100% certain–every belief has some small probability of being false, yet beliefs remain warranted (if they didn’t, we shouldn’t believe anything–because anything can be false–hence the absurdity of “radical skepticism”). Pick any probability, say 1 in 100,000. Of all the beliefs you have that are that warranted, 1 in 100,000 of them will still be false. Indeed, if you have only one such belief, it still has a 1 in 100,000 chance of being that one false belief in a hundred thousand.

Hence when talking about warranted belief, the possibility that you could be a victim of a conspiracy “after all” is completely irrelevant. The only relevant question is “How likely is that?” When it’s less likely than the thing being claimed, the thing being claimed is a more likely explanation of the testimony than a conspiracy.

[Re: "We can invent other such restraints, but it still seems to be that this hypothesis is a more plausible explanation for the data available to me than the hypothesis that you actually rode an interstellar spacecraft across the country before going to a debate with Mike Licona."]

Then you must not have any trusted friends or a spouse worth staying married to. That’s sad. But it’s not relevant to what Licona and I were talking about. He was proposing persons whom he knows so extraordinarily well that he knows the probability of their conspiring like this is less probable than my riding a spaceship. And I can attest such persons do exist. Perhaps you haven’t met any yet.

Which does mean we can sometimes be in different states of warrant: I will know things about the witnesses that you do not, hence on the exact same testimony it’s possible I will be warranted in believing but you will not. But we didn’t discuss that aspect of the issue (essentially because Licona chose not to defend any eyewitness testimony–except Paul, whose testimony is not even extraordinary).

To which I replied:

Richard,

Of course I don’t confuse warrant for truth. Nor is it the case that I don’t know highly trustworthy people. Nor do I assume a priori that testimony could not establish the existence of an interstellar spacecraft.

I agree with basically everything you said. I think our point of disagreement is in our guesstimations of the relevant probabilities. I guesstimate that the probability of error in the consistent testimony of three extremely reliable and apparently independent witnesses is, while extremely low, still slightly higher than the probability that Richard Carrier recently traveled in an interstellar spacecraft.

Not having actual probabilities to plug into the Bayesian analysis, guesstimations are all we have to go by, and our differing guesstimations of these hypothetical probabilities need not imply that one of us is irrational. But I was caught by surprise that our guesstimations of these probabilities was so divergent. And thus my head “a-sploded.” :)

And that is where it stands. Hope ya’ll enjoy the dialogue between two naturalists!

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{ 290 comments… read them below or add one }

zak June 15, 2010 at 6:16 am

The best response to the “the resurrection is plausible if you consider that God would have wanted this to happen…” claim that I have heard was Tabash responding to Craig. He said something along the lines of “that’s like saying that I flew in here on a spaceship is not unlikely, when you consider the fact that God could have given me the space ship.”

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Ajay June 15, 2010 at 6:17 am

Ahahaha….this one sounds like it went off the tracks almost immediately. I’ll have to check it out.

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Steven Carr June 15, 2010 at 6:52 am

So Licona has abandoned trying to show that there was an empty tomb?

At least the people who claim a second gunman shot JFK can produce a grassy knoll.

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ayer June 15, 2010 at 7:15 am

“of Craig resorting to Bayes’ theorem to argue for the possibility of knowing miracles occur in his debate with Bart Ehrman?)”

Craig used Bayes’ theorem (following John Earman in “Hume’s Abject Failure”) to show that Ehrman’s Humean presupposition against miracles fails. Craig uses inference to the best explanation, not Bayes’ theorem, in building his cumulative case for the resurrection.

“Because usually it means somebody took the body, or it rotted away, or we’re checking the wrong grave, or something. These things are way more likely than resurrection to explain an empty tomb, and we all know it.”

“We all know it” is not an argument; it’s a knee-jerk intellectual posture. The skeptic needs to present an alternative explanation in the specific case at issue and show in detail why it is a better explanation than the resurrection. Should be easy, right? Yet they don’t seem able to do it in debate after debate.

“Richard Carrier…

Says…

That if Mike Licona phoned a few different people…

And they confirmed that Richard Carrier had just boarded his interstellar starcraft…”

So is Carrier conceding that extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence (as Craig argues on p. 273 of “Reasonable Faith”–see http://tinyurl.com/259bzy6)?

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Steven Carr June 15, 2010 at 7:33 am

Oh dear…

Ayer repeatedly ducks all challenges to prove that Joseph of Arimathea even existed, yet he demands that sceptics exhume a 2000 year old body and say what happened to it, before they can reject the non-existent evidence that it flew off into the sky.

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Charles June 15, 2010 at 7:34 am

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Justfinethanks June 15, 2010 at 8:20 am

He doesn’t even want to admit that most such claims are legendary or false, and in fact says that if Bill Craig says he saw Richard Carrier get into an interstellar spaceship, his testimony alone would be enough to believe that Richard Carrier owned an interstellar spaceship.

Wow. It reminds of of the Debate between DiSilvestro and McCormick recently when DiSilvestro admitted he is open to the possibility that witchcraft actually happened in Salem, if the methodology he uses leads to that conclusion.

It also reminds me of this quote from Craig’s new book “On Guard.”

So in presenting apologetic arguments or some conclusion, we want to raise the price of denying the conclusion as high as we can. [...] Even if he is willing to pay that price, he may at least come to see why we are not obliged to pay it.

Concluding that it’s rational to believe in the existence of interstellar spacecraft and that people really were guilty of witchcraft in Salem based on nothing more than the say-so of “trustworthy” people is a really freaking high intellectual price to pay.

And even if Licona is willing to pay that price, perhaps he can at least understand why non-Christians are not obliged to pay it.

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Lorkas June 15, 2010 at 8:42 am

So is Carrier conceding that extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence (as Craig argues on p. 273 of “Reasonable Faith”–see http://tinyurl.com/259bzy6)?

It sounds to me more like Carrier is trying to make sure he understood Licona correctly when he stated that position before.

If one person’s testimony is enough for Licona (or ayer), then I’ve got an amazing interstellar spacecraft for sale. I’ll even throw in a time machine for free.

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Chemical Jeff June 15, 2010 at 8:51 am

You forgot the part where Licona talked about his haunted house in which towels “twirled around” in midair (or something like that). And the ghost appearance to one of his friends who he “really trusted.” Oh, and also the resurrections that JP Moreland has “confirmed” in Africa. With all this crazy stuff going on today, Jesus MUST have risen from the dead!

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ayer June 15, 2010 at 9:30 am

“If one person’s testimony is enough for Licona (or ayer), then I’ve got an amazing interstellar spacecraft for sale. I’ll even throw in a time machine for free. ”

Sure, it could be enough, depending on the circumstances. I’m just following Carl Sagan here from “Contact”, where Jodie Foster’s testimony was held up as enough to trump the skeptics for those who trusted her credibility. See:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FbSPXC4btU

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

ayer,

MUAHAHAHAHAHA… I love it.

The movie ruined it, though, where they talked about how there was 30 hours of static on the recording or whatever. They should have left it with nothing but her testimony speaking on her behalf.

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Hermes June 15, 2010 at 9:34 am

At first glance, I thought the images were just tacky, and while humorous were way out of line for the topic Luke was covering.

Then I read the text around those images.

HFS — *asplode!*is right.

Both Licona and Carrier should be kept away from the public in a locked room with a professor skilled in teaching remedial logic. Each time one of them repeats anything close to such nonsense, that person should be shocked with a cattle prod.

Such treatment, of course, is absurd and if such a thing is actually set up can’t be shown to be believable. After all, there will only be 3 witnesses, and the one with the cattle prod isn’t going to speak against themselves. :-)

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Robert Gressis June 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

So if you were friends with, say, five highly decorated naturalists–a leading physicist, a leading biologist, a leading philosopher, a leading psychologist, and, let’s say, a leading magician–and they all assured you that they saw something that they cannot explain except by adverting to a supernatural explanation, or aliens, or whatever, then this would have absolutely no pull on you whatsoever? It wouldn’t, in your mind, even *raise the likelihood*–not make it more probable than not, but just raise the likelihood from, say, 0% to 1%–that something like they describe actually happened?

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Steven Carr June 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

Gressis makes a good point.

Christians would not have checked personal testimony to see if it was true.

if he had been alive at the time, Licona would have believed it without checking it.

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RA June 15, 2010 at 9:56 am

Was this a criticism of Carrier’s response? If so, I don’t think it was that outrageous. He was just saying that if several independent witnesses confirm an unbelievable tale then you’d have more reason to believe it was true than if just one person told it to you which Licona finds sufficient.

Licona’s response is not surprising at all. In fact, it is par for the course.

In his interview with Luke, he said he believed that supernatural events happen all the time and told a couple of strange stories about a friend who encountered a spirit that grabbed him by the neck and told him to stop teaching the word of God and another that saw a vision of their friend’s face with a demon smiling behind it and at that very instant the person died. He totally believed both those things happened.

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Jacopo June 15, 2010 at 10:14 am

Typo, I think:

“Carrier invites us to assume Jesus’ body really meant missing.”

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anon June 15, 2010 at 10:16 am

Btw, for a great reply to Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure, see (Hume Studies co-editor) Peter Millican’s paper, <a href="""Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities: Meeting Earman’s Challenge"".

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anon June 15, 2010 at 10:17 am
Mastema June 15, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hermes,

Maybe I’m missing something, but how is Carrier deserving of the same treatment as Licona (locked in a room with a remedial logic professor, and shocked with a cattle prod)? I haven’t watched the debate yet, but maybe he makes a comparable blunder at a different point? Based on Luke’s reporting and what I know about Carrier, I don’t see him making a mistake I can only think of as pants-on-head retarded.

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David Iach June 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

This is a very bad review of a debate. Really bad.
What happened to your standards Luke? Did they “asplode” too?

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RA June 15, 2010 at 10:51 am

If I was going to post a criticism of Carrier, it certainly wouldn’t be his response about the spaceship.

I am a lot more bothered by his repeating the mass hallucination idea which I find rather embarrassing that atheists keep using it as if it is a decent argument.

If you are going to allow for the empty tomb and Jesus appearing to his disciples, you may as well say he rose from the dead. You’ve lost the argument. Better to attack from the historical angle and leave out the hallucination idea. At that point, you are grasping at straws.

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Mastema June 15, 2010 at 10:59 am

RA,

Agreed. There are much better ways to respond to the mass hallucinations. A 500+ person hallucination is particularly implausible (more plausible than the resurrection, but still hard to swallow), but there are better explanations, as you suggest.

Maybe Paul made it up. Maybe it was only 5 people, but it got changed to 50, then 500 due to scribe error. And so on.

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Tony Hoffman June 15, 2010 at 11:00 am

Licona’s Wikipedia entry says he has a Ph. D. in New Testament Studies, not History.

I had to check that, because I wanted to see what institution would give someone who hold such odd notions a Ph. D. in History, in order to add that institution to a list of places I wouldn’t send children to get an education. Licona’s Ph. D. in New Testament Studies was “earned” at the University of Pretoria, in case anyone else was curious.

Two things. I don’t think that New Testament Studies is part of the field of History (I think it’s part of Theology), and it appears that the University of Pretoria is just giving its Ph. D.’s away. Maybe I should get me one of those. You know, for parties.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 11:02 am

Robert,

I suspect it would raise the probability, but here’s how I’m seeing it: Even trustworthy, honest people have been known to lie. More often, they’ve been known to misinterpret things in the direction of agency (because of our hyperactive agency detectors). Sometimes they even conspire to pull tricks on people, etc. All these things are known to happen fairly often throughout human history. They may be rare, but they happen.

Compare that with the probability of an interstellar spacecraft, which is faaaaaaaar beyond any known technology, and would certainly not be sprung upon humanity by way of some random person using a prototype of it to fly around.

Does that make sense? Do you think I’m going wrong somewhere?

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

Thanks, Jacopo.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 11:04 am

Mastema,

I wasn’t saying Carrier was on a par with Licona, nor in fact that it’s pants-on-head retarded (though that may be true). My head exploded because it seemed so out of line with what Carrier said in his opening.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 11:06 am

What don’t you like about it, David Iach? The pictures?

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David June 15, 2010 at 11:14 am

Luke,

Understood. I was responding more to Hermes’ comment about locking them both in a room and treating both equally. I’ll be checking out the debate later today, but was Carrier being facetious when he said that? Was he actually agreeing with Licona’s methodology? If so, I’m sure my head will asplode as well.

I’ll even volunteer to hold the cattle prod myself.

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Haecceitas June 15, 2010 at 11:14 am

I think Luke’s characterization of Licona’s position is accurate as far as it’s concerned with one particular statement made by him, but based on what he said both before and after that (he alluded to other conditions that would have to be met), I’m not sure if it captures what he really intended to say.

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Mastema June 15, 2010 at 11:15 am

The previous post was by me. I noticed another “David” posting on this site, and don’t want to confuse people.

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Haecceitas June 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

“and it appears that the University of Pretoria is just giving its Ph. D.’s away.”

What makes you think so?

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JMauldin June 15, 2010 at 11:22 am

“We all know it” is not an argument; it’s a knee-jerk intellectual posture.”

This is an absurd nitpick. “We all know it” is shorthand for scientific validation and common sense. If I told you my dog was elected President of the United States last night, your skepticism would hardly be a “knee-jerk intellectual posture.”

“The skeptic needs to present an alternative explanation in the specific case at issue and show in detail why it is a better explanation than the resurrection.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me like you’re suggesting that unless every detail of the Jesus story can be naturally accounted for, one is justified in believing a miracle. Talk about a “knee-jerk intellectual posture.”

I’m pretty sure Criss Angel uses transparent fiberglass stools to walk on water but I could be wrong. He could be using a different method but either way my skepticism is justified – people don’t walk on water. However, what if someone tells me Criss Angel made a pact with Satan wherein Satan gave him supernatural powers that allow him to walk on water? Since I can’t naturally explain Mr. Angel’s incredible buoyancy should I adopt the Satan hypothesis? After all, if one grants that Satan exists, has the ability to imbue supernatural powers and would want to do so for Criss Angel, it isn’t at all improbable Criss Angel is supernaturally walking on water. Right?

Be honest and admit there isn’t a natural explanation you will accept. You’re raising the bar so high (knowingly I might add) that no naturalistic explanation will do. You know there are grey areas in ancient history and you’re hiding in those grey areas to justify belief in your favorite mythology.

“Should be easy, right? Yet they don’t seem able to do it in debate after debate”

Ehrman did it in his debate with WLC, you just won’t accept it.

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Robert Gressis June 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

“Does that make sense? Do you think I’m going wrong somewhere?”

It makes sense, but I do think you’re going wrong (though of course maybe I’m going wrong, etc., etc.). Namely, the people I’ve mentioned–and put names to them, if you want: Sean Carroll, P.Z. Myers, James Randi, etc.–are particularly skeptical of such events for precisely the reasons you’ve mentioned. Yet I think that if even one of them–and certainly, if two of them–despite their reservations nonetheless claim that they experienced something they can’t explain, and that really, really seems best explained by positing a spacecraft, or an angel, or whatever–then I think you have reason to take them seriously. I think, indeed, that it was the likelihood far more than from 0% to 1%, but I don’t know how much it would raise it. I mention this because I knew two people who are both excellent philosophers, naturalists to the core, etc., and who had an experience that convinced them to be supernaturalists. Generally, I’m really skeptical of such experiences, but in their case, because of the people involved, I found myself quite open to their claims.

It was interesting, because if you had asked me beforehand whether such testimony would have moved me to take it seriously, I don’t know what I would have said; I imagine that I think I would have said something like, “well, I think it would be 5% likely to be true”, but in actuality, I found myself believing that it probably really happened.

Admittedly, I’m already a supernaturalist, but for Thomistic and Kantian reasons rather than for reasons of religious experience. Nevertheless, perhaps that’s all that explained my reaction. But I don’t think so.

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RA June 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

I just listened to that part again. Here’s the basic summary (attribution only very roughly approximating) for those interested:

Licona: If Bill Craig says he saw you in a spaceship I’d believe it knowing what I know about Bill Craig!

Carrier: Uhhh…You sure about that? Wouldn’t you think maybe Craig was going crazy?

Licona: Yeah. Well….if Bill Craig tells me that and JP Moreland and my wife says it too…I’d believe it.

Carrier: OK, well, I’d agree with you…if I had that kind of verification from people I trusted, I could be convinced that Jesus rose from the dead, too. (He didn’t actually address the spaceship thing).

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

Robert,

I agree that two philosophically trained naturalists having experiences they interpret as supernatural is more compelling to me than a by-default atheist who believes in, say, homeopathy, having an experience he interprets as supernatural. But even still, I think the evidence from testimony is so weak compared to the evidence we have against the claim to have seen Richard Carrier board an interstellar spacecraft. And I think history backs me up on this one. This is Neil DeGrasse Tyson was getting at when he said that if a fellow scientist, whom he respected and trusted 100%, came to him and said he saw XYZ, then Tyson would say, “Go home! Come back when you have some better form of evidence, because we know that testimony is the lowest form of evidence we could possibly have.”

And if we shift the focus to supernatural explanations, it’s very hard for me to see how a supernatural explanation could be a good explanation, for reasons I’ve discussed before. I’m not sure about that, I just haven’t seen a good case made on behalf of supernatural explanations yet. The best case made so far is actually by the atheist Gregory Dawes, and he concludes even the most persuasively formulated theistic explanations are not going to be very compelling, as far as he can tell.

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tom June 15, 2010 at 11:46 am

This is the funniest debate review I’ve ever read.

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Landon Hedrick June 15, 2010 at 12:05 pm

This started out as a good debate review (of a good debate), but the best part of the debate was pretty much skipped over entirely. And there is no judgment on who made the better case, what factors counted significantly against each debater, etc. These would be good to include in a review of this debate.

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ayer June 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

@Jmauldin,

With your Criss Angel example, you DID put forward a naturalistic explanation that better accounts for all facts (at least the facts I am aware of—e.g., he is a professional magician seeking to earn a living entertaining people with tricks, etc.). None of Craig’s debate opponents have been able to do so in the case of the resurrection (see, on this point, e.g., the acknowledgment of the weakness of the “hallucination” hypothesis on this thread).

Ehrman did not do so–he basically said that because of his Humean presupposition against the miraculous, that just about ANY naturalistic explanation he could come up with would be a better explanation; which seems to be the same thing you are saying.

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David Iach June 15, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Well Luke I did not say I didn’t like the review, I said it’s a bad one, and that something happened to your standards of reviewing a debate.
What that means is that I believe that “back in the days” you had some good standards for looking at a debate, you carefully examined the arguments, then went on to see if the debaters respond to the arguments of their opponents, and then finally based on all those things you examined, you came with a conclusion about who in your opinion won the debate. That, I believe, is a good way to review a debate.

The problem is that in this review you never actually did this. You sort of reviewed the opening statements and then boom… some cursing words, some strange pictures and thats the end of the review.

I know some might consider this review funny, but I can’t imagine anyone saying this is a good review or a serious review. And I would add to that that this type of review doesn’t look very good on this website.

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Mastema June 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Thanks, RA. I’m going to go let my head asplode.

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Josh June 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Seriously, given prior knowledge, the mass hallucination hypothesis seems to me to be ORDERS AND ORDERS of magnitude more likely than Jesus arising from the dead. For example, we have documented evidence of mass halucinations (Unless you believe that the sun really zig-zaged toward Earth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_sun ), but we don’t have a single lick of evidence for a resurrection ever occurring ever.

However, I agree with RA that I don’t even see any credible evidence for ANY of the events described in the New Testament, so arguing about how Jesus’ followers saw him after he had died is something of a moot point.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thanks, tom!

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

David,

I think what you say is exactly what I wanted. The first half is serious, and the second half is funny. I actually began to cover more of the debate seriously, but it was going to be 20 pages long that way. Maybe it will help if I acknowledge this is a review of only the first half of the debate. But hey – that’s more than most blog post debate reviews are from most people!

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JMauldin June 15, 2010 at 1:55 pm

@Ayer,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhT4IENSwac

At the 1:31 mark, Ehrman outlines what he thinks happened based on his view of Jesus as a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet (which is hardly new). If that view isn’t good enough for you then it isn’t good enough for you but claiming that Ehrman didn’t provide an explanation is willfully ignoring it.

I could be wrong about the natural explanation of how Criss Angel walks on water (maybe it’s wires and camera tricks or CGI). If I’m wrong about exactly how Mr. Angel travels atop water, that doesn’t mean the Satan hypothesis wins by default. My point is, there isn’t going to be a rock solid, explains everything, incontrovertible explanation that ties the resurrection together. To expect one is to be ignorant of ancient history and to hide behind this fact as good reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus is self-delusion.

That “Humean presupposition against the miraculous” sure comes in handy when debunking the claims of other religions doesn’t it? It isn’t at all improbable that the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith a set of golden plates if God exists and would have a reason to send Moroni to Joseph.

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Hermes June 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Robert Gressis, personal observations and testimonies are some of the most faulty and least reliable forms of evidence.

Related: Neil Tyson talks about UFOs and the argument from ignorance.

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Tony Hoffman June 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Me: “…and it appears that the University of Pretoria is just giving its Ph. D.’s away.”

Haec: “What makes you think so?”

Because of Luke’s account of the debate, because, “Licona often speaks as if Paul’s encounter with Jesus and the group appearances of Jesus were themselves facts to be accounted for by the historian, rather than noticing that it is Paul’s accounts of these events that are the facts to be accounted for by the historian,” and because I had listened to Luke’s podcast with Licona where he came across as credulous, inarticulate, and confused. He demonstrated none of the rigorous thinking I expect from someone who has completed a Ph. D., and I have to wonder what kind of organization would award a doctorate to someone who comes across as such a rube.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

hermes,

Funny, that’s the same video I was quoting in my response to Gressis.

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Haecceitas June 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Because of Luke’s account of the debate

An account that doesn’t quite rise to Luke’s normal level of reporting in terms of accuracy and fairness (though it makes up for this in terms of being funny).

because, “Licona often speaks as if Paul’s encounter with Jesus and the group appearances of Jesus were themselves facts to be accounted for by the historian, rather than noticing that it is Paul’s accounts of these events that are the facts to be accounted for by the historian,”

Licona tends to assume as bedrock data what the vast majority of the scholars grant, namely that Paul’s experiences and the appearances mentioned in 1. Cor. 15 have a basis in some actual experiences (rather than being made up by the author). He doesn’t beg the question with regard to the exact nature of these experiences. Carrier seemed quite happy to grant what Licona assumed, so no problem here.

“and because I had listened to Luke’s podcast with Licona where he came across as credulous, inarticulate, and confused. He demonstrated none of the rigorous thinking I expect from someone who has completed a Ph. D., and I have to wonder what kind of organization would award a doctorate to someone who comes across as such a rube.”

Hmm, it’s been a while since I listened to that interview. Perhaps you can give an example or two? But openness to the supernatural isn’t necessarily the same as credulousness, so the mere fact that he seems to accept a supernatural explanation as the most likely one for some phenomena isn’t enough to make him credulous.

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Hermes June 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Luke, it’s a classic. I’ve already considered a few retorts to it and how valid they are.

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Martin June 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

JMauldin,

But isn’t it the case that if there were several other facts to be accounted for in your Criss Angel example that it might in fact open up the possibility of other potential explanations?

For instance, while a person seeing a UFO in itself is not enough to make any of us believe in aliens, there is a tiny, TINY minority of UFO reports that defy all attempts at explanation.

Some include airport radar evidence, PLUS a large number of witnesses that might be termed more reliable than the average person, such as multiple cops from different states all observing and chasing a disk hovering above a road for miles and miles, PLUS several of the witnesses experience post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.

What possible explanation could account for an incident like that? If it were further the case that we had prior reason to think that there might actually be aliens that drive disk-shaped craft, then that explanation might start to look not quite so far out.

While I can’t say that the Jesus story is anything like the UFO example, it seems that academic Christians are arguing along those lines: first for the existence of God (the aliens), then using that as the best explanation for an incident with multiple facts that lacks any other explanation (UFO observation with corroborating evidence).

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Hermes June 15, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Robert Gressis:Namely, the people I’ve mentioned–and put names to them, if you want: Sean Carroll, P.Z. Myers, James Randi, etc.–are particularly skeptical of such events for precisely the reasons you’ve mentioned. Yet I think that if even one of them–and certainly, if two of them–despite their reservations nonetheless claim that they experienced something they can’t explain, and that really, really seems best explained by positing a spacecraft, or an angel, or whatever–then I think you have reason to take them seriously.

Actually, it would not matter to any practical extent. Facts aren’t opinions. Case in point, from the etc. part of your list might be Michael Shermer. At one point, Mr. Skeptic Magazine and Scientific American contributor thought that anthropogenic global warming was unsupported by the evidence. When he changed his mind, did it at that point become more likely? I’d say no; his interpretation did not change the facts.

It is interesting when people voice their opinions. Without facts, though, it is not enough to move that interesting perspective into the fact column or adjust probabilities. I’d even go further, though. Probability calculations based on single events — not my example, but what what we’re talking about irt. Jesus claims or personal space craft — are meaningless. If the subject is important, the only thing that matters are facts.

People hate facts without interpretation, though. Often they hate facts and only want interpretations. They are asking to be told what things mean. They are being lazy and asking to be fed bad ideas.

I’d prefer someone’s interpretations plus the facts laid out showing how those facts result in the interpretation being a valid one.

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Silver Bullet June 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Luke,

I was also completely shocked at Carrier. What do you think happened?

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Dan June 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I really liked Carriers responses, but maybe I just missed what you guys saw. Like a few people say here, I think Carrier was just trying to understand where Mike was coming from. And maybe was being super giving, by allowing the possibility that it would be more believable if more than one person claimed he had a space ship. I honestly don’t think Carrier thought it was still anywhere near believable, but it would be more believable by even a fraction of a hair.

Carrier even talks about that somewhere else in the conversation, about how it’s more probably even by such a fraction of a hair that it wouldn’t make a difference, generally speaking.

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lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I don’t know. We’ll see if he replies to my email.

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ayer June 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm

“At the 1:31 mark, Ehrman outlines what he thinks happened based on his view of Jesus as a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet”

Yes, at the very end of the debate he says “let me conclude by telling you what I really think happened,” after it was too late for his explanation and Craig’s to be debated back and forth with historical and philosophical rigor. That’s not going head to head to determine which explanation is best. Why not start the debate with his view if he is confident it can stand up to Craig’s scrutiny?

“there isn’t going to be a rock solid, explains everything, incontrovertible explanation that ties the resurrection together.”

That’s not the criterion for success; the question is which, of the available alternative explanations, is the best according criteria such as explanatory scope, explanatory power, etc. One explanation can be best without being totally “incontrovertible.”

“That “Humean presupposition against the miraculous” sure comes in handy when debunking the claims of other religions doesn’t it?”

Are you saying Craig relies on Hume when debating those of other faiths? (e.g., Muslims or Mormons)? I saw his debate with Shabir Ally and he certainly didn’t there.

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JMauldin June 15, 2010 at 5:14 pm

@ Martin:

If there were more factors in the Criss Angel analogy then we would have to consider more.

In your UFO analogy, we would have to take each individual form of evidence and evaluate its validity. My mind is open to the possibility, though I’d be extremely skeptical. I don’t know what cases you’re referring to but to be a more apt comparison let’s say:

- The airport radar evidence comes in the form of four different versions of a tenth generation print-out. The original’s are lost. When compared, the four print-outs don’t agree on the location of the occurrence and it appears they’ve all been tampered with.
- The multiple eyewitness accounts come from a recently converted UFO fanatic who swears he interviewed the eyewitnesses (many of whom suffering from PTSD). He can only give you a few names (nowhere near the amount claimed) and no addresses. He claims to have personal knowledge of the alien’s expedient return and their plans to take over the earth…but they never do.

How credible does this UFO story sound? The Jesus story is not dependent on presuppositional biases like WLC and his ilk want people to think. They want to put the burden of proof on the skeptic. WLC does this constantly. It boils down to “This evidence is so compelling you have to have a dogmatic, presuppositional bias against miracles not to believe it.” I’ll grant the remote possibility of miracles (though I’m exceptionally skeptical) and there’s still no good reason to believe in the resurrection.

The big problem with the “inference to the best explanation” is the facts presented are hardly facts. Scholarship has exposed the source material to be riddled with contradictions, literary devices and legendary developments. There is no certainty at all that the four “facts” should be considered facts.

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Tony Hoffman June 15, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Haec: “Licona tends to assume as bedrock data what the vast majority of the scholars grant, namely that Paul’s experiences and the appearances mentioned in 1. Cor. 15 have a basis in some actual experiences (rather than being made up by the author).”

Nope on that one. Define scholars, and define actual experiences. I’d say, for instance, that the vast majority of scholars in the hard sciences (or fields that actually study human mental faculties) think that Paul’s experiences were, like all other paranormal claims that are investigated, either charlatanism, self deception, or a sincere misinterpretation of an explicable phenomena (either external or internal).

In other words, I can still grant that Paul’s experiences were actual experiences for the sake of argument, but this is a meaningless concession concerning the facts because I am only granting that he is almost certainly self-deluded.

Another way of saying this is that the vast majority of students of serial killers grant that David Berkowitz experienced his dog talking to him, but that doesn’t mean that David Berkowitz owned a talking dog. You should be clear about what kind of experience that you think other scholars are really granting when they allow that Paul probably believed himself to be sincere.

Haec: “He doesn’t beg the question with regard to the exact nature of these experiences. Carrier seemed quite happy to grant what Licona assumed, so no problem here.”

Right, no problem at all, so just move along folks. Again, what do you think that Carrier granted that Licona assumed? Because if you’re saying that Carrier granted that Licona experienced the resurrected Jesus, instead of experienced what he thought was the resurrected Jesus, I think you’re mistaken.

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Hansen June 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm

That’s not the criterion for success; the question is which, of the available alternative explanations, is the best according criteria such as explanatory scope, explanatory power, etc. One explanation can be best without being totally “incontrovertible.”

No, the explanation itself also has to be plausible on its own and not just more plausible than other explanations you can think of. Extra-ordinary claims still require extra-ordinary evidence.

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Martin June 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

JMauldin,

There is no certainty at all that the four “facts” should be considered facts.

See, this is exactly where I’m not so sure. By “facts” of course they fully admit only “historical facts,” not quite the same as empirical scientific facts. I have no way of knowing whether it’s true that the vast majority of NT scholarship are in agreement that these four facts are that, but anecdotally there is some evidence of this. For instance, E.P. Sanders, a secular NT scholar, gets to the resurrection and then says he can’t explain it. There are also numerous conspiracy theories that have sprung up to explain the “facts” surrounding the resurrection. Holy Blood Holy Grail comes to mind. And I think there is another one about a conspiracy to build a parody of the Jewish war with the Romans.

Clearly, there are at least some non-Christian writers who are not able to just throw away the “four facts” as nonsense through and through.

It’s at least enough to keep me on the fence…

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Rhys Wilkins June 15, 2010 at 6:15 pm

LOL! Very funny debate review. When I saw the Head: Asplode image I laughed so hard milk shot out of my nose :-).

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ayer June 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

“No, the explanation itself also has to be plausible on its own and not just more plausible than other explanations you can think of. Extra-ordinary claims still require extra-ordinary evidence.”

No, I’m afraid that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of the probability calculus involved. As Craig noted in his debate with Ehrman: “Specifically, Dr. Ehrman just ignores the crucial factors of the probability of the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection…. If these are sufficiently low, they outbalance any intrinsic improbability of the resurrection hypothesis.”

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anon June 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Re: Ehrman’s “false apocalyptic prophet” hypothesis is the mainstream view of who Jesus was among historical Jesus scholars, and is easily as strong a hypothesis as the hypothesis supported by Craig’s evidence. But if Jesus is a false apocalytic prophet, then based on Yahwheh’s words in the OT, the probability that God raised Jesus is virtually nil. So even if you grant Craig the full force of his case, it’s neutralized when you throw in the data for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.

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Mark June 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Let me just add a thought directed at no one here in particular. I think Christian apologists are committing a major, major error when they argue for the resurrection by claiming it’s the best explanation of the facts of the New Testament. To illustrate why, imagine that you’re a scientist trying to confirm that there is a linear relationship between two variables. To this end, you take thousands of measurements for an experiments and see if they reveal a linear relationship. In fact, all of your data points fall onto a nice, clean line with correlation coefficient .9999 – except for a couple points, which look wildly off. What’s the best explanation for these outliers? You have no direct evidence for experimental error. Your instruments are brand new and have otherwise proved completely functional, you recall setting up the experiments properly and conducting them diligently, there was no one to sabotage your results, etc. Given these facts – call them facts F – the best explanation of the outliers is almost certainly that the linear relationship is false.

However, as soon as you look at the best explanation of all the points, the story changes. Given facts F, the Linear Relationship Hypothesis will say the probability that any given measurement is offset by experimental error is fairly low. But it predicts that given enough measurements, probably a few outliers will appear here and there due to experimental error. Therefore, since we’ve conducted very many experiments, the Linear Relationship Hypothesis successfully predicts both that most of our data points will fall on a line and that a few of our data points won’t. Clearly the Linear Relationship Hypothesis is the best explanation of all the facts, even if it’s a poor explanation of the outliers taken alone!

Now we may return to the resurrection. Perhaps the Resurrection Hypothesis is the best explanation of the writings of the New Testament. Perhaps the evidence for the New Testament’s reliability is pretty good. But perhaps the New Testament is an outlier! That is, perhaps there are so many miracle stories floating around out there we would expect even on naturalism to find a few good, fairly well-evidenced ones which we can’t directly refute (since the evidence against them has long since vanished). Yeah, evidence from the NT is improbable given naturalism, but there being some evidence like that found in the NT given naturalism and the number of human storytellers out there could be quite probable. So in order to truly refute naturalism, we cannot just point to the NT and insist that the resurrection best explains it.

AFAIK no one on either side of the debate has ever really articulated this point before!

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Data June 15, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I am most often taken back by the absurdity of the “If God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead, the probability would be 100%” argument. It just strikes me as so smug and backwards.

If you assume that God actually wants to raise Jesus, then of fucking course it will be 100% likely, because you just fucking assumed it.

And even more, they play it off with fake qualifiers like “nearing” 100%. As if this was some serious calculation they’ve labored over. How unbearably modest of them…

It seems like apologists just weasel this into a debate and say, “Aha! But if God DOES exist, then the probability of Jesus being raised from the dead nears 100%!!!”

But obviously, they are really saying, “Aha! If I am correct, then the probability of my own correctness nears 100%!!!”

Master debaters, I see.

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Steven Carr June 15, 2010 at 10:48 pm

What is a fact?

It is a fact that Mike Licona has abandoned apologetic claims that Christians can demonstrate there was an empty tomb.

If Licona cannot demonstrate an empty tomb, then how the hell can he demonstrate a resurrection?

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 12:12 am


Tony Hoffman
“Nope on that one. Define scholars, and define actual experiences. I’d say, for instance, that the vast majority of scholars in the hard sciences (or fields that actually study human mental faculties) think that Paul’s experiences were, like all other paranormal claims that are investigated, either charlatanism, self deception, or a sincere misinterpretation of an explicable phenomena (either external or internal).”

By scholars I mean people who have advanced degrees in NT studies, Ancient History, or some some related discipline, who study the NT and/or the history of early Christianity, and have academically respectable publications on the subject.

By actual experiences I mean some mental events that the experiencers take to be perceptions of a mind-independent reality (regardless of whether or not it really is) and which in these cases lead the experiencers to conclude that they have seen the risen Jesus (again, regardless of whether or not the conclusion is the correct one).

“In other words, I can still grant that Paul’s experiences were actual experiences for the sake of argument, but this is a meaningless concession concerning the facts because I am only granting that he is almost certainly self-deluded.”

And that would be the substance of much of the debate (the nature of those experiences). Obviously, Licona and Carrier differed on this, and you are clearly mistaken if you think that Licona did not expect Carrier to differ on this.

“You should be clear about what kind of experience that you think other scholars are really granting when they allow that Paul probably believed himself to be sincere.”

I guess I just assumed some level of background knowledge and therefore didn’t go into details here. I didn’t mean to imply that the majority of scholars necessarily accept Paul’s (or the disciples’) own interpretation of the experiences but the fact that there were “some sort of transformative experiences that they took to be the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead” isn’t really that controversial.

“Again, what do you think that Carrier granted that Licona assumed?”

That the early Christian belief was based on some kinds of experiences that they themselves took to be the appearances of Jesus.

“Because if you’re saying that Carrier granted that Licona experienced the resurrected Jesus, instead of experienced what he thought was the resurrected Jesus, I think you’re mistaken.”

Obviously, I’m not saying that. I take it that you haven’t read or heard much of the materials from leading Christian apologists on this subject because otherwise you’d be familiar with the type of argument that Licona was using here.

As an aside, I’m not a big fan of Licona’s approach. He tries to prove a bit too much with too little data. This is especially so when he also tries to make his argument independent of any philosophical assumptions about the likelihood of theism.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 12:21 am


Mark
“Yeah, evidence from the NT is improbable given naturalism, but there being some evidence like that found in the NT given naturalism and the number of human storytellers out there could be quite probable. So in order to truly refute naturalism, we cannot just point to the NT and insist that the resurrection best explains it.

AFAIK no one on either side of the debate has ever really articulated this point before!”

But I have probably thought of this before you did! ;-)

This would be a problem for someone like Licona who wants to minimize the required background assumptions about different worldviews. However, many apologists don’t really rely that much on the resurrection of Jesus as an argument against naturalism (at least not all by itself). Often the argument is presented with the purpose of showing why Christian theism in particular should be accepted if the likelihood of some kind of generic theism has been already established independently.

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Mark June 16, 2010 at 12:41 am

But I have probably thought of this before you did! ;-)

Damn.

However, many apologists don’t really rely that much on the resurrection of Jesus as an argument against naturalism (at least not all by itself). Often the argument is presented with the purpose of showing why Christian theism in particular should be accepted if the likelihood of some kind of generic theism has been already established independently.

Probably the point can be reformulated so as to accommodate this (though I’m less confident of it). Just replace “naturalism” in my last post with naturalism* = naturalism restricted to objects in the solar system since the dawn of humanity. Naturalism* is compatible with theism, yet my above thoughts (if correct) show that we can’t refute naturalism* just by picking out certain facts that it doesn’t explain very well.

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Hansen June 16, 2010 at 12:41 am

“No, the explanation itself also has to be plausible on its own and not just more plausible than other explanations you can think of. Extra-ordinary claims still require extra-ordinary evidence.”

No, I’m afraid that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of the probability calculus involved. As Craig noted in his debate with Ehrman: “Specifically, Dr. Ehrman just ignores the crucial factors of the probability of the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection…. If these are sufficiently low, they outbalance any intrinsic improbability of the resurrection hypothesis.”

If you don’t accept that extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence, then you are gullible. It’s that simple.

Craig is simply lying through his teeth when he says bullshit like that. He is trying to wiggle out of his responsibility of providing proper evidence for his claims.

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 5:53 am

Haec: “Licona tends to assume as bedrock data what the vast majority of the scholars grant, namely that Paul’s experiences and the appearances mentioned in 1. Cor. 15 have a basis in some actual experiences (rather than being made up by the author). He doesn’t beg the question with regard to the exact nature of these experiences. Carrier seemed quite happy to grant what Licona assumed, so no problem here.

Well, previously you called Paul’s account in 1. Cor. 15 “bedrock data,” and this seems like an inappropriate term for what you grant could be Paul’s interpretation of his own mental activity. I wonder if you or other apologists would be willing to call “bedrock data” Muhammed’s experiences of Allah, Joseph Smith’s experience of the golden plates, or Jim Jones’s experiences that he was God.

Haec: “I didn’t mean to imply that the majority of scholars necessarily accept Paul’s (or the disciples’) own interpretation of the experiences but the fact that there were “some sort of transformative experiences that they took to be the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead” isn’t really that controversial.”

It’s not that controversial only if you take Paul’s account of his own experiences at face value in a world where people create their own memories (lots of data there), deceive themselves (again, lots of data), or lie (no shortage there as well).

Paul is describing an interpretation of an experience. There’s a reason that psychology is called a “soft science,” and not a “hard (bedrock data) science.” It still appears to me that Licona is being purposely misleading or is confused about what constitutes hard historical data. I see no reason to not laugh at his supposed skills as a historian when he misclassifies data in this way.

I have read some things about the subject, and it’s not that uncommon for scholars to note that claims of having seen the risen Jesus could be attributed to a result of the need to establish authority in a system whose hierarchy was being established – your garden variety charlatanism. I would guess that 25% to 75% of scholars of Ancient History would attribute the success of Paul’s and other early church leaders to this phenomena, and I think that reading accounts of Gnosticism and other movements during this time provides data that claims of having seen or experienced Jesus were often thought to be bogus. (I don’t think you can read Elaine Pagels, for instance, without coming to that conclusion.)

All that being said, I do think the best charlatans deceive themselves as well, and Paul’s ability to form an early church are a testament to his probable sincerity. I would say there’s a 60% chance he believed he experienced the risen Jesus, but “bedrock data” is way overstating the degree that we could know such a thing.

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Hermes June 16, 2010 at 6:07 am

Mark: But perhaps the New Testament is an outlier!

Well, I can’t give you credit for thinking of it first, but I can for your specific formulation. Very interesting.

There’s quite a bit of actual support for most of what you wrote. Not only are there stories that pre-date and are as bold or bolder than what appear in the Christian Bible, many of the ideas pushed by Christians include specific biases that don’t match reality. White lies, or biases promoted by omission, to wrap the other dogmas and promote them as something unique or original.

For example, even when I was young I knew that the Earth was ancient and that humans were a recent species, I still thought that the earliest records anywhere were recorded by the Jews and that the Jews were always monotheists. I thought this even when I was confident that the unusual parts of the Bible were fictional add-ons; gods, demons, magic.

I would not be surprised if most people who were indoctrinated in one of the Abrahamic religions also think that the Jews began intact as a people and started civilization. The truth is more interesting.

The tell to me that it isn’t the case — what stands out as a hard sell stemming from a lack of confidence or a known fiction — is the repeated emphasis that the Jews got there first, had the creation story, and that there was only one deity. Sealing it are other comments as a sales pitch is the insistence that much of this novel is history and more than that is obvious if not intuitive, while all other mythologies are said to be obviously wrong. If it’s obvious, then why make a big deal about it not only to those outside the group but within it? What other obvious things need constant affirmation?

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Hermes June 16, 2010 at 6:18 am

Data: But obviously, they are really saying, “Aha! If I am correct, then the probability of my own correctness nears 100%!!!”

Master debaters, I see.

Well ranted. :-)

I’ve found that denying the gimmie — the assertion that a narrow sectarian set of ideas is an option even without evidence — effectively stymies many Christian theists. It’s part of the reason why they fall back on the “everyone knows God in their hearts” bias; they are shielded from having to explain themselves, and at the same time call everyone else liars.

Well, that’s not good enough. The same trick can be pulled by any cult leader or shaman, a comparison that is simple and direct but causes indignation none the less. A presumption that you’ve got the goods isn’t convincing. Shifting the burden is no better. In both cases, I consider such tactics as a tacit admission that they don’t know but merely believe.

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Torgo June 16, 2010 at 6:21 am

In the last few days, I’ve seen two things I thought I’d never see: A chimp mouth-raping a frog, and two divine turds doing the nasty. You are a warped SOB, sir.

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

I can see the theist arguing that the outlier in linear analysis is evidence for supernaturalism. See, we have real, hard data for somethings that can’t be explained naturally, therefore supernaturalism! Taking that into account, we have no Humean grounds to dismiss historical accounts of supernatural occurrences, since we can observe supernatural data (what scientists, under their natural bias, incorrectly attribute to experimental error) today!

But maybe the answers to these (kooky and ad hoc) explanations is easy enough — why does the occurrence of superaturally caused outliers diminish with increases in the reliability of the instruments, etc.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 8:56 am

“Probably the point can be reformulated so as to accommodate this (though I’m less confident of it). Just replace “naturalism” in my last post with naturalism* = naturalism restricted to objects in the solar system since the dawn of humanity. Naturalism* is compatible with theism, yet my above thoughts (if correct) show that we can’t refute naturalism* just by picking out certain facts that it doesn’t explain very well.”

I suppose it would be quite difficult to settle on some agreed prior probabilities for naturalism* vs. its negation given theism, but I think that if one is at least partly convinced of theism on the basis of a moral argument and an argument from the irreducibility of consciousness (I know, both are heavily disputed here), one may have a reason to think that naturalism is not very probable. That’s because the moral argument would tend to imply the objective value of human persons (which God would share if one thinks of God as the ground for moral values) and the argument from irreducible consciousness would point to the human mind as something special, perhaps even to some special activity by God. So assuming these, one might think that the probability of naturalism* isn’t very high given theism. And if one has a reason to accept any other reports of miraculous phenomena and/or religious experiences as plausible for one reason or another, this would pose further problems for naturalism*.

Also, to the extent that one is a proponent of the argument from evil, it seems somewhat inconsistent for one to argue that assuming theism, God probably wouldn’t have a reason to intervene in the affairs of our planet at all.

Anyway, there seem to be various ways in which the situation that you described could arise, but assuming the type of reasoning that Carrier used in the debate (“mass hallucinations of this type would be rare, but then again, so is Christianity”, “empty tombs would be rare, but so is Christianity”, “radical conversions of an enemy would be rare, but so is Christianity”) would account for a significant proportion of all of the causal antecedents that might lead to this situation, one might still ask whether naturalism* would fail to predict certain things that theism would predict. For example, which hypthesis would predict a greater probability for the following states of affairs:

1. when these reasonably well documented & apparently miraculous events occur, they will occur in a context that is religiously significant even prior to their occurrence

2. the events will lead to a religious movement that grows to be the largest religion in the whole planet even 2000 years after the events.

Well, perhaps selection biases would come into play here, but probably not to the extent that they’d make these predictions equally probable on naturalism* as they are on theism.

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

Haec: “For example, which hypthesis would predict a greater probability for the following states of affairs:
1. when these reasonably well documented & apparently miraculous events occur, they will occur in a context that is religiously significant even prior to their occurrence…”

Awesome. We’ve been running that experiment since the Enlightenment, and the theist hypothesis has gone 0 for every day since. So, the Enlightenment Hypothesis (no miracles that survive scientific scrutiny) has yet to be disproven, and the Theistic Hypothesis (miracles pop up every Christmas) has yet to find a positive result.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

“Well, previously you called Paul’s account in 1. Cor. 15 “bedrock data,” and this seems like an inappropriate term for what you grant could be Paul’s interpretation of his own mental activity.”

I think you have somewhat misread what I said. I said: Licona tends to assume as bedrock data what the vast majority of the scholars grant, namely that Paul’s experiences and the appearances mentioned in 1. Cor. 15 have a basis in some actual experiences (rather than being made up by the author). He doesn’t beg the question with regard to the exact nature of these experiences.

“I wonder if you or other apologists would be willing to call “bedrock data” Muhammed’s experiences of Allah,”

I think it’s very probable that Muhammed had experiences that he took to be experiences of a supernatural reality.

“Joseph Smith’s experience of the golden plates,”

Not sure. One might have a pretty good case for thinking that Smith was being dishonest.

“or Jim Jones’s experiences that he was God.”

Maybe. I’d need to know more about the subject than I currently do.

“It’s not that controversial only if you take Paul’s account of his own experiences at face value in a world where people create their own memories (lots of data there), deceive themselves (again, lots of data), or lie (no shortage there as well).”

But it’s definitely a minority position among the scholars of this subject to think that Paul made up the appearance traditions. The majority view as I understand it is that Paul is citing an earlier tradition that got its form within no more than some years after the death of Jesus. Paul also seems confident enough in asserting this information concerning the appearances to the apostles, while it appears to be the case that the Corinthians also had direct contact with them (Peter/Cephas is mentioned, etc). So it seems pretty hard to maintain that this is just something that Paul came up with.

Given all this (together with the fact that Carrier himself granted a probability that Paul was being honest), I don’t think it’s fair to question the credibility or competence of Licona on this basis. It was after all a debate with only a limited amount of time for each debater to use. It seems to me that one can’t blame a person for not chasing every rabbit trail in such a situation. If Licona ignored such issues in his doctoral dissertation, then your criticism might be valid.

“Paul is describing an interpretation of an experience. There’s a reason that psychology is called a “soft science,” and not a “hard (bedrock data) science.” It still appears to me that Licona is being purposely misleading or is confused about what constitutes hard historical data. I see no reason to not laugh at his supposed skills as a historian when he misclassifies data in this way.”

I think that in general, Licona is more careful to make the distinction between experiences and their interpretation than he was this time, but it was still there.

By the way, did you actually listen to the debate, or are you still commenting on the basis of second hand information?

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

I made a small but significant typo (missed the “*”). Should have been:

“one may have a reason to think that naturalism* is not very probable.”

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

Haec: “By the way, did you actually listen to the debate, or are you still commenting on the basis of second hand information?”

You may raise a valid point — I haven’t listened to the debate, I although I did listen to the entire Licona podcast with Luke (that’s an hour of my life I’m not getting back, so I’m not so excited about repeating the experience).

I’ll listen to it tonight if you think I have misunderstood Licona’s position. It doesn’t appear to me that I have, but please let me know if you think I’m not going to hear something substantially different that what I have criticized.

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 10:14 am

Haec: “I think you have somewhat misread what I said. I said: Licona tends to assume as bedrock data what the vast majority of the scholars grant, namely that Paul’s experiences and the appearances mentioned in 1. Cor. 15 have a basis in some actual experiences (rather than being made up by the author). He doesn’t beg the question with regard to the exact nature of these experiences.”

I think you and Licona are still playing fast and loose with the term “bedrock data” – chiefly, that the term should never be applied to others’ accounts of their own experiences. Accounts of our experiences are never bedrock data. Period.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 11:29 am

“I think you and Licona are still playing fast and loose with the term “bedrock data””

Just to clarify, I don’t think Licona used that term in this debate though he did against Ehrman.

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Tony Hoffman June 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Sorry, Haec, but I’m not going to waste any more time on Licona’s crap. I’m 23:34 in, and I’ve been treated to this:

Licona: “I’m not making any non-evidenced assumptions about how Jesus was raised, only that he was raised,”

followed shortly by:

Licona: ““Resurrection assumes God, yes, but that’s not an unevidenced assumption, because I think there is good evidence for God’s existence.”

Bat. Shit. Crazy. I return to recommending the mocking of Licona, his Ph. D., and the University of Pretoria.

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TH June 16, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Robert Gressis:

I mention this because I knew two people who are both excellent philosophers, naturalists to the core, etc., and who had an experience that convinced them to be supernaturalists. Generally, I’m really skeptical of such experiences, but in their case, because of the people involved, I found myself quite open to their claims.

I will admit freely that the testimony of only one competent naturalist could sway me quite a bit in favor of the supernatural. That’s because I know the kind of rigorous analysis competent naturalists use when evaluating supernatural claims.

With that in mind, I am reasonably confident you will be fail to provide any sort of persuasive proof that your two acquaintances actually are/were competent naturalists.

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JMauldin June 16, 2010 at 12:20 pm

@ Ayer:

No, I’m afraid that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of the probability calculus involved. As Craig noted in his debate with Ehrman: “Specifically, Dr. Ehrman just ignores the crucial factors of the probability of the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection…. If these are sufficiently low, they outbalance any intrinsic improbability of the resurrection hypothesis.”

The background factors of the resurrection hypothesis are demonstrably uncertain. They’re based on the historical reliability of untrustworthy sources.

As Ehrman stated, “The burial of Joseph of Arimathea could well be a later invention…the empty tomb could also be a later invention…the appearance of Jesus may have well just have been visions of Jesus…people did and do have visions all the time…I’d like him to tell us what the piece of evidence is that the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection.”

Introducing the probability calculus is nothing more than slight of hand, conflating unverifiable assertion (the “facts” presented are indeed facts) upon unverifiable assertion (the Judeo-Christian version of God exists and would want to raise Jesus from the dead), assuming it’s validity and then using that unverifiable assumption as the standard to judge all naturalistic explanations.

Craig then has the audacity to accuse Ehrman of engaging in a “debater’s trick” by asking him whether he believes the sources have errors in them. Since the sources are the basis for the background factors of the resurrection hypothesis, it isn’t at all disingenuous for Ehrman to ask Craig to critically evaluate those background factors. That Craig refuses to do so is because: a) he wants to stay away from Dr. Ehrman’s field of expertise and b) to quote Jim Carrey’s line from Liar Liar, “it’s very damaging to my case!” Craig cops out to “this isn’t a debate on biblical inerrancy.” The historical credibility of the Gospels is most certainly a debate about biblical inerrancy, Craig knows this and dodges the issue. Oh, and this after presenting slides with the titles “Bart’s Blunder” and “Ehrman’s Egregious Error.” I’ll take my snake oil with extra Salvation please.

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lukeprog June 16, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Fixed some typos. Damn typos!

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anon June 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Also, it’s more than an inerrancy debate — it’s not just about contradictions. For the problems with the sources isn’t just that they sometimes conflict. It’s also that there is a tendency of growth in the accounts, from earliest (Mark and Q) to latest (John). Also, a number of changes are best explained in terms of altering the material to make a theological point. Furthermore, a number of changes are best explained in terms of making Jesus look better from gospel to gospel. But if that’s right, then much more doubt is cast on the reliability of the gospel traditions than if it were just a matter of conflicting accounts.

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JMauldin June 16, 2010 at 1:47 pm

@ Anon:

“But if that’s right, then much more doubt is cast on the reliability of the gospel traditions than if it were just a matter of conflicting accounts.”

Agreed. It isn’t just the contradictory accounts but the literary devices and legendary embellishments.

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ayer June 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

“Craig then has the audacity to accuse Ehrman of engaging in a “debater’s trick” by asking him whether he believes the sources have errors in them.”

Yes, it is a debater’s trick because Craig is basically saying, I am willing to put my commitment to inerrancy aside and play by the secular rules, where I can establish the superiority of my case purely on the basis of historiography and philosophical reasoning. I know Ehrman would rather have a debate on inerrancy (as he has with Dan Wallace and others), but that was not the topic on which he agreed to debate Craig.

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ayer June 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

“conflating unverifiable assertion (the “facts” presented are indeed facts) upon unverifiable assertion ”

You’re aware that the “verifiability criterion” has been discredited, right? You want a scientific experiment in order to verify a historical fact?

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lukeprog June 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm

ayer,

The verifiability criterion of meaning used by the logical positivists is quite different than the explanatory virtue of testability/verifiability in continuous use by the most successful knowledge-seeking tradition we know of: science.

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Mark June 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm

That’s because the moral argument would tend to imply the objective value of human persons (which God would share if one thinks of God as the ground for moral values) and the argument from irreducible consciousness would point to the human mind as something special, perhaps even to some special activity by God. So assuming these, one might think that the probability of naturalism* isn’t very high given theism.

I think you’re conflating naturalism (or naturalism*) with materialism (or materialism*?) here. Of course I realize that the definition of “naturalism” is extremely muddy and highly contentious. But even if your criticisms are sound, I’m not sure they really even undermine the point I was really trying to get across but perhaps did poorly on: Even under the hypothesis that all reported funky supernatural phenomena are hoaxes, if there are enough reported funky supernatural phenomena out there then it’s not unlikely that some will prima facie seem legit (because all the direct evidence unmasking them will have been lost to history). If you grant that this is so, then you simply cannot settle whether reported funky supernatural phenomenon X is a hoax or legit without taking a much broader look at other funky supernatural reports. Or at least, other funky supernatural reports of the same “type,” whatever the notion of “type” should come to here. This is so whether God exists or not.

You’re correct in noting that the point could be overcome by finding other miracles and pointing to them in addition to the resurrection. That would be the equivalent of finding a vast number of outlying data points deviating wildly from the straight line, instead of just one or two. But Christian apologists would have to actually do this, while taking into account all of the reported anomalies out there which don’t conform very well to the Christian picture.

For example, which hypthesis would predict a greater probability for the following states of affairs:

1. when these reasonably well documented & apparently miraculous events occur, they will occur in a context that is religiously significant even prior to their occurrence

2. the events will lead to a religious movement that grows to be the largest religion in the whole planet even 2000 years after the events.

I don’t understand the “religious context” thing very well. Most supernatural reports come in some sort of mystical context. There’s no reason to single out religious contexts as being special. And religious context or not, it’s not like the evidence for Jesus’ foretelling of his own resurrection is all that strong.

I actually don’t tink Christianity at all predicts that it would become a populous religion.

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ayer June 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

“The verifiability criterion of meaning used by the logical positivists is quite different than the explanatory virtue of testability/verifiability in continuous use by the most successful knowledge-seeking tradition we know of: science.”

But applying that standard in a field of knowledge where it is completely irrelevant (e.g., historiography, archaeology, paleontology, etc., where there is simply no way to conduct an empirical, repeatable test a la physics, chemistry, etc.) is right in line with the overreaching pursued by the verificationists.

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Robert Gressis June 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm

TH,

I don’t want to give their names, but one got his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan (in philosophy), and the other got his Ph.D. at Stanford (in Mathematics, but he’s a logician now).

For what that’s worth.

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lukeprog June 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm

ayer,

But testability does not imply physics-style repeatable experiments. Consider the hypothesis that the dinosaurs went extinct when Rome fell. That’s a testable hypothesis even though it’s a historical one and historical events cannot be repeated in the lab. I retain the claim that ‘verification’ and ‘testability’ are relevant tests in the historical sciences, and need not make use of anything like the verifiability criterion of meaning.

Your red herring about the failure of logical positivism reminds me of a tactic WLC uses often in debates. Whenever his opponent starts to say that we should probably have evidence to back up our claims, he accuses them of verificationism and laughingly points out why verificationism is self-defeating, as if that had something to do with empiricism in general.

ayer, I think you often display more knowledge of the debate than your interlocutors on this blog, but I think you’re way off base on this one.

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Hermes June 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Consider the hypothesis that the dinosaurs went extinct when Rome fell.

Well, of course they did. :-)

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 5:55 am

Ayer: “Yes, it is a debater’s trick because Craig is basically saying, I am willing to put my commitment to inerrancy aside and play by the secular rules, where I can establish the superiority of my case purely on the basis of historiography and philosophical reasoning.”

This is patently false, as historiography does not allow supernatural explanations. I think you mean “…purely on the basis of theology and philosophical reasoning.” I wish that Craig et al. would be clear about the fact that when New Testament studies includes supernatural explanations, it walks over to the other building where Theology hides out.

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ayer June 17, 2010 at 7:04 am

“I retain the claim that ‘verification’ and ‘testability’ are relevant tests in the historical sciences, and need not make use of anything like the verifiability criterion of meaning.”

Ok, I agree if you use “verifiability” in the weaker sense of “finding evidence which provides partial support of my hypothesis even though my hypothesis remains non-falsifiable.” In the case of the resurrection debate, the both hypothesis, “the disciples stole the body” and the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” are both “verifiable” in the sense that the available evidence can be use to argue for each. But neither is falsifiable like a physics or chemistry experiment (or the paleontology example you raise, which is a good point) with the type of evidence often available to historians.

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ayer June 17, 2010 at 7:07 am

“This is patently false, as historiography does not allow supernatural explanations. I think you mean “…purely on the basis of theology and philosophical reasoning.” I wish that Craig et al. would be clear about the fact that when New Testament studies includes supernatural explanations, it walks over to the other building where Theology hides out.”

Perhaps there is a canon of historiography that excludes supernatural explanations (though I have never seen it–could you point me to a source? C. Behan McCollough certainly doesn’t mention it), but philosophical reasoning certainly does not exclude them (thus the entire field of “philosophy of religion”). So Craig had no need to bring theology qua theology into it.

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 7:13 am

Ayer: “In the case of the resurrection debate, the both hypothesis, “the disciples stole the body” and the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” are both “verifiable” in the sense that the available evidence can be use to argue for each. But neither is falsifiable like a physics or chemistry experiment (or the paleontology example you raise, which is a good point) with the type of evidence often available to historians.”

Sigh. Historians do not argue for supernatural explanations. Theologians do. History is a kind of soft science. For them, there is no evidence for a supernatural explanation, because their methodology does not accept it.

So you’re really looking at exploring the evidence using either historical methods or theological ones. It’s the selection of the method that predicts the outcome, not the evidence.

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 7:43 am

Ayer: “Perhaps there is a canon of historiography that excludes supernatural explanations (though I have never seen it–could you point me to a source? C. Behan McCollough certainly doesn’t mention it), but philosophical reasoning certainly does not exclude them (thus the entire field of “philosophy of religion”).”

The study of history is almost entirely about making the data available — it’s a lot more about what happened than why. For that reason, I think, there’s a lot less material on historiography than, say, philosophy of science. And, of course, there’s no single authority (McCullough or anyone else) or canon on historiography any more than there’s an authoritative spokesperson for Science.

That being said, though, History is a soft science, and as such it derives its methodolgy from Science. Its methodology should be obvious to anyone who has taken something like an AP-level History class in high school.

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ayer June 17, 2010 at 8:18 am

“The study of history is almost entirely about making the data available — it’s a lot more about what happened than why.”

I agree; that is why Craig takes the data determined by the historiographical criteria and then applies inference to the best explanation to that data, drawing on philosophical resources for that explanation.

“And, of course, there’s no single authority (McCullough or anyone else) or canon on historiography any more than there’s an authoritative spokesperson for Science.”

Ok, as I suspected, there’s no authority who can dictate whether or not a supernatural explanation is “in bounds” or “out of bounds”–so why not just examine the arguments on the merits instead of trying to disqualify them from the outset?

“Historians do not argue for supernatural explanations. Theologians do.”

What about philosophers?

“That being said, though, History is a soft science, and as such it derives its methodolgy from Science.”

As I understand it, there is quite a debate as to whether history is an “art” or a “science”, but regardless, as you said, it supplies the data from which explanations are inferred, and those explanations can draw upon philosophical reasoning (just as cosmology supplies data upon which debate can be had on the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, etc.).

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 8:28 am

Ayer: “Yes, it is a debater’s trick because Craig is basically saying, I am willing to put my commitment to inerrancy aside and play by the secular rules, where I can establish the superiority of my case purely on the basis of historiography and philosophical reasoning.”

So, you say that Craig wants to play by secular rules to make his case above. And then you say,

Ayer: “Perhaps there is a canon of historiography that excludes supernatural explanations…, but philosophical reasoning certainly does not exclude them… So Craig had no need to bring theology qua theology into it.”

So, I’m confused as to how you think Craig’s introducing a supernatural explanation for a field that excludes them is playing by the secular rules. That seems a lot to me like conducting a lab experiment on water turning to ice, invoking the explanation that the water’s spirit left it, and calling that playing by science’s secular rules.

Once you invoke a supernatural explanation, you are not doing history, and you are not playing by secular rules. I don’t believe that Craig can claim to be using historical methodology when his proposed explanation is “God did it.” This should be obvious.

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lukeprog June 17, 2010 at 8:48 am

ayer,

“God raised Jesus from the dead” is not falsifiable for the same reason all supernatural hypotheses are not falsifiable, which is one of the major problems with such hypotheses. As for “the disciples stole the body,” this is falsifiable in principle, it’s just that at present we don’t have any way to do so because there is so little relevant evidence available to us.

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Thomas Reid June 17, 2010 at 8:48 am

Tony Hoffman,

You wrote:

Historians do not argue for supernatural explanations. Theologians do. History is a kind of soft science. For them, there is no evidence for a supernatural explanation, because their methodology does not accept it.

Something like the resurrection either is or is not history, by which I mean either did or did not occur in the past. Historians (those who study what happened in the past) with certain metaphysical presuppositions may not permit themselves to infer supernatural explanations from certain evidence, but that doesn’t mean that all cannot.

I agree with you 100% on your point here:

It’s the selection of the method that predicts the outcome, not the evidence.

Indeed. So if methodological naturalism is the assumed basis of your historical method, it should come as no surprise that supernatural explanations do not count as history. Why do you keep using this as an argument against supernatural explanations? It is circular reasoning:

Why do supernatural explanations not count as history? Because my method does not permit it. Why does the method not permit it? Because there is no historical evidence for supernatural events.

You may soften your position by saying that supernatural explanations should be invoked only on extremely rare occasions because we don’t encounter them in everyday situations. But that position is fully compatible with your opponent’s, who holds that miracles are rare by definition. If that is the case, then you need to argue alternative explanations.

I’ll note that I have seen you argue for alternative explanations, but I think you should stick with that and drop the “argument from method”, which is circular.

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Robert Gressis June 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

Luke, surely “God raised Jesus from the dead” is falsifiable. For instance, what if Jesus never rose from the dead?

I take it that what you’re saying that if Jesus rose from the dead, then we can’t possibly know that it was God as opposed to some weird tick of nature, or space aliens, or pixies?

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

Thomas Reid: “Something like the resurrection either is or is not history, by which I mean either did or did not occur in the past. Historians (those who study what happened in the past) with certain metaphysical presuppositions may not permit themselves to infer supernatural explanations from certain evidence, but that doesn’t mean that all cannot.”

No. That is like saying that some scientists are free to conduct alchemy. Either you obey the method, or you are doing your own thing. Which you are free to do, just don’t try and call it science, or history.

Thomas Reid: “Indeed. So if methodological naturalism is the assumed basis of your historical method, it should come as no surprise that supernatural explanations do not count as history. Why do you keep using this as an argument against supernatural explanations? It is circular reasoning:”

I don’t believe I have argued that anywhere. Where do you think I did this?

Thomas Reid: “I’ll note that I have seen you argue for alternative explanations, but I think you should stick with that and drop the “argument from method”, which is circular.”

I’m not sure what you mean by my arguing for “alternative explanations,” and I don’t know where you’ve seen me make the circular “argument from method.”

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ayer June 17, 2010 at 9:25 am

““God raised Jesus from the dead” is not falsifiable for the same reason all supernatural hypotheses are not falsifiable, which is one of the major problems with such hypotheses. As for “the disciples stole the body,” this is falsifiable in principle, it’s just that at present we don’t have any way to do so because there is so little relevant evidence available to us.”

If the “the disciples stole the body” (as that theory has been laid out by its proponents) were established with 100% certainty, then by definition “God raised Jesus from the dead” would be incorrect (that is certainly the conclusion arrived at the by the proponents of the “body-stolen” hypothesis). But in historical matters you are often dealing with probabilities, not certainties, so absolute “falsification” cannot be attained. That does not mean history is not a source of knowledge. We simply have to determine which explanation best explains the data we have.

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 9:45 am

Ayer: But in historical matters you are often dealing with probabilities, not certainties, so absolute “falsification” cannot be attained. That does not mean history is not a source of knowledge. We simply have to determine which explanation best explains the data we have.:

I don’t think the choice is between explanations, but methodologies. It is reasonable to conclude that because scientific methods are the best means we have of gaining knowledge of the natural world, that the same would be true of the past world.

It is more than reasonable in that it also predictable and verifiable. If we assume that that natural world behaved the same in the past as it does now, we can verify this by looking into the past at distant galaxies. Yup, gravity, light, the laws of physics appear to be consistent into the distant past, behaving just as we would expect them to look if they remained consistent with what we observe today.

So, applying methodological naturalism to the study of the past isn’t just a presupposition – it’s supported by observation. Those like Craig (and others arguing here) would have to resort to an ad hoc explanation of why supernatural events occurred in the past on earth when we do not observe them occurring in the past in the universe from today.

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lukeprog June 17, 2010 at 10:22 am

Robert,

Sorry, yes, that’s what I meant.

And if that could be falsifiable, but theologians rarely set things up so that it is falsifiable.

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Chris K June 17, 2010 at 11:31 am

Just curious: is it historiography’s job to give explanations for what has happened in history?

So, let’s say that either Jesus rose from the dead, or some people stole his body. Of course there could be other explanations, but let’s just stick with these two. Now, I take it that the historian’s job is to try to figure out what happened in history based on historical evidences of some sort or another. (Maybe a good question here is to figure out what counts as historical evidence.) But what if we don’t have enough historical evidence to determine if Jesus actually rose from the dead, or if some people stole his body? Then, it seems like we look for the best explanation of the evidence that we do have. But I wonder if historical methodology is the kind of thing that can give explanations at this point.

For example, if there is not relevant historical evidence at the moment to determine if some people stole Jesus’ body, could there be relevant historical evidence of the same kind that tells us that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Maybe, but I suspect that the evidence that people want to invoke here is not historical – perhaps it is scientific or philosophical evidence. But then the historian is out of her territory. So all the historian can say qua historian is that we don’t have enough historical evidence to decide the issue. It seems like anything beyond that would be a blend of historical, scientific, and philosophical considerations.

Or so my outside-the-field line of thinking goes…

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Chris K June 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

Also, I don’t understand the claim that history is a “soft science,” that its methodology is derived from natural science, and therefore doesn’t admit supernatural explanations. My sense is that the difference in subject matter is going to lead to a difference in what sorts of things that it can talk about and thus a different set of rules governing what we can say and what we can’t. So science can perhaps object to the statement, “Jesus rose from the dead,” based on what we know from biology, etc. But I don’t see how history can object in the same way at all. I don’t see how history in itself could object to or support either natural or supernatural explanations, where the historical evidence is inconclusive.

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ConsiderAtheism June 17, 2010 at 11:53 am

… And that gentleman, was how the universe was created.

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JMauldin June 17, 2010 at 12:19 pm

“You’re aware that the “verifiability criterion” has been discredited, right?”

Luke made my objection before I could so I’m going to simply second his comments and add “Master Craig taught you well he has…mmmmmmmm.”

“Yes, it is a debater’s trick because Craig is basically saying, I am willing to put my commitment to inerrancy aside and play by the secular rules, where I can establish the superiority of my case purely on the basis of historiography and philosophical reasoning.”

Uh huh. Or…Craig is no dummy and he knows full well that the resurrection hypothesis rests almost entirely on the credibility of the sources. If the sources can be discredited, then the “facts” he so confidently presented are suddenly on much shakier ground. Engaging with Dr. Ehrman in this line of questioning threatens to unravel his foundation. Since the credibility of his sources is paramount to his facts, refusing to address this issue appears to be a conscious effort to avoid the issue. Who’s using a “debater’s trick” again?

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ayer June 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm

“If the sources can be discredited, then the “facts” he so confidently presented are suddenly on much shakier ground. Engaging with Dr. Ehrman in this line of questioning threatens to unravel his foundation.”

Not at all. In fact, he is inviting Ehrman to engage his application of the historiographical criteria (dissimilarity, embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.) and debate on those grounds. Instead, Ehrman attempts to say that if the entire Bible is not inerrant, then no portion of the text can have any credibility. It’s not “all or nothing.” I understand that’s why Ehrman likely wants to move the debate to that ground, since his expertise is in finding minute textual variations in different manuscripts (and he appears to have trouble applying the historiographical criteria correctly, as Luke pointed out in another post); but then he should have only agreed to debate Craig on the topic “is the Bible inerrant?” Bad strategic choice on his part.

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Hermes June 17, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I wasn’t going to to post this, but what the hell.

Re: ‘natural’ vs. ‘supernatural’.

Personally, I don’t care for that artificial distinction since it dodges the issue and divides people into camps.

Yes, it is handy in distinguishing between rampant speculative assertions and more tangible demonstrations. It was quite useful to dig out from under the morass of mystical thinking that was prevalent in pre-Enlightenment Europe and the colonies, as well as many other places on the globe.

Yet, the real distinction we should make is between what is and what is not. Can a claim be demonstrated, even indirectly, or is it an assertion without impartial support? Does it stand up to thoughtful scrutiny even from those who will deal with facts and yet still oppose it? Does repeated scrutiny show the claim is still valid?

If the answers are yes, then it is reasonable to consider it to be real.

If any answer is no, then it is not demonstrated to be real, and those who support it should not claim that it is.

Yes, this is not rigorous. It is practical. It is even simplistic. A dozen of you can probably identify ways to improve on this, and a dozen more will point out philosophical problems with this approach or problems with methods, but it’s hard to deny the utility.

* * *

Now, it happens to be that natural explanations are often both verifiable and reliable. They address questions directly, probably because they deal in things that few people deny; stuff.

Even in trivial things like cook books, the explanations are simple and direct — not mystical. Yes, reading a recipe doesn’t make you a chef. You may still burn the rice or have soggy crust in your pie. You may have to take months to years to get a single recipe just right.

The point is application; do claims apply unambiguously or are they just arbitrary or abstract assertions?

* * *

The problem with dogmatic and theistic explanations is that they exist as abstract assertions and don’t rise above that. Where is this Jesus? Nobody seems to have known for quite a few years, then they ‘remembered’. Part of that remembering is by a man that didn’t even meet Jesus.

At that point, there’s no work for the historians to do besides catalog these assertions and claims and note who most likely made those claims.

They can’t say what happened, only that other people said different things. They are left at best noting discrepancies between that hearsay and other events recorded elsewhere or that were not recorded but should have been because they were noteworthy.

As such, without better sources, theists are left with a dwindling argument not one that grows to become more credible.

Attempting to support claims with supernatural what-ifs while ignoring the work needed to support those claims is no different from playing a round of Calvinball.

On the other hand, deriding natural events in general destroys any sense of fairness and renders all claims incoherent; it is a nuclear weapon in a chess match and a losing maneuver.

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Chris K June 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Hermes, what do you mean by “deriding natural events in general”?

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Hermes June 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Chris K, give me a second. I have a large vocabulary and occasionally pick words that surprise me as well. [checks] OK, how about this.

Changing as few words as possible, what I meant was;

…being derisive [scornful, mocking] towards any comments that include natural explanations and evidence…

In other words, remembering the cook book example, the last paragraph could be written like this;

If someone tosses out all natural explanations and evidence, they are destroying much of the common ground that we normally rely on. For example, cook books are written with direct explanations not abstract or mystical ones. That focus is practical and implicit, weather you call it natural or not, and doesn’t differ from much of what is being criticized in other non-cooking areas of study.

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Chris K June 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Ah, I see.

It does happen that the supernatural explanation given for the resurrection does get some pretty practical applications – some utility. For example, Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bones.” There’s also the bit from 1 Cor. 15. I’m not sure if this works as the kind of practicality you’re thinking of, but I think it’s safe to say that this supernatural explanation is far from abstract. Sure, natural explanations have quite reliable utility in the empirical realm, as supernatural explanations have utility in its own realm, be that lived experience or whatever. I don’t think that if one posits a supernatural explanation, natural explanations and the utility we get from them has to be abandoned. It seems rather that there’s just an added layer of explanation.

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JS Allen June 17, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Haha, awesome review!

I wonder why some people are so incredulous of resurrection from the dead or interstellar spaceships? How would you know it was interstellar, anyway? You can’t tell just by looking at it.

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Steven Carr June 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Ordinary events demand ordinary evidence.

I see Licona has abandonded trying to demonstrate that there was an empty tomb.

This is game over for Licona. He doesn’t even get a consolation prize.

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Hermes June 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Chris K, how is that practical — more direct — to a Hindu in the same way that a book on Thai cooking would be? Everyone can make use of a cook book, and there’s no mystery to it beyond what you bring to it.

As for …

I think it’s safe to say that this supernatural explanation is far from abstract.

… following a quote from Romans and a reference to Corinthians, I take it that you consider those to be supernatural explanations that are not abstract?

Re-read both quotes, then imagine explaining what either means to a 5 year old who is not Christian. Watch how often you have to layer on indirection and explain what each special word actually means as opposed to what it’s saying. Each part is loaded with idioms, personifications, and words not used that way anywhere else. It’s clear to me that they are layered abstractions.

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Eric June 18, 2010 at 12:32 am

Ayer –
““No, the explanation itself also has to be plausible on its own and not just more plausible than other explanations you can think of. Extra-ordinary claims still require extra-ordinary evidence.”

No, I’m afraid that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of the probability calculus involved. As Craig noted in his debate with Ehrman: “Specifically, Dr. Ehrman just ignores the crucial factors of the probability of the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection…. If these are sufficiently low, they outbalance any intrinsic improbability of the resurrection hypothesis.” ”

You seriously don’t see the issue with this. The is the thing that annoys me about Theistic logic. They take the naturalistic explanations and find probabilities based on natural law. They then decide that, if the probability of naturalistic explanation is too low, the supernatual explanation is somehow better. The problem is that, if you are going to compare the likelihoods of two competing explanations, you need to compare probabilities. The problem is that, while one has an established low probability, the other one has absolutely no assigned probability. So how can you determine it is a better explanation if you haven’t assigned a probability? I could just as easily come up with any boneheaded supernatural explanation and define it out of testability. Does it mean it is any better of an explanation than your supernatural explanation?

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Rhys Wilkins June 18, 2010 at 2:51 am

Something would have to be ridiculously unlikely to outweigh the intrinsic improbability of a man literally cheating the 2nd law of thermodynamics and flying magically out of his tomb. It’s more likely that the empty tomb was a made up story and that a bunch of schizotypal hysterical religious fanatics had some mass hallucinations and became really convinced of some outrageously implausible bullshit. It also explains why a Sky God would only choose to reveal itself once (assuming a resurrection implies divinity), to a bunch of superstitious Bronze Age goat herders in some random, unheard-of place 2 millennia ago. These kinds of things happen. Magic does not happen.

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Thomas Reid June 18, 2010 at 3:01 am

[My comments keep getting eaten, sorry if this ends up being a re-post. It's the third time I've tried this. Any ideas Luke?]

Thomas Reid: Something like the resurrection either is or is not history, by which I mean either did or did not occur in the past. Historians (those who study what happened in the past) with certain metaphysical presuppositions may not permit themselves to infer supernatural explanations from certain evidence, but that doesn’t mean that all cannot.
Tony Hoffman: No. That is like saying that some scientists are free to conduct alchemy. Either you obey the method, or you are doing your own thing. Which you are free to do, just don’t try and call it science, or history.

This is simply false. Historiography has had man many strains. Plutarch, Josephus, Eusebius, and Hegel all had varying methodologies, none of which included defining out of existence supernatural explanations of things. You are filtering all methods through your own metaphysical position and then declaring only those that pass to be a trustworthy process.

Thomas Reid: Indeed. So if methodological naturalism is the assumed basis of your historical method, it should come as no surprise that supernatural explanations do not count as history. Why do you keep using this as an argument against supernatural explanations? It is circular reasoning:
Tony Hoffman: I don’t believe I have argued that anywhere. Where do you think I did this?

As near as I can tell, your position is that it is not possible to argue positively that the resurrection occurred in the past (that is, it is a historical fact) by drawing an inference from other historical facts. This is because, according to you, the nature of the inquiry (which must presuppose only natural explanations for events) does not permit it. Then, you reason that because it’s not possible to argue positively for the fact, you can conclude it didn’t happen. Well, that is circular.

Thomas Reid: I’ll note that I have seen you argue for alternative explanations, but I think you should stick with that and drop the “argument from method”, which is circular.
Tony Hoffman: I’m not sure what you mean by my arguing for “alternative explanations,” and I don’t know where you’ve seen me make the circular “argument from method.”

I mean an alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. You argue for that, as well as defending the “argument from method”, on this site, back on the “Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection” thread from Nov. 30, 2009. [I'm not giving a link in case that is what is preventing me from submitting comments.]

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Tony Hoffman June 18, 2010 at 4:56 am

Ayer: “Not at all. In fact, he is inviting Ehrman to engage his application of the historiographical criteria (dissimilarity, embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.) and debate on those grounds. Instead, Ehrman attempts to say that if the entire Bible is not inerrant, then no portion of the text can have any credibility.”

This seems either unimaginative or uncharitable. I would say that if Ehrman can demonstrate that the bible is not inerrant, then we could compare the probability that the bible’s account of a miraculous event is factually incorrect with the probability that miraculous event occurred. With regard to the resurrection, a single, meaningless typo in the Bible would be all that we need to have the Bible prove itself more fallible than the “when dead, stays dead” rule. And with the Bible, we have more than (ahem) a single typo.

Saying that the inerrancy of the Bible, which provides our only data of the claimed event, is irrelevant to the debate is like saying that there’s no need to test my device that I say verifies I have invented a perpetual motion machine. It’s not just a debater’s trick; it’s preposterous. Milk. Nose. Laughing so hard it snorts out of preposterous.

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Tony Hoffman June 18, 2010 at 5:23 am

Thomas Reid: “Historiography has had man many strains. Plutarch, Josephus, Eusebius, and Hegel all had varying methodologies, none of which included defining out of existence supernatural explanations of things. You are filtering all methods through your own metaphysical position and then declaring only those that pass to be a trustworthy process.”

This post is talking about historical methods as they are understood and applied today by people who are involved in the field of History. As I said, if you want to explain how God effected the Missouri Compromise in order to set the stage for confrontation of the U.S. Civile war, you are free to write that essay. You will, however, fail the essay section of the U.S. History AP test with that one.

“As near as I can tell, your position is that it is not possible to argue positively that the resurrection occurred in the past (that is, it is a historical fact) by drawing an inference from other historical facts. This is because, according to you, the nature of the inquiry (which must presuppose only natural explanations for events) does not permit it. Then, you reason that because it’s not possible to argue positively for the fact, you can conclude it didn’t happen. Well, that is circular.”

I think that the first sentence above I would agree with. I don’t agree with the second, and the third is bizarre. I don’t think you will find me arguing those anywhere, so I’d appreciate it if you would not attribute those to me.

Thomas Reid: “I mean an alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. You argue for that, as well as defending the “argument from method”, on this site, back on the “Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection” thread from Nov. 30, 2009. [I'm not giving a link in case that is what is preventing me from submitting comments.]”

I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with publishing your comments to the site. I do agree that there are many, many plausible natural explanations for the historical documents we find in the Bible, all of which are more plausible than supernatural explanations. But I still don’t think you have accurately described my criticism of Craig (et al.’s) historical approach as an argument for the resurrection. Let me know if you need me to state my objection as an argument, although I think my comments here are fairly obvious as to what that argument would be.

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ayer June 18, 2010 at 6:18 am

“I would say that if Ehrman can demonstrate that the bible is not inerrant, then we could compare the probability that the bible’s account of a miraculous event is factually incorrect with the probability that miraculous event occurred. With regard to the resurrection, a single, meaningless typo in the Bible would be all that we need to have the Bible prove itself more fallible than the “when dead, stays dead” rule.”

If inerrancy is put aside, then both Craig and Ehrman must apply the historiographical criteria to the text to determine which facts (even “minimal facts”) are established from those sources which may be errant in other areas. And the majority of New Testament scholars have accepted the minimal facts Craig uses. One typo found elsewhere in the Bible is irrelevant to that. Ehrman’s job is to either disagree with the majority of scholars that those minimal facts have, indeed, been established, or accept those minimal facts and come up with an explanation of them that better meets the explanatory criteria laid out by McCollough. His task is clear. (Richard Carrier understood it, and at least debated Craig on those terms). However, I understand Ehrman does much better in debates on the narrow question of whether the Bible is inerrant (e.g., recent debate with Craig Evans). It appears he should stick to those.

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Steven Carr June 18, 2010 at 7:19 am

AYER
And the majority of New Testament scholars have accepted the minimal facts Craig uses

CARR
Translation.

Licona has abandoned trying to claim the empty tomb is a fact, and Craig never does establish it was a fact.

Ayer turns tail anytime anybody asks him why the Gospels are different from Harry Potter, a book full of references to real places (King’s Cross Station for example), but full of people that nobody has ever seen.

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Tony Hoffman June 18, 2010 at 7:24 am

Ayer: “If inerrancy is put aside, then both Craig and Ehrman must apply the historiographical criteria to the text to determine which facts (even “minimal facts”) are established from those sources which may be errant in other areas. And the majority of New Testament scholars have accepted the minimal facts Craig uses. One typo found elsewhere in the Bible is irrelevant to that. Ehrman’s job is to either disagree with the majority of scholars that those minimal facts have, indeed, been established, or accept those minimal facts and come up with an explanation of them that better meets the explanatory criteria laid out by McCollough. His task is clear. (Richard Carrier understood it, and at least debated Craig on those terms). However, I understand Ehrman does much better in debates on the narrow question of whether the Bible is inerrant (e.g., recent debate with Craig Evans). It appears he should stick to those.”

No. This is a basic sleight of hand move – I’m surprised you would buy into it.

The sleight of hand occurs where Craig shuttles the historical authenticity of the descriptions of the Resurrection (no argument there) into a separate compartment deemed as “facts.”

It is a fact that the Biblle contains descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection. It is not a fact that those descriptions necessarily relate to historical events. I can accept the fact that the documents describe a resurrection, but I am not required (as you seem to think anyone debating the issue must be) to conceding that these descriptions relate to actual events. To do would require us to accept as fact any event related in a historically authenticated document.

The live question in history isn’t just, “Are these documents authentic,” but also, “How does the description relate to reality.” Craig would like Ehrman et al. to accept that the accounts of the NT are either inauthentic or they relate to reality. This is a false dilemma.

According to your logic, if I write on a piece of paper “I flew to work today,” we have only two options: we must demonstrate that I did not actually write “I flew to work today,” or we must accept as a fact that I flew to work today and come up with an explanation of how it is that I did that.

It’s a debater’s trick because Craig is falsely declaring that Ehrman has only the two options he describes, thus denying to Ehrman the argument that the best explanation for the documents is that they don’t correspond to actual events.

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ayer June 18, 2010 at 7:28 am

I will give Carr this: even though he appears to be in the “Jesus was a myth” school, he at least addresses the merits of Craig’s argument by challenging the “minimal facts” themselves, instead of holding to “inerrancy or nothing” or “Craig’s argument cannot be heard because it violates the methodological atheism demanded by the canons of historiography.” I think Robert Price also holds to the “Jesus as myth” position and actually had a debate with Craig (?) But I haven’t had a chance to listen to that one yet.

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Thomas Reid June 18, 2010 at 8:36 am

Tony,
In response to my:

As near as I can tell, your position is that it is not possible to argue positively that the resurrection occurred in the past (that is, it is a historical fact) by drawing an inference from other historical facts. This is because, according to you, the nature of the inquiry (which must presuppose only natural explanations for events) does not permit it. Then, you reason that because it’s not possible to argue positively for the fact, you can conclude it didn’t happen.

You wrote:

I think that the first sentence above I would agree with. I don’t agree with the second, and the third is bizarre. I don’t think you will find me arguing those anywhere, so I’d appreciate it if you would not attribute those to me.

But apparently you do believe the second sentence, because you said up-thread in conversation with ayer:

Historians do not argue for supernatural explanations. Theologians do. History is a kind of soft science. For them, there is no evidence for a supernatural explanation, because their methodology does not accept it.

So according to your own comments, the nature of the inquiry does not permit supernatural explanations. How do you think I’ve misunderstood you?

Now if you don’t agree with that third sentence, that is fine, but then it seems to me you’re not really arguing for much any more. For apparently you have adopted a certain method of historical inquiry which you believe is not adequate to argue the case one way or the other – it depends on metaphysics as well. But, that is entirely consistent with Licona’s position.

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Chris K June 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

Hermes,

You’re right; I’ve fallen for the old natural/supernatural dichotomy. Instead of arguing for the practicality of supernatural explanations, I should be arguing for the practicality of personal explanations. Swinburne has a good chapter on the nature of explanation including distinctions between scientific and personal explanations in his The Existence of God, albeit he is using it for different purposes. I’m not denying that the natural explanations found in a cookbook have a strong kind of empirical practicality not found in other kinds of explanations, although the cookbook might not be the best example for universal practicality: What if it is in a language I don’t read? What if I can’t identify what the ingredients are or how to obtain them? Anywho, the point is that personal explanations lend themselves to a different kind of practicality than scientific explanations. (Swinburne argues that personal explanations can’t be reduced to analyses of scientific explanations.)

So the point of my Bible snippets was to say that on the level of practicality, the personal explanation found in the resurrection offers the same kind of practical benefit as, say my friend acting on my behalf. The same divine agent who acted on Jesus’ behalf can also act on my behalf. The Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, can also raise me from the dead. That’s my stab at how I would explain it to a 5-year old. So to my understanding of the words “practical” and “abstract,” I would say that this is practical. No, it’s not practical in the same way as when dealing with ready-to-hand objects (Heidegger, anyone?), as in being able to achieve some end by following instructions. But then, it’s just the case that personal explanations in general don’t offer this kind of practicality. This doesn’t mean, however, that personal explanations are of no use to anybody.

Maybe we’re just trading on different understandings of the words practical and abstract.

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Tony Hoffman June 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Thomas Reid,

I said that I didn’t agree with your second sentence because you attributed my position (that one cannot make a historical case for the resurrection) to a historical methodology that presupposes natural events. I disagreed with your statement because the reason one can’t make a historical case for the resurrection is that there is no evidence that supernatural events do occur. Don’t blame the methodology; blame a complete lack of verifiable supernatural occurrences with which the historian could then explain past events. Without those, the historian has nothing to work with.

Thomas Reid: “For apparently you have adopted a certain method of historical inquiry which you believe is not adequate to argue the case one way or the other – it depends on metaphysics as well.“

No. It is a stone cold lock historical case that the resurrection did not occur. If it did somehow occur, history isn’t how we’d come to that conclusion. You see, we have all kinds of evidence today, and very well-documented past evidence, of people: creating (consciously and unconsciously) false beliefs, inventing, lying, being deceived, having hallucinations, being gullible, willing themselves to believe, evolving stories, developing structures and groups, creating cults, establishing and conforming to doctrines, spreading religion through prosletyizing and breeding, dying for false beliefs, etc. And all of this is data against which a single event for which we have no other sample. None.

Truly, the resurrection is the worst possible historical explanation I can imagine.

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Thomas Reid June 18, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Tony,
I won’t comment any more after this because it seems like we’re talking past one another. From my perspective you aren’t seeing the problem with your stance. Of course I wouldn’t be surprised if you think the same of me with respect to mine.

In any event, you said:

…I didn’t agree with your second sentence because you attributed my position (that one cannot make a historical case for the resurrection) to a historical methodology that presupposes natural events. I disagreed with your statement because the reason one can’t make a historical case for the resurrection is that there is no evidence that supernatural events do occur.

Again I have to ask: how do you know that “there is no evidence that supernatural events do occur”? It’s because you are choosing your methodology first, and then building your case with that methodology. You simply cannot rule out a priori supernatural events unless you first commit yourself to naturalism, otherwise it’s just not possible to do without a non-circular argument.

Further on, you said:

It is a stone cold lock historical case that the resurrection did not occur. If it did somehow occur, history isn’t how we’d come to that conclusion.

So on the one hand you’re saying it didn’t happen, and on the other you’re saying it might have happened? Or are you again confirming that your method is not capable of arguing one way or another for whether the resurrection occurred? If it’s the latter, then the only reason to be thoroughly confident in your method (and therefore your conclusion) is if you are also committed to naturalism.

You see, we have all kinds of evidence today, and very well-documented past evidence, of people: creating (consciously and unconsciously) false beliefs, inventing, lying, being deceived, having hallucinations, being gullible, willing themselves to believe, evolving stories, developing structures and groups, creating cults, establishing and conforming to doctrines, spreading religion through prosletyizing and breeding, dying for false beliefs, etc. And all of this is data against which a single event for which we have no other sample.

That’s why it’s called a miracle, right? Is this supposed to be an argument? These observations on human nature are consistent with the Christian position.

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Tony Hoffman June 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm

TR: “You simply cannot rule out a priori supernatural events unless you first commit yourself to naturalism, otherwise it’s just not possible to do without a non-circular argument.”

I don’t rule out supernatural events any more than I rule out the tooth fairy. I just see no compelling evidence to think that supernatural events occur or that the tooth fairy exists, and so I suspend my belief in them until I have seen some evidence that they occur. I am open to your case for supernatural events; make one.

TR: “So on the one hand you’re saying it didn’t happen, and on the other you’re saying it might have happened?”

Well, I said: “It is a stone cold lock historical case that the resurrection did not occur. If it did somehow occur, history isn’t how we’d come to that conclusion.”

What I’ve been trying to say is that the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus is an obvious dead letter. That’s because of two basic things: the probabilities that common natural explanations account for all the evidence far exceed the chance that an event that has never been observed (like the resurrection) will have occurred; and because if supernatural events are a live option, there is no way to determine where and when the supernatural occurrences end (was the memory of Jesus falsely created supernaturally? was Jesus Satan in disguise? Did supernatural agents invent the Bible and the past? did Paul see Satan instead of Jesus? was it a demon that came to the writers of the NT? Where does it end?)

The study of history is about finding all the data and determining the best explanation based on probabilities. There is no way to account for the resurrection as a supernatural event because it can’t be considered more probable than a countless number of possible events that we do have experience with. Hence, the historical argument for the resurrection being dead on arrival. If you find it persuasive, trust me, it’s not because of the historical evidence.

So, how does one make a compelling historical argument that Jesus was resurrected? The answer is simple: resurrect somebody, and show us that what you believe is possible. Otherwise, get in line with everybody else who wants a special exemption from critical thinking when it comes to their religious claims.

TR: “That’s why it’s called a miracle, right? Is this supposed to be an argument? These observations on human nature are consistent with the Christian position.”

I think your position is that the resurrection occurred despite all of our experiences. That’s fine, but it’s not a historical argument. That’s a faith argument, and you’re welcome to it.

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ayer June 19, 2010 at 6:50 am

“The study of history is about finding all the data and determining the best explanation based on probabilities. There is no way to account for the resurrection as a supernatural event because it can’t be considered more probable than a countless number of possible events that we do have experience with. ”

“Can’t” be considered more probable? That’s called “ruling it out.” Now maybe it “isn’t” more probable based on the evidence; but then that requires the hard work of actually engaging the arguments. Of course, you can take the line that the atheist does not have to engage the arguments because the supernatural can never be considered more probable, but you are only going to end up convincing people who are already atheists. Those on the fence and watching a debate between, e.g., Craig and Ehrman are likely going to be of the view that the atheist is trying to pull a fast one.

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Tony Hoffman June 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

Ayer: ‘”Can’t” be considered more probable? That’s called “ruling it out.”’

I’m not ruling it out, I’m saying it appears incalculable. If you have an argument, then demonstrate in some non-fallacious way how often the supernatural world causes events in the natural world, the methodology you distinguishing supernatural from natural causes, and the methodology for distinguishing the cause of supernatural events (not demons, Satan, the tooth fairy, etc.), then we would have some way of making a historical argument for the resurrection. Until you provide data for any of these things, the attempt to include them as part of a historical explanation is completely vapid.

Ayer: “Of course, you can take the line that the atheist does not have to engage the arguments because the supernatural can never be considered more probable, but you are only going to end up convincing people who are already atheists.”

On this I think I can agree with you.

Ayer: “Those on the fence and watching a debate between, e.g., Craig and Ehrman are likely going to be of the view that the atheist is trying to pull a fast one.”

All right. I’d say that the observers on my side of the court will probably groan about the theists apparent ignorance of other historical events and the abuse of historical terms and methodology.

As an aside, I would add that from this discussion and others like it theists appear to be as ignorant of History and historical methodology as atheists are purported to be about philosophy. I think the best way to fix this is to read a lot of history, something I’m beginning to wonder if many theists do.

I read history and popular science books almost exclusively, because that’s what I’m interested in. I’d be curious to hear from theists who visit here what proportion of the books they read (and how often read books, as opposed articles and internet discussion, etc.) are books on non-Christian historical topics.

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Rhys Wilkins June 21, 2010 at 3:29 am

I thought of an analogy to the whole Jesus thing.

Suppose you get a call one day from a salesperson. Enthusiastically, he declares to you that after many years of assiduous effort, trial and error, he has just created the worlds first perpetual motion machine. You scoff “ha! No way. Perpetual motion machines are all but impossible according to the most basic laws of physics. Everyone claiming to have produced the genuine thing has either been exposed as a con artist or mysteriously vanished when asked to test it under controlled conditions.” The salesperson retorts “but no sir! For I have actually achieved what noone else could! You see, I managed to design a machine which is powered by the everlasting omnipotent breath of Our Heavenly Father! He in His kindness and grace has bestowed upon my machine the totally nature-defying ability to continue in motion for all eternity!” You reply, “Dude you clearly don’t get it, it is simply not possible! Perpetual motion machines cannot be made! The Second Law of Thermodynamics does not permit them! You do realize that the claims you are making cannot be true don’t you?

Ah but therein lies your anti-supernatural bias” he replies. “I do not suppose that this machine operates via NATURAL process. I agree that is fantastically improbable! What I am saying is that GOD wills this machine into perpetual motion, I don’t see anything intrinsically improbable about that!

Now judging by the way most Christians evaluate the Resurrection story, they would have to say, “Yeah. You don’t need to provide me with extraordinary evidence. I would accept that you have made a perpetual motion machine if you and some of your friends really, truthfuly, honestly, sincerely, genuinely testified to its authenticity. I don’t even have to see the machine and examine it under carefully controlled conditions, because I am open to supernatural explanations!

If not, then you suck, you special pleading double standardizer ;)

The reason I think perpetual motion machines are an especially pertinent analogy is that the Jesus story and perpetual motion machines both claim to cheat the same law of physics. Saying Goddidit jettisons the improbability of an entropy violation really seems to be desperate, confused special thinking. Evangelical Christian apologists can’t understand the magnitude of what they are asserting here.

As Arthur Eddington remarked, “if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” Granted, he may have been talking about cosmological theories in this quote, but I don’t see any reason why this same line of reasoning doesn’t also pertain to magical explanations of events in history.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 3:39 am

Thomas Reid: Again I have to ask: how do you know that “there is no evidence that supernatural events do occur”? It’s because you are choosing your methodology first, and then building your case with that methodology. You simply cannot rule out a priori supernatural events unless you first commit yourself to naturalism, otherwise it’s just not possible to do without a non-circular argument.

A few questions;

1. What is a ‘supernatural event’?

2. Can you demonstrate one?

The people who advocate supernaturalism keep on coming up with nothing, while the naturalists seem to have an abundance. Maybe you are different and know something the other supernaturalists do not?

(I’m not a naturalist, but it’s hard to fault them for lack of evidence or demonstration.)

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 3:58 am

Ayer, same set of questions.

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Atheist.pig June 21, 2010 at 7:55 am

@Hermes

I’m not a naturalist, but it’s hard to fault them for lack of evidence or demonstration.

How would your position be different from a naturalist position?

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 8:50 am

I don’t see it as a necessary distinction, though I admit it can be handy when dealing with woo and other nonsense. The supernaturalists seem to have an incoherent position, so tossing out that nonsense for the time being we have … reality. If they can show something normally labeled supernatural is part of reality, they are responsible to demonstrate it. That demonstration, if provided, would not drag in all supernatural claims as valid just as natural explanations can and are found to not reflect reality.

Secondly, naturalism is a frame of mind that could (in theory) overlook non-natural — not by definition supernatural — ideas or events. It could be that what naturalism describes is not identical to reality.

Following those ideas, I do make the minor leap that if something is shown to be true in nature, it is not possible at the same time to be false through some other method. This is the case even if there are non-natural valid descriptions of reality demonstrable elsewhere.

The flip side could be true, but the non-natural proofs are thin outside of abstract logic. (This is probably why people with supernatural leanings tend to ignore natural sources and focus on abstract non-natural ones, logical or not. What they forget is that the two (if true) won’t lead to contradictory results; they can’t both be right if they don’t point to the same conclusions.)

So, an example…

When I make the argument that there is no such thing as incorporeal souls, and I give evidence from nature-based sources — mostly methodological naturalism through the practice of science — and some logic. The idea is shown to be incoherent and in direct conflict with both evidence and logic. This leaves no room for incorporeal souls. This at the same time eliminates an afterlife. Supernaturalism does not resolve these problems, so even theistic religious people should admit this.

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Thomas Reid June 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hi Hermes,

I was kind of wondering when this would be brought up, and I sort of suspected you would be the bringer-upper. You asked:

1. What is a ’supernatural event’?

2. Can you demonstrate one?

1. I’m using the following: anything caused by God or casued by something like God.

2. I just typed on this keyboard. Since I am in immaterial soul, the typing on my keyboard has as part of it’s causal history a supernatural event (namely, my willing to do it). Did you have something else in mind when you asked for a “demonstration”?

If we take “miracle” to be an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs (Merriam-Webster), then we’ll note that a miracle is a type of supernatural event, but a supernatural event is not necessarily a miracle. So the typing on the keyboard is an unmiraculous supernatural event.

I’m not sure what you mean here:

The people who advocate supernaturalism keep on coming up with nothing, while the naturalists seem to have an abundance. Maybe you are different and know something the other supernaturalists do not?

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Tony Hoffman June 21, 2010 at 9:52 am

TR: “2. I just typed on this keyboard. Since I am in immaterial soul, the typing on my keyboard has as part of it’s causal history a supernatural event (namely, my willing to do it). Did you have something else in mind when you asked for a “demonstration”?”

Um, yeah, something that wasn’t circular would be a starter. I find it richly funny that your soul typed this earlier as well.

TR: “You simply cannot rule out a priori supernatural events unless you first commit yourself to naturalism, otherwise it’s just not possible to do without a non-circular argument.”

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 9:58 am

I would accept that you have made a perpetual motion machine if you and some of your friends really, truthfuly, honestly, sincerely, genuinely testified to its authenticity.

That’s a pretty terrible analogy. Nobody can credibly witness to having seen a perpetual motion machine, since you’d have to live forever to verify that it was truly perpetual. On the other hand, it’s actually possible to witness to the fact that someone who was dead is now alive.

The reason I think perpetual motion machines are an especially pertinent analogy is that the Jesus story and perpetual motion machines both claim to cheat the same law of physics.

How, exactly, is the second law of thermodynamics cheated when a dead person comes back to life? Clinically dead people do come back to life, every now and then; it is called Lazarus syndrome. How long does a person have to be clinically dead before the second law of thermodynamics applies?

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

When I make the argument that there is no such thing as incorporeal souls, and I give evidence from nature-based sources — mostly methodological naturalism through the practice of science — and some logic. The idea is shown to be incoherent and in direct conflict with both evidence and logic.

Can you elaborate on this? Which idea is incoherent? The idea that you could use methodological naturalism to disprove the existence of an immaterial soul, or the idea of an immaterial soul?

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

Thomas, you said you are immaterial soul. If you want to demonstrate that, go for it. Once you do, then you have to show that to be an instance of something supernatural.

Note: See my previous comments to Atheist.pig.
Related: No [incorporeal] souls, no way to get to an afterlife

Unfortunately, you’re making it very very hard on yourself by tying it to strictly theistic concepts (possibly unnecessarily).

Do you want to reconsider your answers and example?

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Thomas Reid June 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

Hi Tony,

TR: 2. I just typed on this keyboard. Since I am in immaterial soul, the typing on my keyboard has as part of it’s causal history a supernatural event (namely, my willing to do it). Did you have something else in mind when you asked for a “demonstration”?

TH: Um, yeah, something that wasn’t circular would be a starter.

I didn’t see anything circular with my example, could you expand your charge? I don’t need to know anything about miracles or the resurrection before reasoning towards the existence of an immaterial soul.

TH: I find it richly funny that your soul typed this earlier as well.
TR:You simply cannot rule out a priori supernatural events unless you first commit yourself to naturalism, otherwise it’s just not possible to do without a non-circular argument.

Why is that richly funny? I believe in material, efficient, and agent causation, and am open to any and all of those explanations for events that occurred in the past. I don’t rule any of them out beforehand.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

JS Allen: Can you elaborate on this?

Sure.

* * *

If water is actually boiled, that fact does not become false if a non-natural explanation is provided that is different. The existence of a natural explanation *or not* also does not change that fact either. Reality is unchanged and the water boils (a truism in this instance).

With that example as a truism and keeping in mind the law of identity …

If a valid explanation is provided to explain the water boiling (natural explanation or some non-natural explanation) and another explanation is provided (non-natural or natural), the two must not be contradictory.

I realize this can be nit picked, but it is practical. To continue with the water example…

If a natural explanation is provided showing that it is a combination of heat, pressure, and contaminants in the water that describes how the water boils it is not consistent to then attribute a will to the water that makes the water boil regardless of the details described in the natural explanation.

So, if you say the water boils because it was heated up and I say the water willed itself to boil and the heat was not a factor, we can’t both be correct. If I say the heat encouraged the water a little bit, but it could have willed itself to not boil, there is still a contradiction and we both can’t be right.

Similar examinations can be given for showing why the world wide flood described in Genesis is not an actual event and why mermaids (as traditionally described) are not likely.

* * *

With the above in mind…

The concept of incorporeal souls — through natural, supernatural, or other means — is incoherent since it contradicts what we see in reality. Some details on this are provided here;

No [incorporeal] souls, no way to get to an afterlife

In sum; It fails to retain coherence because of logic and factual evidence.

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Thomas Reid June 21, 2010 at 10:54 am

Hi Hermes,

Thomas, you said you are immaterial soul. If you want to demonstrate that, go for it. Once you do, then you have to show that to be an instance of something supernatural.

Sure, I understand that. The conversation between myself and Tony wasn’t really about the existence of souls, it was about what constituted an appropriate historical method. The existence of souls is of course relevant to the discussion given that they would be a means to instantiate a supernatural event. But it seemed that Tony was graciously acknowledging their possibility as a means to advance our discussion, and that the question then was, is it a viable option to consider such events when doing history.

Unfortunately, you’re making it very very hard on yourself by tying it to strictly theistic concepts (possibly unnecessarily).

Do you want to reconsider your answers and example?

I appreciate your concern, but no, I don’t. I take agent causation to be a form of supernatural event (and I might say the only form if pressed), and God to be the paradigm case of an agent. Strictly speaking though, you are correct, I think it’s possible to debate the existence of souls without reference to God per se. I could strip out the properties that I take to be “like God” and could simply discuss those, as in my typing example above.

I’ll check out your link arguing against the existence of souls, thanks.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 11:10 am

@Hermes – I don’t see the relevance of your discussion about water boiling to the topic of an immaterial soul. The 11 points on your blog seem more on-topic. Some reactions:

1. Death is not a clear line; on one side alive, on the other completely dead.

This is common sense. I don’t understand the relevance. People who believe in immaterial souls do not need to believe that there is a clear line.

2. Organ transplants. Even when ‘we’ cease to be, parts of us are still coherent, allowing organ transplants. There is even a method of blood extraction from corpses that is used occasionally.

So? We have empirical reason to believe that you would still remain “you”, even if all of your organs and cells were replaced. This includes neurons.

3. All of our thoughts while we are alive are contained in a structure of neurons. This can be seen in a variety of well documented cases from Phineas Gage through to the impacts of severing the corpus colosum and the impacts of traumas such as strokes and alzheimers as well as the structures found that map nerves to a variety of tasks and thoughts.

Christians believe that the soul requires a body, which is why bodily resurrection is preached. I’m not sure how this would disprove the existence of the soul.

4. When people start to die, the brain is frequently one of the last organs to be starved of oxygen.

Yes.

5. The ‘tunnel of light’ is caused by the visual cortex losing oxygen and the remaining parts of the brain attempting to deal with that. The same ‘tunnel’ can be simulated. Pilots experience this when they use a centrifuge under high G forces for training or to test new gear. Both these are documented and can be duplicated with the proper equipment and/or circumstances.

6. People who live after being through this oxygen starvation tell stories based on their brain’s attempt to deal with the stress. They talk about ‘flash backs’, they talk about ‘stepping outside’ of themselves and seeing themselves. The same thing the pilots in the centrifuges report.

Absolutely correct. The research on ketamine-induced NDE is the most interesting, IMO. But I don’t know what this proves. The fact that I can trigger an NDE with ketamine does not mean that all NDEs are caused the same way, or even that ketamine-induced NDEs fail to put one in touch with the supernatural.

That would be kind of like telling a psychic crystal ball reader, “You’re not doing anything special; that crystal ball is made out of glass!” I don’t believe in psychics, BTW, but that would be an invalid criticism.

7. The more time the brain or any organ is starved, the more damage.

Correct.

8. People don’t act any differently from more damage (that brings them closer to complete death and thus an ‘afterlife’) then other victims of brain damage.

I don’t understand this sentence. It sound like you’re saying “People with brain damage act like other people with the same amount of brain damage”.

9. When people ‘come back’ from ‘the dead’ their bodies have not suffered complete cell death; they weren’t completely dead.

Well, sure. This is circular reasoning. You need to define “completely dead”, since you obviously mean something different than “clinically dead”. If you define “completely dead” to mean “didn’t ever come back to life”, it’s kind of a silly tautology, isn’t it?

10. When cell death is complete, there is no place for ‘us’ to stand; there is no way to ‘see the other side’ and return to talk about it.

This seems oddly off tangent. You seem to be saying that, “even if there were an immaterial soul, it wouldn’t be able to return to talk about what comes after”. That’s an interesting topic, but completely different from what you set out to prove.

11. Think back to #3. Now, with that in mind, where do ‘we’ go if our brains suffer a stroke or other damage? Are there surpluses of souls hanging around, waiting for brain damage before they can be inserted into a live body?

Is this really your entire argument? You are saying that, just because you can’t think of a way that a soul could be re-embodied, that it’s not possible? Even atheists can imagine ways that their “soul” could be re-embodied or made immortal.

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Tony Hoffman June 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

JS Allen,

The perpetual motion machine analogy is perfectly apt. You should look up Perpetual Motion Machine on Wikipedia or some other source. One does not need to live forever to verify its possibility.

JSAllen: “How, exactly, is the second law of thermodynamics cheated when a dead person comes back to life?”

I think it’s because when the body stops consuming energy (metabolizing) it cannot become more ordered. Creating and maintaining order takes energy. A dead body stops consuming energy, and if it were to revive itself (without metabolizing) it would, I think, violate the SLT.

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Tony Hoffman June 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

TR: “I didn’t see anything circular with my example, could you expand your charge?”

Circular reasoning assumes that which it sets out to demonstrate. In your example, you simply assume that you have a soul, and ascribe your typing to it. You have done nothing to demonstrate your case.

It would be similar to my using this as an example that the mind is the result of natural causes only:

Me: “Sure. I just typed on this keyboard. Since I am a collection of material objects, the typing on my keyboard is the result of natural forces (namely, the perception that I am “willing” to do it). Did you have something else in mind when you asked for a “demonstration”

Both of these arguments are equally circular, and fallacious. You should be able to see that, and realize that you have not demonstrated what you have set out to demonstrate, only inserted your conclusion in a premise.

TR: “I don’t need to know anything about miracles or the resurrection before reasoning towards the existence of an immaterial soul.”

You are free to try and reason towards the existence of a material soul with no quibble from me. But if you want to make a historical argument for your explanation, you need to resort to probabilities. Without an instance of 1 in your explanation set, your explanation is less than improbable — it is ahistorical.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

JS Allen: I don’t see the relevance of your discussion about water boiling to the topic of an immaterial soul.

Sorry about that. I had a point, but I’m a bit tired at the moment and honestly I cringed after pressing the Submit button. It’s not my best.

JS Allen: Is this really your entire argument? You are saying that, just because you can’t think of a way that a soul could be re-embodied, that it’s not possible? Even atheists can imagine ways that their “soul” could be re-embodied or made immortal.

It’s actually a short sketch where I’ve dumped some facts that we know about life and death and are not in contention. As nobody has made a serious challenge to it over the span of a few years, I felt no need to clean up the original.

With that in mind, it’s not atheists vs. theists. The argument works regardless of theistic inclinations.

Since you made quite a few comments, and I’m a little tired right now (working hard on other projects), can you identify a couple of the items in the list that you are most interested in or are most faulty?

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Thomas Reid June 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Hi Tony,
I think there was a big misunderstanding here:

Both of these arguments are equally circular, and fallacious. You should be able to see that, and realize that you have not demonstrated what you have set out to demonstrate, only inserted your conclusion in a premise.

In no way was I trying to give an argument for an immaterial soul to Hermes. He simply asked what I took a supernatural event to be, and for an example, that’s all. If I was presenting an argument, then of course you would be correct, but I definitely was not doing that.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

JS Allen: Christians believe that the soul requires a body, which is why bodily resurrection is preached. I’m not sure how this would disprove the existence of the soul.

I’m only addressing an incorporeal soul.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

So as to not derail the conversation any further, I withdraw my request for clarification on any issues dealing with things labeled supernatural or dealing with souls, incorporeal or otherwise.

If anyone wants to continue on that tangent as a separate issue, I am more than willing to do so.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

@Tony

I think it’s because when the body stops consuming energy (metabolizing) it cannot become more ordered. Creating and maintaining order takes energy. A dead body stops consuming energy, and if it were to revive itself (without metabolizing) it would, I think, violate the SLT.

Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

It’s actually a short sketch where I’ve dumped some facts that we know about life and death and are not in contention. As nobody has made a serious challenge to it over the span of a few years, I felt no need to clean up the original.

Yeah, it looked like nobody really took it seriously when you posted it. And since you obviously spent time thinking it through, I wanted to take each point seriously. It’s no big deal; you’re welcome to get some sleep :-)

With that in mind, it’s not atheists vs. theists. The argument works regardless of theistic inclinations.

I totally agree. I just think the argument fails regardless. What we think of as the “soul” seems to run on a physical substrate just like a “program” runs on the “computer”. We have lots of scientific evidence that this is true. And just as you don’t necessarily lose the program when the computer is destroyed, you don’t necessarily lose the soul when the body is destroyed.

IOW, the fact that the soul seems to stop operating when the body is erased, does not mean the soul is gone or will never be revived.

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Tony Hoffman June 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

TR: “In no way was I trying to give an argument for an immaterial soul to Hermes. He simply asked what I took a supernatural event to be, and for an example, that’s all. If I was presenting an argument, then of course you would be correct, but I definitely was not doing that.”

To be clear, Hermes asked if you could “demonstrate one [an immaterial soul].” To further clarify, Hermes asked, “Thomas, you said you are immaterial soul. If you want to demonstrate that, go for it. Once you do, then you have to show that to be an instance of something supernatural.”

What do you understand “demonstrate” to mean?

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

JS Allen, if you want to continue with this distraction, I’m willing. If not, ignore the following…

* * *

Actually it did get quite a bit of serious consideration including 2 people who kept coming back to it time after time after time before giving up. The problem was they had no response based in facts, only in assertions about incorporeal souls.

What surprised me the most is that there was so little support on the incorporeal soul side, and none of it even mildly interesting. I was seriously expecting a stronger reply from the dozens of theists and a few atheists who advocated it.

(As I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with using the word soul. The only issue is that it usually implies detachment from a body, and there’s no evidence for that and plenty of evidence against it.)

As for your computer analogy^^ where’s the backup media for souls?

.
.
.

^^. Computer analogies for people don’t work very well as the two aren’t analogous except in very narrow situations.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Tony, I agree. Any demonstration would be sufficient, not necessarily one dealing with souls. Something simple would be ideal.

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Thomas Reid June 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Hey Tony,

You said:

To be clear, Hermes asked if you could “demonstrate one [an immaterial soul].” To further clarify, Hermes asked, “Thomas, you said you are immaterial soul. If you want to demonstrate that, go for it. Once you do, then you have to show that to be an instance of something supernatural.”

Actually, originally he asked for:

[Hermes:]
1. What is a ’supernatural event’?
2. Can you demonstrate one [a 'supernatural event']?

I gave the definition of such an event with which I work. What does it mean to “demonstrate” an event? Well, I take it to mean conduct a token of that particular type, as in “give a demonstration”. I certainly didn’t take it to mean “give an argument for an act”, which sounds a little strange. I mean, I don’t know how to give an argument for an act, only propositions. So, I gave him an example, a “demonstration”. Doesn’t this seem pretty uncontroversial?

Now, of course it is still an open question whether immaterial souls exist. But Hermes wasn’t asking me to argue for that (in fact his questions seemed pretty straightforward). He hinted at seeking an argument for the existence of immaterial souls in his next comment to me when he stated:

[Hermes:] Thomas, you said you are immaterial soul. If you want to demonstrate that, go for it. Once you do, then you have to show that to be an instance of something supernatural.

First, parenthetically, given my definitions, if immaterial souls exist they just are instances of something supernatural. So I’m not sure what else Hermes was looking for there – maybe he just doesn’t like my definitions. But, the more relevant point in the current context is that there is a difference between demonstrating an act and demonstrating that a particular proposition is true, right? Well, regarding the latter concept, I agree that someone who holds the position that people are immaterial souls should have reasons for thinking that, which is why I said:

[Thomas:] Sure, I understand that. The conversation between myself and Tony wasn’t really about the existence of souls, it was about what constituted an appropriate historical method.

Wouldn’t you agree that our conversation wasn’t about arguing for a metaphysical position, but about what are the appropriate metaphysical constraints on the historical method? Because that’s what I thought we were discussing. Anyway, I hope that is clear enough to both you and Hermes why I wasn’t giving a circular argument for souls, and what I think “demonstrate” meant in the appropriate context, etc.

For what it’s worth (and I don’t know if this qualifies as a “demonstration” for either yourself or Hermes) one of the reasons I believe immaterial souls exist is Leibniz’ argument in the Monadology. But I am in agreement with Hermes that we need not open that discussion and take this thread too far off topic. You and Hermes both can have the last word here.

Hermes, your latest comment is a little mystifying:

Any demonstration would be sufficient, not necessarily one dealing with souls. Something simple would be ideal.

What does this mean? For what kind of demonstration are you looking?

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Tony Hoffman June 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Thomas Reid,

I understand from your latest post that you cannot demonstrate that supernatural events occur or exist.

As I have said throughout the comments on this post, Licona’s assertion that the resurrection is the best explanation for the accounts of the New Testament is ahistorical, and should not be discussed in that context.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Thomas, the idea of supernatural is very vague. As such, I’m not going to tell you what is acceptable only that you provide me with something that in convincing to you personally.

With that in mind, I will give an unrelated example of what I mean by the word ‘demonstrate’.

If you go into a car dealer and the salesman says they will offer you a demonstration of a fantastic new car that can hop over other cars safely in traffic, eliminating traffic jams for you;

* Would you be satisfied with the salesman’s comments?

* Would you be satisfied with a set of photos?

* Would you be satisfied with a 30 second advertisement?

* Would you be satisfied with a brochure?

* Would you be satisfied seeing the car, even if it never moved?

* Would you be satisfied taking a normal drive in the car?

* Would you be satisfied with a test drive, including showing the hop over feature?

What I’m asking for in a demonstration is simple. I want to see some action, not add copy. Something that shows what supernatural means, not just ‘it is what a god does’ or ‘it is not natural’. If that is not possible, and only abstract ideas are available, how do you know *yourself* that your car can indeed hop?

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Now, of course it is still an open question whether immaterial souls exist.

Once investigated, it’s actually not, but we don’t need to go down that path.

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Hermes June 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm

One more note. I’m not looking for proof, just plausibility and and an actual example.

Examples that do not explain anything and can not be examined without presupposing everything including the details to be examined aren’t helpful. I’m trying to narrow down what the claims are and what the category is.

I’m not interested in a gerrymandering carve out like the ‘supernatural is what gods do’ idea. After all is said and done, it might be true that supernatural is what gods do, but it doesn’t illuminate anything.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with using the word soul. The only issue is that it usually implies detachment from a body, and there’s no evidence for that and plenty of evidence against it.

I’ve noticed and appreciate this about you. I agree that we needn’t load the word “soul” with theological baggage.

Computer analogies for people don’t work very well as the two aren’t analogous except in very narrow situations.

Tell me about it. I only used the analogy since I’m not sure how familiar you are with the actual scientific opinion on the matter.

Most atheist scientists today are supervenience naturalists. They believe that the stuff like thoughts, intentions and desires (let’s call these “the soul”) operate at a completely different level from the natural. Ironically, “supervenience naturalism” sounds a lot like “supernatural”. Our “soul” in this sense is embodied in the physical (i.e. it “supervenes” on the physical), but it doesn’t follow the same rules as the physical.

It used to be more popular for atheist scientists to be strict materialists. Many used to believe that consciousness or “soul” was strongly reducible to the physical. But the problem with this approach is that it makes science meaningless. We could never trust reason or logic, since these would be arbitrary side-effects of the chemical reactions in our brain. The whole theory is self-refuting.

In order to place any faith in science, reason, or logic, you need to accept that these “supervene” on the natural, and follow their own rules. And very different rules, I might add.

Now, if someone takes the stance that his soul is identical with the cells that die off after his death, that person is adopting the discredited and self-refuting strict materialism. As you pointed out in your 11-point blog post, the “soul” is different from the specific cells in the brain or body. The “soul” consists of intentions, memories, proclivities, and so on.

where’s the backup media for souls?

This is a very perceptive question. Ray Kurzweil believes that we’ll be able to upload our brains into computers by 2040. Others are paying money to have themselves cryogenically frozen until such time as we have biotech capable of making the “computer” (our physical substrate) immortal. There are myriad ways that atheists have imagined to “back up” and even “clone” souls. Heck, this was even imagined in “Avatar”.

Of course, all of these ideas are purely imaginary right now. But anyone who says that “backup media for souls” will never be possible, is suffering from extreme poverty of imagination and is taking a faith-based position, IMO.

Now, one might object that “Yes, it might be possible to backup souls in the future, but surely the souls of our ancestors are lost forever”. Again, I think that this shows severe deficit of imagination. When Neanderthals had sex with humans, did either realize that we would know their secrets today? Yet we have learned their secrets just a few months ago. Modern science and evolutionary biology have revealed facts about things that happened millions of years ago. Is it such a stretch to imagine that we’ll one day be able to construct much more granular accounts of things that happened 1,000 years ago? Personally, I think it would be retarded to bet against it.

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Rhys Wilkins June 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

JS Allen,

That’s a pretty terrible analogy. Nobody can credibly witness to having seen a perpetual motion machine, since you’d have to live forever to verify that it was truly perpetual. On the other hand, it’s actually possible to witness to the fact that someone who was dead is now alive.

I’m sure there would be non-time consuming ways to test perpetual motion machines to determine their validity. They could measure it’s rate of motion with an extremely sensitive instrument or something of that sort.

Your skepticism of perpetual motion machines is well placed. Its for those same reasons I don’t buy magical resurrections either.

Also, the Lazarus syndrome tends to only be a factor within a couple of hours of death. Zombie Jesus apparently came back 3 days later.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm

@Rhys – Yeah, Tony already set me straight on why the second law of thermodynamics applies to resurrections.

Lazarus syndrome applies to only those cases where resuscitation was attempted (which are presumably the most reliably documented). There are, of course, other reported cases of people who are clinically dead coming back to life; but few if any approach anywhere near three days.

The limit of “three days” is fascinating to me. Why three days? Why did Jewish tradition place a constraint on three days? We know that the average in modern experience is “an hour or two”. But what would the limit be? Would it be possible to exceed this limit with modern technology?

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Atheist.pig June 22, 2010 at 4:15 am

@JS Allen

Most atheist scientists today are supervenience naturalists. They believe that the stuff like thoughts, intentions and desires (let’s call these “the soul”) operate at a completely different level from the natural.

Most atheist scientists believe that the “Mind/Soul” operates at a completely different level from the natural?? Who? How so?

Ironically, “supervenience naturalism” sounds a lot like “supernatural”. Our “soul” in this sense is embodied in the physical (i.e. it “supervenes” on the physical), but it doesn’t follow the same rules as the physical.

lol, this is bad. Check the link you provided again where it says:

There are several examples of supervenience to be found in computer networking. For example, in a dial-up internet connection, the audio signal on a phone line transports IP packets between the user’s computer and the Internet service provider’s computer. In this case, the arrangement of bytes in that packet supervenes on the physical properties of the phone signal. More generally, each layer of the OSI Model of computer networking supervenes on the layers below it.

We can find supervenience wherever a message is conveyed by a representational medium. When we see a letter “a” in a page of print, for example, the meaning Latin lowercase “a” supervenes on the geometry of the boundary of the printed glyph, which in turn supervenes on the ink deposition on the paper.

I suppose this sounds a lot like “supernatural” to you as well and that “most atheist scientists” believe the OSI Model in networking operates at a completely different level from the natural? LOL. Maybe your thinking of “emergent properties” or something like that.

It used to be more popular for atheist scientists to be strict materialists. Many used to believe that consciousness or “soul” was strongly reducible to the physical. But the problem with this approach is that it makes science meaningless. We could never trust reason or logic, since these would be arbitrary side-effects of the chemical reactions in our brain. The whole theory is self-refuting.

In order to place any faith in science, reason, or logic, you need to accept that these “supervene” on the natural, and follow their own rules. And very different rules, I might add.

Again, what atheist scientists are you talking about here? How does it make science meaningless? Science poses hypothesis and then tests these hypothesis in the physical world using detectors and measuring devices, computers, etc. Unless your a post-modernist or radical skeptic, which your obviously not, there’s no fundamental problem here as far as we know.

I’ll get to the rest of your comment later when I have time.

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Rhys Wilkins June 22, 2010 at 4:57 am

JS Allen,

I think a couple of hours tends to be the upper limit. Dunno what the point of no return would be though.

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 5:57 am

“I understand from your latest post that you cannot demonstrate that supernatural events occur or exist. ”

Then you have “demonstrated” a complete lack of understanding of what Reid was saying. Of course, just about all the threads end at an impasse and not any sort of agreement, but maybe the participants get something out of it. I’m still unsure about that.

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 6:06 am

“After all is said and done, it might be true that supernatural is what gods do, but it doesn’t illuminate anything.”

I think it illuminates it quite well, since a supernatural act is the act of a free agent acting outside of the constraints of nature, and thus not subject to experimental investigation like a repeatable physics demonstration. You are thus committing a massive category error.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 6:27 am

Ayer: “Then you have “demonstrated” a complete lack of understanding of what Reid was saying.”

TR is welcome to provide the kind of statements and references he finds helpful to his argument, but that doesn’t require that I find them adequate. I have stated what I understand from his reply; if he or you would like to try and explicate, please do so.

Ayer: “I think it illuminates it quite well, since a supernatural act is the act of a free agent acting outside of the constraints of nature, and thus not subject to experimental investigation like a repeatable physics demonstration. You are thus committing a massive category error.”

It seems ironic that you would accuse others of making a category error here, when it seems abundantly evident that the “historical” case for the resurrection is the real category error here.

Ayer: “Of course, just about all the threads end at an impasse and not any sort of agreement, but maybe the participants get something out of it. I’m still unsure about that. ”

On this it does appear that we agree.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 6:41 am

Ayer:I think it illuminates it quite well, since a supernatural act is the act of a free agent acting outside of the constraints of nature, and thus not subject to experimental investigation like a repeatable physics demonstration. You are thus committing a massive category error.

I left it entirely open. I was looking for a plausible demonstration.

Ayer:Then you have “demonstrated” a complete lack of understanding of what Reid was saying. Of course, just about all the threads end at an impasse and not any sort of agreement, but maybe the participants get something out of it. I’m still unsure about that.

To break that impasse, someone only needs to deliver the goods. Can you help in this instance?

Till someone does, the concept of supernaturalism is an assertion and not shown to be actually identifying something about reality.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 6:43 am

Hermes: “Till someone does, the concept of supernaturalism is an assertion and not shown to be actually identifying something about reality.”

I completely agree. Glad to see that we both share the same misunderstanding.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 6:59 am

(tips hat)

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 7:07 am

What I find interesting is that I did not ask for a scientifically rigorous examination, and even made a point that I wasn’t requiring one and that the request was wide open, yet the assumption of many people is that any demonstration is scientific and from nature.

That nature and science stuff must really be powerful stuff; everything seems to loop back to it, even answers to questions about supernaturalism.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 7:10 am

JS Allen, I haven’t forgotten your long and detailed message. Atheist.pig’s reply to you covered quite a bit that I wasn’t going to cover and a little that I was, and I’m curious what other comments he(?) may post to see if there’s more overlap.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 7:20 am

I suppose this sounds a lot like “supernatural” to you as well and that “most atheist scientists” believe the OSI Model in networking operates at a completely different level from the natural?

LOL, that’s why I said “ironically”. But the OSI model is a good example. It does operate at a totally different level from the physical, in the sense that you wouldn’t use an oscilloscope to find network traffic patterns or manipulate traffic — you would use a packet monitor.

Again, what atheist scientists are you talking about here?

People like Dawkins, Dennett, etc.

How does it make science meaningless? Science poses hypothesis and then tests these hypothesis in the physical world using detectors and measuring devices, computers, etc.

Correct. A hypothesis is a sophisticated mental concept that requires fourth-order intentionality (i.e. intentions about intentions about intentions about intentions). Intentions can’t be explained or interacted with in physical terms, just like you wouldn’t use an oscilloscope to decipher network packets. It’s impossible to do science without assuming as a matter of faith that the intentional layer is reliable.

All of this is pretty non-controversial.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 7:21 am

One thing I find so odd is the claim that supernatural forces had an effect on the natural world (effected the resurrection), but when asked to explain supernatural effects in some way the claimants immediately balk at a methodology that includes natural effects. WTF?

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 7:27 am

JS Allen, Dennet is a philosopher, not a scientist. And he is a naturalist. I read his “Consciousness Explained,” and he makes the complete opposite argument for the one you are attributing to him. You appear to be recklessly misrepresenting.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

JS Allen, Dennet is a philosopher, not a scientist. And he is a naturalist. I read his “Consciousness Explained,” and he makes the complete opposite argument for the one you are attributing to him. You appear to be recklessly misrepresenting.

I actually took my description from Dennet’s book “The Intentional Stance”, and he framed the basic outline in “Elbow Room”. If you had bothered to read the Wikipedia article I linked to, you would see that Dennett is quoted extensively. If you think I’m misrepresenting Dennett, you need to explain why. You might learn something.

Dennett is the superior defender of supervenience naturalism, and Dawkins relies heavily on Dennett in his books. Most scientists who think about such matters, would agree with Dawkins/Dennett, and do not agree with strict materialism. If you’re going to assert otherwise, you need to pony up some examples. Which prominent scientists adhere to strict materialism while maintaining that strict materialism is compatible with science?

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 8:59 am

“I left it entirely open. I was looking for a plausible demonstration.”

Since the original topic of this thread is the “demonstration” of the resurrection as a supernatural event using the tools of historiography, I’m not clear on why you need another example? (Of course, I realize the word “plausible” in your comment gives you the wiggle-room to reject it, but still, such a demonstration has been offered and is the primary topic of the post on Licona’s debate).

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

Ayer, note that I wrote this;

To break that impasse, someone only needs to deliver the goods. Can you help in this instance?

Till someone does, the concept of supernaturalism is an assertion and not shown to be actually identifying something about reality.

What you’re doing is asserting something is supernatural, but not demonstrating it or showing how it is supernatural.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 9:34 am

I don’t expect a gimmie. Don’t expect one for your own pet arguments.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

JS Allen: “I actually took my description from Dennet’s book “The Intentional Stance”, and he framed the basic outline in “Elbow Room”. If you had bothered to read the Wikipedia article I linked to, you would see that Dennett is quoted extensively. If you think I’m misrepresenting Dennett, you need to explain why.”

Well, for one, you said this, “[Scientists like Dawkins, Dennett, etc.] are supervenience naturalists. They believe that the stuff like thoughts, intentions and desires (let’s call these “the soul”) operate at a completely different level from the natural.”

But Dennett is a philosopher, and a naturalist, and you appeared to be saying he is a scientist, and not a naturalist. So that is why I thought you were misrepresenting. I may have misunderstood what you meant by “operates at a completely different level from the natural,” but I didn’t do so intentionally.

JS Allen: “You might learn something.”

True. And that is why I’m here.

Along that line, what is your broader point (regarding supervenience) along the topic here?

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 10:14 am

“What you’re doing is asserting something is supernatural, but not demonstrating it or showing how it is supernatural. ”

Ok, then please describe how you define the difference between “asserting” and “demonstrating” when dealing with whether a claimed historical event happened?

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 10:36 am

Ayer: “Ok, then please describe how you define the difference between “asserting” and “demonstrating” when dealing with whether a claimed historical event happened?”

I think you misunderstand the request.

Here’s the problem. Last night let’s say a car on my street went missing. For the explanation, I posit that aliens from Gamma 3, which is 20 billion light years away, came from their galaxy and took the car back to their galaxy with them.

Now in order for this to be considered a historical explanation, it’s reasonable that I demonstrate that aliens from Gamma 3 existed and that travel beyond the speed of light is possible, among other things. My explanation is not to be confused with the demonstration. The demonstration is what makes my explanation possible. From there, we can discuss probabilities. The problem with the resurrection explanation is that it hasn’t even entered the set of possible historical explanations.

Until I have demonstrated that they exist, I have simply asserted something that is outside the set of historical explanations. The reason that this is a bad explanation (outside of it being ahistorical) is that there’s no end to such a list of possible explanations, and without a demonstration of these events we have no idea of how to assign probability to their occurrence even if we were to accept it as historical.

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 10:59 am

“Until I have demonstrated that they exist, I have simply asserted something that is outside the set of historical explanations.”

Ok, but this indicates that you are unfamiliar with Craig’s argument for the resurrection, since he argues for the existence of God as part of that background information using philosophical reasoning (which draws upon scientific and other evidence), e.g., the cosmological argument (kalam and Leibnizian), the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, etc. (Craig makes that explicit, e.g., in the opening statement of his debate with Carrier: see http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Other_clips/Craig-Carrier-09/

Obviously I don’t have time to recapitulate that entire case here–surely that is not what is being requested? If so, I refer you to chapters 3,4 and 6 of Craig’s “Reasonable Faith.”

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 11:01 am

Ayer: “Ok, then please describe how you define the difference between “asserting” and “demonstrating” when dealing with whether a claimed historical event happened? ”

Another way of looking at this is to ask the question, how did the American militias form so quickly to face the British regulars at Lexington and Concorde? Lets also imagine that we had no account whatsoever of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Instead, we have 2 unattributed (and sometimes contradictory and conflicting) documents from the period claiming that a man named Jeb (of whom we have no other records or artifacts or testimony) used a teleportation machine to instantly and simultaneously send himself into the rooms of every militiaman in the area and warned them personally.

Would any theist here argue that this is a proper demonstration that simultaneous transportation is not only possible, but that it is the best explanation for the preparation of the militia to face the British regulars? If asked to demonstrate that teleportation was possible, would my reference to Jeb be adequate?

Because I’m guessing no.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 11:07 am

Along that line, what is your broader point (regarding supervenience) along the topic here?

I was challenging Hermes assertion that the “soul” ceases to exist forever after the body decays. He had an interesting blog post [1] on the topic that he shared, and I was responding to that.

There are basically only two atheistic views about the relation of the “soul” (again, using the term loosely to mean “intentions, desires, memories”) to the physical.

One is that the soul is strongly reducible to the physical, and thus is equivalent to the underlying cells. This is no longer a popular view, since it’s self-refuting. If it were true, Hermes argument would hold.

The second is that the “soul”, or “intentional stance”, supervenes on the physical. You still need to embody the soul in the physical, but it’s not impossible to imagine such a soul being uploaded to a computer, replicated, frozen and reanimated, or any number of other things.

The example of OSI stack in the supervenience article was apropos. If you think of the “soul” as being like a program that runs on a computer, you can think of all sorts of analogies. For example, you can recover a computer program from a drive that’s been deleted, with sufficient technological prowess. There are even ways to steal a program from a machine by monitoring the electrical fluctuations from the monitor. That’s why I wear a tinfoil hat — so nobody steals my soul! :-)

[1] Hermes blog post about the soul

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Rich Griese June 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I especially like the cock part. I’m not gay… not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it kind of ended the article the only way you could. I mean. When things move so far from reality, I like to use my old goto M*A*S*H, and kind of just say; “My mother told not to argue with a crazy person, and always wear clean underwear in case you get run over by a tank.”

I have no idea why naturalists/scientists even DO “debates”. the do not move the industry forward, as peer review articles would, or even publishing books, and what they seem to do is give the super naturalist an veneer of respectability.

Oh, yeah, I also love how William Lane Craig ends his “debate” pitch (you know… he basically is like one of those G.I. Joe’s dolls that you pull the string and they say the same thing over and over) with the “… and so I turned my life to Jesus Christ, and I would like to recommend that people in the audience consider doing the same…”

WTF! that has anything to do with a “scholarly” “debate”? Of course not. But it is revealing. It is the one thing that William Lane Craig is trying to accomplish, any time he opens his mouth. By ending all his “debates” with this, he reveals himself as the hack apologist he actually is.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Rich Griese June 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm

BTW… I just started to look at this interview;

http://mediasuite.316networks.com/templates/V9-480.swf?ts=1277237226&projectid=67829&projectuuid=v9j4x6uy&programid=&programuuid=&gfToken=0&categoryid=0&loadingdomain=http://mediasuite.316networks.com&pagetype=&typePlayer=vod

Interesting point, and this goes to my earlier comment about the super naturalists attempting to get credibility.

Notice that a main thing in the debate is talked about a number of times…. that there are two “historians”. Although right up front it is stated that Licona has a theology degree. He does not have a degree in history. He has a theology degree. He is not a historian. Historians are people that have degrees in HISTORY.

I notice that super naturalists are constantly attempting to portray themselves as something they are not.

The intro dude talked about how “historians” do the best debates, and how they are lucky to have TWO “historicans”. This is all part of the set up to attempt to see the lie that Licona is a “historian”. They want to do this, becasuse Carrier IS a historian, and is going to talk about history. So… they want to PRETEND that Licona is also talking history. He is not, he is a theologian, or an apologist NOT a historian.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Good catch Rich. That shows what I’ve found elsewhere is true on many levels.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Rich,

I can’t get your link to load on my browser. Any summary of what’s there?

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Rich Griese June 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hey Tony, you might also to the link at the very top of this blog entry, which would be; http://www.4truth.net/site/c.hiKXLbPNLrF/b.6076159/k.5D40/Debate_Video__Mike_Licona_vs_Richard_Carrier_2010.htm as an alternative if http://mediasuite.316networks.com/templates/V9-480.swf?ts=1277237226&projectid=67829&projectuuid=v9j4x6uy&programid=&programuuid=&gfToken=0&categoryid=0&loadingdomain=http://mediasuite.316networks.com&pagetype=&typePlayer=vod is not working for you.

It’s is a video of the debate that this article is about. Seems to be in two parts. It seemed to crap out on me just as Carrier got to ask his questions of Licona, but I did get to see the two 20 minute opening statements and Licona’s questions to Carrier. Looks like pretty much the same old crap.

I did become interested in perhaps reading a book by Carrier since he seems to talk about hallucinations, and he seems to have looked into a number of things that you don’t see in the same of nonsense. Or, I would prefer to see a lecture by Carrier of his thoughts on Jesus resurrection. These “debates” seem to be a waste of time. Since in reality they go no where. The apologists seem to say the same things over and over again, so as a person looking for new data, there was not much there to me. My next step would probably be to get Carrier book.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Atheist.pig June 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm

@JS Allen

LOL, that’s why I said “ironically”. But the OSI model is a good example. It does operate at a totally different level from the physical, in the sense that you wouldn’t use an oscilloscope to find network traffic patterns or manipulate traffic — you would use a packet monitor.

And whats not physical or natural about a packet monitor finding or manipulating traffic patterns?

People like Dawkins, Dennett, etc.

Dawkins and Dennett are materialists/naturalists. Are you saying Dennett doesn’t think the mind/soul can be boiled down to brain activity or isn’t compatible with naturalism/materialism?

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Rich,

Thanks, that link worked. I actually listened to the first 23 minutes of this debate and decided I was wasting my time; honestly, I think Licona is embarrassing.

I brought up the “Licona isn’t a historian” problem earlier, but I guess Luke missed it or doesn’t think it deserves correction in his introduction.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Licona’s degree is in ‘New Testament Studies’, sort of a half-breed between history and theology, leaning towards theology.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Luke: “Licona’s degree is in ‘New Testament Studies’, sort of a half-breed between history and theology, leaning towards theology.”

I’m pretty sure that New Testament Studies is a degree under the Theology department of every college and university that offers it. And there’s a reason for that. The fact is that you describe Licona above as a “Ph. D. historian.” This is simply, factually, incorrect.

I would say that describing a New Testament scholar as a historian would be like describing a chiropractor as a doctor because of the fact that chiropractors take anatomy courses just like physicians do.

Thanks for responding.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm

And whats not physical or natural about a packet monitor finding or manipulating traffic patterns?

Network packets don’t operate according to the laws of physics; they operate on the laws of your network stack. Likewise, thoughts don’t operate according to the laws of biology or physics; they operate on logic, reason, and stories.

Network packets require a physical network, just as thoughts require a physical brain. But it’s a supervenience relationship; not a strongly reducible physical relationship.

Dawkins and Dennett are materialists/naturalists. Are you saying Dennett doesn’t think the mind/soul can be boiled down to brain activity or isn’t compatible with naturalism/materialism?

Nope; I’m not saying that. I’m saying that strict materialism is incompatible with science, and Dennett agrees with that (see the Wikipedia article I linked; he does a great job explaining). I’m also saying that Dennett’s form of naturalism is compatible with the idea of a soul that could be reanimated, cloned, or transferred.

Regarding the use of “materialist/naturalist”, it is more correct to say that Dawkins and Dennett are naturalists. There is a pretty massive difference between hard and soft materialism, so it’s colloquial to differentiate them by calling “hard materialists” simply “materialist”, and “soft materialists” simply “naturalist”. It’s definitely not a good idea to lump them together.

Of course, mind/soul is compatible with both materialism and naturalism. However, strict materialism says that things like intentions and hypotheses are simply illusions. So materialism in this sense is not really compatible with science. That is why Dawkins or Dennett are naturalists.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Network packets don’t operate according to the laws of physics; they operate on the laws of your network stack.

Erm…yes, they do. It’s one reason why you don’t have infinite speed networks.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Let me put my last comment in perspective: I’ve tested diagnostic software for memory circuits and processors to make sure that they return valid results.

Computers only work because we don’t treat them like abstractions and limits are imposed on them. This allows for reliability. I know of nothing that allows us to get around that.

What you’re talking about is an illusion of order that is allowed by the redundant abilities of the hardware that relies on physical laws.

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Thomas Reid June 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Tony,

I would say that describing a New Testament scholar as a historian would be like describing a chiropractor as a doctor because of the fact that chiropractors take anatomy courses just like physicians do.

Is Bart Ehrman a historian?

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Rich Griese June 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Thomas,

That is an Excellent point. No, he is not, he has a degree from a religion department. Let me post something I was working on at the moment. If you want to discuss it now, come find me in the chat on http://webulite.webhop.org

NT Studies degrees are gotten from Religion departments, NOT history departments. I am probably unique in making a distinction in this. But as a student of Christian history I have come to believe over the years that this is a problem. Religion departments evolved out of Theology departments. And I have found that this has resulted in a problem, for the study of history.

It seems to me that because theologians have historically evolved from a time when gods were assume. Back in the day people argued a great deal about the “nature” of gods, but never really addressed the study IF gods existed as a scientist would before they talked on the subject.

More specifically, in the religion departments world, ie NT Studies and Theology, etc… it was always ASSUMED for example that a Jesus existed. They spent a great deal of time researching many things in the NT and early Christianity, but they never actually began at the beginning. Has it been historically documented that a Jesus existed? Today, even in the scholarly community, it is kind of frowned upon for a scholar to say; “hey, back up… have we got this Jesus existence thing right? Are we sure we have not sort of just assumed there was such a guy?”

… I have left off making this essay because I noticed Thomas posted a question that goes directly to it. And I wanted to get this idea to the comment queue to perhaps begin a discussion with him.

I will summarize where I was going.

I think in the future Religion departments should be eliminated. Those that want to do history should get degrees from History departments, and those that want to do apologetics should become priests or ministers. I know this causes problems for people that are already in the field, but we will have to discuss what to do there.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Does Bart Ehrman promote himself as a historian, or allow others to promote him as a historian?

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Thomas Reid: “Is Bart Ehrman a historian?”

Why is is this so hard? Historians get their degrees from History departments. As I understand Bart Ehrman’s education, he did his undergraduate work at Wheaton (in History I highly doubt) and then got his Ph. D at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was a history major at Princeton. The Seminary was a stepchild, off-campus institution. Graduate students there were free to take University courses with us, like Latin or some Ancient history (they were all slightly older, and smart), but they were just supplementing their education, WHICH WAS IN THEOLOGY, not in history.

Another way of looking at this is that Ph. D. candidates would often TA weekly seminars for popular history classes. These TA’s were graduate students in the history department, not from the Seminary. Church and state. Different institutions, with different methodologies.

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Thomas Reid June 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I appreciate the consistency.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Erm…yes, they do. It’s one reason why you don’t have infinite speed networks

Yes, Shannon’s law is a law, and not a “rule of thumb”. The fact that a supervenient layer cannot escape the laws of physics does not mean that the supervenient layer is operating according to the laws of physics. The supervenient is not “merely” physical. People sometimes get locked in a false dichotomy, where they think a thing must either be “purely physical” or else be “completely supernatural”.

What you’re talking about is an illusion of order that is allowed by the redundant abilities of the hardware that relies on physical laws.

If it’s an illusion, it’s a useful, repeatable, and verifiably true illusion. You can make judgments about whether or not a packet is corrupt, and you can make life or death decisions on that assessment.

In this case, people actually need to assume that the physical layer is corruptible and unreliable, and it’s the supervenient layer that ensures correctness — through checksums, digests, signatures, or whatever. Not only are these checksums not “illusory”, they actually are used to harness and subdue the physical.

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Thomas Reid June 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I understand from your latest post that you cannot demonstrate that supernatural events occur or exist.

Well, you are free to ignore what I said, no worries.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Why is is this so hard? Historians get their degrees from History departments.

This is absolutely effing retarded. It’s shockingly idiotic. There are many people with history degrees who are not historians, and there are many historians who do not have history degrees. Of the degreed and non-degreed historians, some are bad historians and some are good historians.

I don’t know or even care whether Licona is a historian, but I’m allergic to idiotic arguments. It’s amazing that you could have a history degree from Princeton and not even know what a historian is.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Me: “I understand from your latest post that you cannot demonstrate that supernatural events occur or exist.”

Thomas Reid: “Well, you are free to ignore what I said, no worries.”

I can’t even make sense of what you said. I understand a demonstration to be an argument with evidence. If that’s what you’ve got for a demonstration of the supernatural, that’s fine, I’m just reporting that it appears amazingly inadequate as far as demonstrations go.

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm

JS: “This is absolutely effing retarded. It’s shockingly idiotic. There are many people with history degrees who are not historians, and there are many historians who do not have history degrees.”

And I did not say otherwise.

JS: “Of the degreed and non-degreed historians, some are bad historians and some are good historians.”

And I haven’t said that a degree makes one a good historian, and that all those without history degrees are bad historians. So, no quibble there.

JS: “I don’t know or even care whether Licona is a historian, but I’m allergic to idiotic arguments. It’s amazing that you could have a history degree from Princeton and not even know what a historian is.”

But I do know what a historian is. And Licona is not a historian. Why do you think he is when his thesis – that God raised Jesus from the Dead after 3 days – would not be accepted as a historical explanation at any History Department in the U.S.?

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm

“Why do you think he is when his thesis – that God raised Jesus from the Dead after 3 days – would not be accepted as a historical explanation at any History Department in the U.S.? ”

I would still like to see the official canon of historiography that would read one out of the profession of history for endorsing such an explanation. (Simple prejudice by Ph.D advisors based on their personal belief or nonbelief is a different matter). As far as I am aware, there is none.

And as Craig points out, “even if we were to concede that the professional historian must as a member of his guild act under the constraint of methodological naturalism, the question remains why we should so act. Why can’t I as a philosopher or just as a human being judge that the best explanation for the fact of the case is a miraculous explanation? Indeed, why can’t the historian himself, in his off-hours so to speak, make a similar judgment? Would it not be a tragedy if we were to fail to come to know the truth about reality simply because of a methodological constraint?” (Reasonable Faith, p. 353).

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Tony Hoffman June 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Ayer,

Thank you for addressing the question in its proper format at least. I think the only sensible question for the theist to ask is, “Why comply with The Enlightenment?” I think that is a more interesting, and live, question, than the hopeless one that contends that History properly accepts supernatural explanations. Even Craig acknowledges, in the quote you provided, that the historian is “going off the reservation” when he accepts the supernatural. (Craig: “Indeed, why can’t the historian himself, in his off-hours so to speak, make a similar judgment?”)

The answer, of course, follows the same tract as the same question regarding scientific explanations: because supernatural explanations are unproductive, and methodological naturalism smokes supernaturalism when it comes to actually increasing our knowledge.

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Hermes June 22, 2010 at 6:26 pm

JS Allen, when you can show me a network that was not designed and built with physics in mind I’ll agree it’s possible, yet you seem to be saying that it’s only part of the network. With that, I am in total agreement. (The example of checksums actually point to what I was saying and I almost included them in my last message.)

As for supernatural/natural, I’ll repeat what I said before; I don’t care. It happens to be that supernatural seems to be not demonstrable or needs better writers to do the PR for it. If you can offer a demonstration as can be given for many things labeled as natural, then you’ve got some push.

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Thomas Reid June 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Tony,

I can’t even make sense of what you said. I understand a demonstration to be an argument with evidence

Great! Then you can re-read my reference to Leibniz and his argument for starters.

Now regarding your disjunction of being either a “historian” or New Testament scholar, this was an early comment of yours:

Two things. I don’t think that New Testament Studies is part of the field of History (I think it’s part of Theology), and it appears that the University of Pretoria is just giving its Ph. D.’s away. Maybe I should get me one of those. You know, for parties.

…and then…

Historians get their degrees from History departments. As I understand Bart Ehrman’s education, he did his undergraduate work at Wheaton (in History I highly doubt) and then got his Ph. D at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was a history major at Princeton. The Seminary was a stepchild, off-campus institution. Graduate students there were free to take University courses with us, like Latin or some Ancient history (they were all slightly older, and smart), but they were just supplementing their education, WHICH WAS IN THEOLOGY, not in history.

I’ll humor the strange notion that only those with degrees in History are qualified to determine what is a historical fact. Your position would be: there is an inverse relationship between the degree to which one studies the New Testament and the degree to which one is a historian (one who studies the past), is that right? In other words, you can’t be one and the other simultaneously. This seems to be your position. So those poor saps who think they’re studying historical occurrences when they open up the New Testament are just fooling themselves. Alright, duly noted.

But then, how did you come upon this knowledge? It couldn’t have been solely by studying history, because New Testament Studies are not part of history. And it couldn’t have been solely by studying the New Testament, because New Testament Studies are not a field of history.

So how did you come upon this knowledge? As I’ve contested all along, you (and others) entered the field with prior commitments about what is, and is not, “history” (ie, what happened in the past). That’s fine, but acknowledge what are the limits on your method, and recognize that it is not necessarily the final arbiter on what actually occurred in the past if the presumed philosophical foundations are not correct. If you didn’t already do so at Princeton, I would suggest reading some philosophy of history, and recognize that the current popular analytic tradition is rooted in strong Humean foundations of what counts as knowledge. William Dray and Ernest Nagel are good resources here.

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ayer June 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm

“The answer, of course, follows the same tract as the same question regarding scientific explanations: because supernatural explanations are unproductive, and methodological naturalism smokes supernaturalism when it comes to actually increasing our knowledge. ”

It’s amazing how atheists in non-scientific fields prostrate themselves before the scientific method to the detriment of their own fields. Science is limited to methodological naturalism because the very subject matter of science is the study of natural laws derived from the study of natural processes: “Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable in order to dependably predict any future results.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

History is “the study of the human past.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History

If the resurrection occurred as an event in human history, then it is part of the subject matter of that profession. “Repeatable experiments” are not necessary in the investigation of an historical event.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

There are many people with history degrees who are not historians, and there are many historians who do not have history degrees.

And I did not say otherwise.

Actually, you did say otherwise. You said:

Historians get their degrees from History departments.

That’s retarded. Historians could get their degrees from biology or religion departments, or have no degree at all.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 7:28 pm

JS Allen, when you can show me a network that was not designed and built with physics in mind I’ll agree it’s possible, yet you seem to be saying that it’s only part of the network. With that, I am in total agreement. (The example of checksums actually point to what I was saying and I almost included them in my last message.)

OK, cool, it seems like we are in total agreement.

But note that this undercuts your argument about “no way to get to an afterlife”. Not a big deal, but that’s what I was responding to.

As for supernatural/natural, I’ll repeat what I said before; I don’t care. It happens to be that supernatural seems to be not demonstrable or needs better writers to do the PR for it.

Agreed. Supervenience is easy to demonstrate; but it’s very questionable whether there is any value in positing more than that. It seems like there is a danger of a slippery slope if we start letting “magic” in.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Tony,

I am corrected.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Tony,

I am corrected.

I assume you’re “corrected” about this:

“Licona’s degree is in ‘New Testament Studies’, sort of a half-breed between history and theology, leaning towards theology.”

If so:

Luke,

You rock.

Nothing lame about “Keep rockin’, straight talkin’”

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Atheist.pig June 23, 2010 at 2:50 am

@JS Allen
What are you trying to say in all of the above posts? Are you just talking about Higher Order Complexity and emergent properties, etc? Everything in the network stack operates according to the laws of physics. Its just wave patterns that are then translated into bits as you go up the stack.

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Hermes June 23, 2010 at 3:36 am

JS Allen, are you rejecting incorporeal souls, or claiming them?

But note that this undercuts your argument about “no way to get to an afterlife”. Not a big deal, but that’s what I was responding to.

Hmmm…no, it doesn’t. The ‘network’ (by analogy) still uses a substrate, and if you follow the items in my list there’s evidence that the substrate is that ‘network’ and that there is no other place that it wells up from.

Note, specifically, I am not agreeing with the absurd reductio that is often banded around that ‘we are only subatomic particles’ in the same way that actual networks aren’t ‘only subatomic particles’, or a top is ‘just’ a hunk of wood. If you want to go over the evidence, pick any item from the list I’ve already provided and show me how it fits with your view of things.

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Tony Hoffman June 23, 2010 at 4:36 am

TR: “Great! Then you can re-read my reference to Leibniz and his argument for starters.”

Okay, and I will. Don’t have a lot of time today. But for the record, a reference to an argument is not making an argument, and when you referenced it you acknowledged that you don’t even know if it qualifies as an argument.

TR: “I’ll humor the strange notion that only those with degrees in History are qualified to determine what is a historical fact.”

This is a misrepresentation of what I have claimed.

TR: “Your position would be: there is an inverse relationship between the degree to which one studies the New Testament and the degree to which one is a historian (one who studies the past), is that right?”

No. I have basically said that historians obey historical methodologies, and that theologians are free to abandon these methodologies for the sake of supernatural speculation. And I have drawn attention to the two departments at Universities – History and Theology – as a testament to the different methodologies that these fields employ.

TR: “In other words, you can’t be one and the other simultaneously. This seems to be your position. So those poor saps who think they’re studying historical occurrences when they open up the New Testament are just fooling themselves. Alright, duly noted.”

I believe you are having a conversation with yourself here.

TR: “So how did you come upon this knowledge? As I’ve contested all along, you (and others) entered the field with prior commitments about what is, and is not, “history” (ie, what happened in the past). That’s fine, but acknowledge what are the limits on your method, and recognize that it is not necessarily the final arbiter on what actually occurred in the past if the presumed philosophical foundations are not correct. If you didn’t already do so at Princeton, I would suggest reading some philosophy of history, and recognize that the current popular analytic tradition is rooted in strong Humean foundations of what counts as knowledge. William Dray and Ernest Nagel are good resources here. “

This isn’t too far from what I’ve been trying to say. I have never said that supernatural occurrences in the past are impossible, only that it’s sensible to conform to historical methodologies (and you’re right that it’s heavily influenced by Hume) and acknowledge that History (as it is taught and practiced today) is the wrong tool to go digging for supernatural explanations. If you want to use your theology, go to it – just don’t claim to be doing History.

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Tony Hoffman June 23, 2010 at 4:41 am

ME: “Historians get their degrees from History departments.”
JS Allen: “That’s retarded. Historians could get their degrees from biology or religion departments, or have no degree at all.”

JS, perhaps you would like to explain to me how historians get their [History] degrees from Math Departments.

I think you may have failed to read my statement as I intended it to be understood. That can happen in blog discussions.

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Tony Hoffman June 23, 2010 at 4:43 am

Luke, thanks for the clarification.

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ayer June 23, 2010 at 5:25 am

“only that it’s sensible to conform to historical methodologies (and you’re right that it’s heavily influenced by Hume)”

You still have not established that either Hume’s philosophy generally or methodological naturalism specifically is required for work to be considered “doing history”. Perhaps the professional society for historians has made such pronouncement? (I can’t find it here, however: http://www.historians.org/

For example, it is quite easy to find an endorsement of methodological naturalism as required for science by official scientific organizations, e.g., :”Furthermore, because science is limited to explaining natural phenomena through the use of empirical evidence, it cannot provide religious or ultimate explanations.” http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx

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Thomas Reid June 23, 2010 at 6:23 am

Tony,

But for the record, a reference to an argument is not making an argument, and when you referenced it you acknowledged that you don’t even know if it qualifies as an argument.

Nonsense. What I said was I had no idea if it qualifies for what you considered a “demonstration”. That is, I didn’t know if you’d be persuaded by it. I know the argument, and am glad to hear that you plan on educating yourself on it.

No. I have basically said that historians obey historical methodologies…

More nonsense. You say that we can only call historians those people who obey certain methodologies. Big difference.

This isn’t too far from what I’ve been trying to say.

Great. Then I’ll let it rest if you quit calling any supernatural events ahistorical. Since you’ve confirmed that such events are defined out of existence by your method, and that your method is subject to criticism and not exhaustive in the relevant case, you’ll understand that it is possible to study events of the past without such a constraint.

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lukeprog June 23, 2010 at 7:36 am

JS Allen,

Yeah, I changed the original post.

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 9:52 am

Hmmm…no, it doesn’t. The ‘network’ (by analogy) still uses a substrate, and if you follow the items in my list there’s evidence that the substrate is that ‘network’ and that there is no other place that it wells up from.

Right. But the fact that it requires a substrate does not mean that it’s gone forever when the substrate vanishes. That’s the part you’ve failed to support. And since that was the primary goal of your blog post, I think it’s kind of important.

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Hermes June 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

JS Allen: But the fact that it requires a substrate does not mean that it’s gone forever when the substrate vanishes.

I do not think that means what you think it means. :-)

Before we continue, there’s a quote that I refer back to from time to time that I attempt to keep in the back of my mind and now offer to you as potential guidance.

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.
–Mark Twain

It is your knowledge that I’m interested in here, not your intuitive beliefs nor imaginative speculations or creative carving out unknown potentialities. (I can assure you that my imagination is quite robust and eats into many hours of my day, usually when I am most productive.)

With the quote from Mr. Clemens above in mind, here are some basic questions to you. I’ve asked similar ones, attempting to get your responses, and I have not been granted a clear answer yet. While I have my own, without knowing what you think is true, many of your responses seem disconnected with much of what we were discussing.

My questions require only brief answers such as yes, no, or the often honest and frequently appreciated I do not know.

[ The I do not know answer can also be used in the case where you believe or intuit an answer but do not have sufficient facts available to claim knowledge. Regardless of your answers, we can always include details later. ]

* Do you think that incorporeal souls are possible?

* Do you think that incorporeal souls actually exist?

* If you answer the second question with YES, do you feel confident enough to describe in what manner they do exist and what evidence you offer for them?

Most of your answers seem to target the third question while ignoring the first two. I think the replies Atheist.pig and I have given on the network example show how we currently view these responses. Since we keep repeating the same basic ideas, and still don’t end up swaying each other, it may be important to slow down and flesh out some of the more mundane details instead of jumping ahead and leaving basic ideas unconsidered.

It won’t surprise you that for me the first two questions I’ll answer no, making the third question extraneous.

Note that I am not asking detailed answers. Just simple answers based on what you know. If you do not feel you can say you know, and are just speculating, that detail would be important too.

* * *

That’s the part you’ve failed to support.

As noted, if you follow the items in my list there’s evidence that the substrate is that ‘network’ and that there is no other place that it wells up from.

Yet, you find that incomplete and unconvincing if not fatally in error. If I’m wrong, and you can correct my misunderstanding, then I appreciate your vigorous examination of my comments.

So, keeping it simple at first, what do you think in the list is in error or is not properly stated? While I think that many of the items in my current list are demonstratively true regardless of what conclusions can be derived from them, I’m interested in working on a reasonably comprehensive list with you that is as accurate as possible.

Once we can agree on a list of just the facts without aiming at a conclusion — including any other items you think may be missing — then we might be able to hammer out what conclusions about reality we can make that reach beyond the basic facts themselves.

Does this sound prudent?

Here, I’ll go first.

Of the 11 items in my list I’ll stand by the first 9 as verifiable facts that are not in serious contention and I will be glad to support 10 and 11 and other derivative conclusions beyond the list itself, including the main one that there are no such things as incorporeal souls.

If you disagree with the items from the list, let’s take them on one at a time and I will make corrections or retractions as necessary.

First, a few notes;

The list (1-9) is not an argument. It’s a list of facts plus a few conclusions (10-11) based on those facts. As such, errors in any one part don’t necessarily negate any of the others.

It is known to be incomplete and has some errors. Most people have not noticed the errors, and to be honest I forgot where some of them are, so if we stumble on them I’ll gladly toss out the bad parts and if available offer more appropriate replacements.

Some of the items are vague, and the text should be cleaned up. Mea culpa. Don’t get too stressed out about something that is not clear. As we come to each one, I’ll clean them up.

Finally, I can assure you that while the list was thrown together, it is not a random free-form list. I put it together after having many dozens of conversations on this issue over the span of about a decade. Even strange items on the list — such as the mention of blood transfusions from corpses — are there to address specific comments raised by advocates for various incorporeal soul claims as well as ideas about undefined life forces.

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I’ve asked similar ones, attempting to get your responses, and I have not been granted a clear answer yet.

Actually, you just ignored my responses. I already responded to each of your 11 points. I don’t think 1-9 have any serious problems, so let’s assume that they are true.

there’s evidence that the substrate is that ‘network’ and that there is no other place that it wells up from.

I think this is basically correct. I’ve never disagreed.

Do you think that incorporeal souls are possible?

Yes, in the sense that a “soul” can potentially be re-embodied. No, in the sense that I don’t believe souls operate without embodiment.

Do you think that incorporeal souls actually exist?

In the sense that I described, yes.

If you answer the second question with YES, do you feel confident enough to describe in what manner they do exist and what evidence you offer for them?

Yes.

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Hermes June 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Thank you. If you want to answer question three in detail, feel free to do so. If you have a question or a recommendation for what to do next, the floor is yours.

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm

If you want to answer question three in detail, feel free to do so. If you have a question or a recommendation for what to do next, the floor is yours.

Sure. I would summarize my response to question 3 as being roughly equivalent to what Dennett describes in “The Intentional Stance”. As Dennett and others point out, the best evidence for the existence of this supervenient layer is that we couldn’t do science without it. In other words, it’s not illusory, because otherwise we couldn’t trust our science.

I’ll admit that there are a fringe of atheists who do maintain that our thoughts and hypotheses are illusory. They believe that reason and science are illusory. I refuse to believe that.

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Hermes June 24, 2010 at 3:15 am

I don’t see how that answers question 3. To rephrase it;

a. Incorporeal souls actually exist. (yes to question 2)

b. Incorporeal souls exist and are supported by the following evidence;

Sure. I would summarize my response to question 3 as being roughly equivalent to what Dennett describes in “The Intentional Stance”. As Dennett and others point out, the best evidence for the existence of this supervenient layer is that we couldn’t do science without it. In other words, it’s not illusory, because otherwise we couldn’t trust our science.

I’ll admit that there are a fringe of atheists who do maintain that our thoughts and hypotheses are illusory. They believe that reason and science are illusory. I refuse to believe that.

To wax poetic for a moment, I’ve got severed corpus callosums, concussions, sleeping, and passing out from keg parties. What exactly are you offering as evidence here that is in support of incorporeal souls?

(Yes, I am going to be dense on this one.)

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Tony Hoffman June 24, 2010 at 8:20 am

Ayer: : ‘You still have not established that either Hume’s philosophy generally or methodological naturalism specifically is required for work to be considered “doing history”.’

There’s an excellent “Introduction to New Testament and the Origins of Christianity” by Delbert Burkett that I found online. The pdf of the document is locked, so I can’t copy whole sections of it, but here are some samples. (You can read the pdf yourself by going here:

In it, Burkett writes:

“The New Testament can be studied either confessionally (i.e. religiously, theologically, devotionally) or academically. In the confessional approach, the reader is a Christian who takes these writngs as scripture, as a norm for life, edification, and instruction in the Christian faith…”

“Since the period of Christianity that we are studying belongs to the ancient past, the method that scholars use to understand it is the same as that used to understand any period of ancient history. The method used to understand the documents from that period, including the New Testament, is the same as that used to understand any other documents from the past. This method, called the historical-critical method or historical criticism, has been the primary method by which scholars have studied the New Testament academically for the last two hundred years.”

“As the two parts of its name suggest, the historical-critical method has two aspects. First, the scholar who uses this method is concerned with history; and second, the scholar exercises his or her critical faculties, the faculties of reason and judgment.”

“The confessional approach is a theological approach. That is, a person who takes it often speaks about the activities of God…. By contrast, the historical approach is non-theological. The historian speaks only about history; and since God would be outside of history, the historian cannot speak about the activities of God. History, as historians understand it, consists of the events in the world that could be observed by anyone, whether religious or not, who stood in the right place at the right time. What historians are able to observe in history is not divine activity but human activity.”

“A historian who is also a Christian might make a statement of faith such as ‘God came to earth in the person of Jesus”; but if so, he or she would be speaking as a Christian, not as a historian.”

There’s a lot more there along these lines, but I think that establishes my position.

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Tony Hoffman June 24, 2010 at 8:50 am

Me: “No. I have basically said that historians obey historical methodologies…”

TR: “More nonsense. You say that we can only call historians those people who obey certain methodologies. Big difference.”

Actually, I don’t see to see a big difference in your distinction. I think I agree with your phrasing of my argument as much as I agree with my own.

TR: “Great. Then I’ll let it rest if you quit calling any supernatural events ahistorical. Since you’ve confirmed that such events are defined out of existence by your method, and that your method is subject to criticism and not exhaustive in the relevant case, you’ll understand that it is possible to study events of the past without such a constraint.”

Sigh. I have never said that supernatural events are impossible. And I haven’t said that studying past events is confined to the methods of history. All I am saying is that if you want to go off the History reservation looking for supernatural explanations, you shouldn’t call what you’re doing History. You should call it theology, or something else.

The analogy should be clear to most theists, because I agree with them when they point out that scientists are going off the science reservation when they make metaphysical judgments. I think that’s the exact same problem, often with the same terrible results.

TR: “I know the argument [Leibniz’s argument for the existence of souls from the Monadology?], and am glad to hear that you plan on educating yourself on it.”

I tried to last night but I think I now think I’ll need a reference (link) from you for exactly what is you think I should read. It would also be helpful to me if you could describe it as well.

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Tony Hoffman June 24, 2010 at 9:01 am

Sorry, here’s the link to Burkett’s Introduction:

http://www.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001043103.pdf

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JS Allen June 24, 2010 at 10:29 am

To wax poetic for a moment, I’ve got severed corpus callosums, concussions, sleeping, and passing out from keg parties. What exactly are you offering as evidence here that is in support of incorporeal souls?

The best evidence for the soul, as I defined it, is the fact that we can have this conversation about the validity or invalidity of a theory about souls.

Before we continue, can you clarify something for me? Do you believe that A) intentions are strongly reducible to the physical, or B) intentions supervene on the physical? Both are legitimate beliefs, but it helps if I know how you see things.

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ayer June 24, 2010 at 11:38 am

“History, as historians understand it, consists of the events in the world that could be observed by anyone, whether religious or not, who stood in the right place at the right time.”

Actually, it establishes my position. The risen Jesus was observed by both believers (Peter, John, the women at the tomb) and nonbelievers (Paul, James). There are a variety of explanations for this: hallucination, the sources are lying or fictionalized, the risen Jesus actually appeared to them. None of those explanations can be ruled out a priori.

Now, I agree that a purely theological assertion such as “Jesus’ nature was a hypostatic union of human and divine” or “God is a trinity of three persons and one substance” does not constitute an “event” that is subject to historical investigation. But that is a different issue.

To establish your position on whether historians are required as a professional matter to embrace methodological naturalism, you need to find an official statement similar to the one I found issued by the organization of science educators. But as Craig noted, your whole exercise in trying to cry “foul” when certain explanations are invoked is kind of silly–the point is that the resurrection can be embraced as the best explanation entirely through the use of reason (analyzing the texts using historical-critical method, reasoning to the existence of God using philosophical arguments which draw on scientific evidence, etc) wholly apart from viewing any text as divine relevation.

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Tony Hoffman June 25, 2010 at 5:24 am

Ayer: “To establish your position on whether historians are required as a professional matter to embrace methodological naturalism, you need to find an official statement similar to the one I found issued by the organization of science educators.”

Really? I thought the sections I have quoted from a textbook used to teach the subject to undergraduates that says, among other things, “The historian speaks only about history; and since God would be outside of history, the historian cannot speak about the activities of God,” would be sufficient.

Here’s another example of the difference, this one from L.H. Marshall on Supernatural Occurrences, “Historical Criticism,” New Testament Interpretation; Essay on Principles.

On the other hand, it is argued that even if a person believes in the supernatural as a private individual, he cannot as a historian allow supernatural explanations of events. To do so would be to abandon the ordinary principle of natural cause and effect in history and to allow a place to the irrational. This procedure would put an end to historical method, since historical method, like scientific method, must proceed on the basis of natural causation. To accept the supernatural would mean giving up the usual methods of establishing historical probability and leave no firm basis for historical investigation, since no grounds would exist for preferring one account of an event to another.

I think that historians have to tip-toe around these facts a little (because there are a lot of religious parents who would not allow their children to attend institutions where academic inquiry would obviously lead to serious questioning about the divine nature of the NT), so I’m guessing that the AHA and others have decided not to unnecessarily poke that nest.

If you’d like to see a teacher talk about the tension in this regard, you should read: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2914

My point has never been that Craig et al. cannot talk about God; it is that when they say they are playing by the rules of history when they invoke God as an explanation they are lying or are glaringly misinformed. I’m really torn as to which it is, btw.

Ayer: “But as Craig noted, your whole exercise in trying to cry “foul” when certain explanations are invoked is kind of silly–the point is that the resurrection can be embraced as the best explanation entirely through the use of reason (analyzing the texts using historical-critical method, reasoning to the existence of God using philosophical arguments which draw on scientific evidence, etc) wholly apart from viewing any text as divine relevation.”

Nope again. It’s not silly at all. There are actually very good reasons for giving the documents of the NT no special privilege and treating them as we do all other ancient history. At the very least it makes the documents much more available to members of other religions and atheists – without the historical perspective, no one but Christians would have a good reason to read the Bible. As Avalos points out, by taking special privileges away from historical study of the documents of the Bible, historical study of the Bible can be saved as an academic pursuit. Without that, NT Studies in an open, honest academic setting will continue to diminish.

Unfortunately, as your paragraph above shows, you seem to somehow still not understand that “historical-critical method” and “supernatural explanation” are incompatible in the same way that alchemy and chemistry are. I am beginning to conclude that there seems to be something in the Christian mindset that can tolerate that kind of dissonance.

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 11:43 am

JS Allen, up front, most philosophy is a waste of time.

I realize that is strange to say on a blog that deals with philosophy, but I’m saying it.

I am really not interested in getting into a game of twisty little passages that are all alike. We can deal directly with reality and I hope that we will do so and keep abstractions and philosophical meanderings to a minimum. If it turns out that reality happens to support a specific philosophy, so much the better for both of us as we can then both consider that philosophy for future snap decisions.

* * *

Note, edits.

JS Allen: The best evidence for the incorporeal souls, as I defined it, is the fact that we can have this conversation about the validity or invalidity of a theory about souls.

OK, spell it out. I’m going to assume nothing and start to nit pick on every detail if you don’t get a bit more specific on your own.

JS Allen:Before we continue, can you clarify something for me? Do you believe that A) intentions are strongly reducible to the physical, or B) intentions supervene on the physical? Both are legitimate beliefs, but it helps if I know how you see things.

I’m open to A or B being exclusively true.^^^ There’s clear evidence for both. I see no reason to say either one or the other is exclusively true because there is evidence for both.

(It may be that there are no intentions, but I see no reason to go down that rabbit hole for the same reason solipsism is not productive or even enlightening. As such, why start mentioning them now when we didn’t need to talk about them before? Very strange.)

* * *

The more we talk, the more vague your comments become. It seems as if you expect me to share a whole host of specific unspoken presumptions. I’m really not interested in that, so from now on assume I do not share or even know what your presumptions are. If, of course, you catch me doing the same thing you are very welcome in pointing out what requires clarification. My concern is that you are attempting to play some kind of game like Fizzbin with me.

.
.
.
.
^^^. Said while not acknowledging your whole supervenient tangent. As mentioned by Atheist.pig, it seems like you are aiming for some kind of special emergence/emergent property of reality but reject emergence/emergent (and related concepts) for some undefined reason as either inadequate or actually damaging.

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JS Allen June 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Hermes, I have to say that your response is inarticulate. Let me get very specific. I’m holding to a definition of “soul” that equates directly with what Dennett calls “The Intentional Stance”, and which Dawkins holds to in “The God Delusion”. Both are common sense.

If you’re going to call Dennett and Dawkins “too philosophical” and unrealistic, then the conversation is over. If you have a better description of reality than they do, the burden of defending it is on you. If anyone is trolling and playing fizzbin at this point, it’s you. My concern is that you’re too ignorant to even understand their simple explanations aimed at laypeople.

Your blog post about “no immortal soul” is desperately retarded, and I have very patiently explained why. If you can’t understand why, perhaps it is because you don’t understand the simple concepts I have explained to you. That is your fault, not mine. Please read the Dennett and Dawkins papers I have recommended, and summarize to me to indicate that you have even the slightest understanding.

Stubborn refusal to understand simple concepts is not proof that you are right. Unless you can summarize and argue against the arguments presented, you’re just being a douchey troll.

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I’m not talking to Dawkins or Dennett, I’m talking to you.

If you can’t explain yourself that is not my fault or my problem.

I’ve done my work, and spent a few years discussing it with other people. Like them, you’ve even agreed with my points without argument.

If you want to say that I am ignorant or stubborn, I’ll grant you this; you are half right. I do refuse to be strung along, and I won’t grant you what you will not say. If I did, you could casually take it back — and why not? You didn’t say it, so there’s no commitment.

Meanwhile, I’ve committed. For a few years. To the same topic. So, don’t tell me that you’re going to waltz in and stun me with your insights if you fail to say anything of substance.

Make no doubt, though, I am not insulted by your comments as we haven’t had a conversation yet. I’m still waiting for you to arrive. You have yet to speak plainly.

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JS Allen June 25, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Meanwhile, I’ve committed. For a few years. To the same topic. So, don’t tell me that you’re going to waltz in and stun me with your insights if you fail to say anything of substance.

You’ve committed to what topic? To the incoherent blog post you keep linking? You can link to that blog post for as many years as you want, and it will still be incoherent. Points 1-9 are common sense, and 10-11 are a stupid leap of faith that no rational atheist would share.

I’m not talking to Dawkins or Dennett, I’m talking to you.

My argument is equivalent to theirs. Who shall we trust: some anonymous troll who goes by the name “Hermes”, or the esteemed Dennett and Dawkins? Since the anonymous “Hermes” is “committed” to his incoherent blog post, we can’t really expect him to be rational, can we?

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Atheist.pig June 26, 2010 at 5:11 am

@Hermes
If JS Allen agrees with Dawkins and Dennett then he’s a materialist with regards to the mind, no soul floating out there detached from the brain or from his hypothetical mind uploading computer. His “supervenience naturalism” position is nothing more than a complexity argument or emergent argument.

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JS Allen June 26, 2010 at 11:11 am

His “supervenience naturalism” position is nothing more than a complexity argument or emergent argument.

This is not my position. It is Dawkins and Dennett’s position. And Dennett doesn’t make an “emergent” argument. He argues that “mother nature” is the “crane” that hoists up the material into the intentional.

If we want to assert, like Hermes does, that our intentions and identity cannot be revivified, there are only two ways to do it. One it to argue that our intentions and identity are strongly reducible to the physical. That is discredited and self-refuting. The other way is to assume some magic pixie dust that magically binds specific cells to our thoughts. That’s just stupid.

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Zeb June 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm

JS Allen and Hermes, this is a very interesting discussion to observe, I hope you keep at it despite your frustrations. JS Allen, your arguments look to me like the same ones theists like myself use to defend belief in immaterial souls. Basically, concepts usually included in “soul” are not deniable and yet not reducible to simple matter, so we conclude they must be immaterial. I’m not sure how your supervenience is different from that (other than demanding the soul never occurs without the presence of a “substrate”). Does supervenience mean something other than “immaterial but necessarily concurrent with matter,” and is there a reason you prefer supervenience to plain old immateriality? I don’t mean to derail your discussion, I just want to learn more about this concept which is new to me.

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Atheist.pig June 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

@JS Allen

Even if we understood how each of our billions of brain cells work separately, this would not tell us how the brain works as an agency. The ‘laws of thought’ depend not only upon the properties of those brain cells, but also on how they are connected. And these connections are established not by the basic, ‘general’ laws of physics, but by the particular arrangements of the millions of bits of information in our inherited genes. To be sure, ‘general’ laws apply to everything. But, for that very reason, they can rarely explain anything in particular…

It is not a matter of different laws, but of additional kinds of theories and principles that operate at higher levels of organization… Each higher level of description must add to our knowledge about lower levels, rather than replace it.

~Marvin Minsky

Is this what your trying to describe your position as? I doubt there’s an argument here if thats all your alluding to.

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JS Allen June 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Is this what your trying to describe your position as? I doubt there’s an argument here if thats all your alluding to.

Yes, that’s pretty accurate. We don’t even need to assume that Minsky is right about what these other “levels” are, since there is some debate. If we accept that intentionality operates by different principles at a higher level of organization, it’s enough to refute Hermes argument about the soul’s mortality.

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JS Allen June 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

your arguments look to me like the same ones theists like myself use to defend belief in immaterial souls.

Theists will usually jump straight to dualism. That is, they’ll point out the self-refuting nature of eliminative materialism, and conclude that consciousness must be composed of both matter and “spirit” (or something like that).

Theists have tried to argue that Dennett’s “intentional stance” is really just eliminative materialism, and thus that dualism is necessary. I’m not convinced. I’m a theist, BTW.

Does supervenience mean something other than “immaterial but necessarily concurrent with matter,” and is there a reason you prefer supervenience to plain old immateriality?

“Plain old immateriality” is unfalsifiable by naturalist science since it claims to operate completely independent of the laws of physics. Obviously, scientists don’t like that sort of thing. If someone starts using the “spiritual realm” as an explanation for things, what’s to stop him from bringing in goblins and faeries? I don’t think these are fatal problems, but you can understand why someone who is committed to naturalism must reject “plain old immateriality”. It’s basically a conversation-stopper.

Supervenience is, in my opinion, the only credible account of intentionality that is available to committed materialists. The supervenience approach leaves the door wide open for souls to be immortal, which is what gets Ray Kurzweil so excited. Imagine a computer in the distant future that doesn’t even need you to upload your soul, but instead is able to recompose and re-embody souls of people long dead. That should make you think twice before you kick an ATM machine or yell at your computer. :-)

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 4:08 am

Atheist.pig, what I found interesting is that very few hits came up with the term “supervenience naturalists”, and the bulk of those uses come from JS Allen either here or on other blogs.

The first hit returned? A book of apologetics articles on the Christian view of naturalism shows up as the first hit, edited by none other than William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (a lesser known Christian apologist).

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 4:12 am

Atheist.pig, good quote.

JS Allen: If we accept that intentionality operates by different principles at a higher level of organization, it’s enough to refute Hermes argument about the soul’s mortality.

Hmmm… no. No it doesn’t, and you should realize how and why it does not.

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 4:17 am

JS Allen: The supervenience approach leaves the door wide open for souls to be immortal, which is what gets Ray Kurzweil so excited. Imagine a computer in the distant future that doesn’t even need you to upload your soul, but instead is able to recompose and re-embody souls of people long dead.

I can think of about 3 different serious gaps or problems with the above. I can’t imagine that you don’t see them too. As such, will you address those issues?

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 4:36 am

For what it’s worth, it seems like Stewart Goetz’s article that mentions “supervenience naturalist” is available without buying the Craig/Moreland effort;

Naturalism and Libertarian Agency

85 pages of woo?

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 8:05 am

@Hermes
The quote I gave from Minsky is just a common sentiment among researchers on the brain/mind. They feel we need new principles/laws of emergence of how the brain produces consciousness/mind/self and so on. But Minsky is a hardened materialist as far as I know and even the others who say we need new principles of emergence are also materialists, so no pixie dust going on there.

The way JS Allen puts is misleading and confusing in my opinion when he says “Immortality of the Soul”. If uploading the mind does become possible it will be on the back of many major technological advances in many fields of research. It will also show that our minds are material since what we will be uploading is just information in patterns operating on a different substrate.

The “supervenience naturalism” is a red herring also since when you write your name “Hermes” on your drivers license app form the letters are supervening on the paper. Thats all it is. I wish he’d either stop using it since its either useless or its not his position. We don’t know how the brain produces consciousness but as Rodolfo Llinas says

We don’t have the answer…we don’t…but we can taste it.

I love that quote.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

For what it’s worth, it seems like Stewart Goetz’s article that mentions “supervenience naturalist” is available without buying the Craig/Moreland effort;

Thanks for sharing the article Hermes. It took me about 30 minutes to read it, and I recommend you do the same. I don’t agree with the author’s conclusions, but when you articulate why you don’t, you’ll understand why I am articulating the only credible atheist position.

@Zeb – you should read the article Hermes linked. It’s a perfect example of what I meant by theists attempting to leap to dualism, and simultaneously accusing Dennett of being an eliminativist.

Next, Hermes, you can find the Dennett book “Intentional Stance” on Google Books and you can read the source material. It’s understandable that there will be few sources on the Web which link to the topic (Wikipedia is another), since it’s kind of hard to refute.

I’ve cited Dawkins, Dennett, and Kurzweil in defense of my position. You’ve only cited an addle-brained blog post you wrote.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 10:00 am

If uploading the mind does become possible it will be on the back of many major technological advances in many fields of research. It will also show that our minds are material since what we will be uploading is just information in patterns operating on a different substrate.

I agree wholeheartedly with both points. That’s why I can’t believe that Hermes is still clinging to his idiotic belief that the soul will never be able to be revivified.

It would be like saying that a computer program can never be revived if the computer it was running on dies. It’s utterly retarded.

How do you go from a perfectly reasonable statement about “The mind/substrate is wholly material, and what we are uploading is patterns operating on that substrate”, to Heremes conclusion about “No way to get to an afterlife”?!? It boggles the mind. The two statements are mutually contradictory.

There is obviously no proof of this impossibility, so Hermes must just be asserting it because he wants it to be true. Or maybe he’s operating on some weirdly superstitious basis where the mind is a super-special pixie dust type of computer that magically causes thoughts to only be able to run on specific discrete cells.

It’s like a 10 year old child petulantly screaming, “It’s *my* program! It can only run on *my* computer. If I smash up my computer, *nobody* will be able to run it!”

I understand that Hermes wants it to be true, but you can’t just scream it into being true.

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

@ JS Allen

I’ve cited Dawkins, Dennett, and Kurzweil in defense of my position. You’ve only cited an addle-brained blog post you wrote.

You linked to a wikipedia article on Dennett, thats it. How does the immortality of our minds fit in with your soul going to heaven since you mentioned your a theist.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

I’ve cited Dawkins, Dennett, and Kurzweil in defense of my position. You’ve only cited an addle-brained blog post you wrote.

You linked to a wikipedia article on Dennett, thats it.

Wrong. I cited Dennett’s book, “The Intentional Stance”. If you’re super lazy, just look for the chapter titled “True Believers”. It’s a masterpiece.

Dawkins follows Dennett’s line of reasoning in “The God Delusion”.

And the Kurzweil reference is obvious. Please update your blog post to explain why Kurzweil is wrong about the possibility of uploading his soul one day. If you can explain authoritatively why Kurzweil is wrong, perhaps you could get a job at MIT and stop wasting your towering intellect in trolling the Internet.

How does the immortality of our minds fit in with your soul going to heaven since you mentioned your a theist.

I’ve already explained that Christians don’t believe in a soul that floats around and operates without a body. Such a view was condemned as gnostic heresy in the earliest days of the church. This is just one of the areas where Christianity and atheism come to the same conclusion. If you’re going to disagree with Dennett and Kurzweil simply because they coincidentally aligned with a Christian doctrine, then you’ll confirm my high opinion of your intellectual integrity.

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm

And the Kurzweil reference is obvious. Please update your blog post to explain why Kurzweil is wrong about the possibility of uploading his soul one day.

Lets stick to the word mind eh, just so we don’t get confused anymore.

I’m a fan of Kurzweil and I never claimed he’s wrong, maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t happen, here’s a discussion when you get the chance on it plus other topics are also discussed:
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/28165

I’ve already explained that Christians don’t believe in a soul that floats around and operates without a body.

I’m surprised by this, I though Christians believed in souls in heaven.

If you’re going to disagree with Dennett and Kurzweil simply because they coincidentally aligned with a Christian doctrine, then you’ll confirm my high opinion of your intellectual integrity.

You’ve lost me here again, what Christian doctrine are they aligning with? That the mind is material and we might one day be able to transfer it onto a computer through technological breakthroughs?

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 1:55 pm

How do you go from a perfectly reasonable statement about “The mind/substrate is wholly material, and what we are uploading is patterns operating on that substrate”, to Heremes conclusion about “No way to get to an afterlife”?!? It boggles the mind. The two statements are mutually contradictory.

I’m not defending anyone else’s argument here. And how is it an afterlife? Its a continuation of your life on a different substrate. Your just confusing things again with “Afterlife” and “Souls”. We become programs running on hardware we create, not what theists usually think of when they talk about an “Afterlife”.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I’m surprised by this, I though Christians believed in souls in heaven.

Anyone who believes that heaven is filled with disembodied souls running around, is not a Christian. Christians believe that we must be given new bodies to be in heaven. Every Christian creed affirms bodily resurrection. And resurrection doesn’t mean “zombies jumping up from the grave”, as some movies depict. The Christian doctrine is about “new bodies”, not about reanimated cadavers.

And how is it an afterlife? Its a continuation of your life on a different substrate.

What else would an afterlife be? It’s not as if it’s a continuation of a different life.

We become programs running on hardware we create, not what theists usually think of when they talk about an “afterlife”.

If you die before the hardware is created, it obviously wouldn’t be hardware that you create. Even if it’s created when you’re alive, the definition of who creates or controls it could be imprecise. A machine complex enough to embody multiple human minds with full fidelity will be vastly more complex than any human mind. It would likely be largely self-generated.

Note that the Christian account of the afterlife leaves many things vague. Souls are given new bodies which are incorruptible, and some souls are better off than others. There’s not a whole lot more than that. We simply don’t know.

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Rich Griese June 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Hello JS Allen,

quote;
Anyone who believes that heaven is filled with disembodied souls running around, is not a Christian

Well, at least not a true Scotsman, I mean Christian.

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for that Blogginheads.tv link, BTW; I’ve become a huge fan of Vernor Vinge lately, and it’s cool they give a shout-out to him. I like their approach of analysis from top-down constraints.

FWIW, I’m not saying that Kurzweil is right. I can think of a few other plausible ways the scenario could play out. And we simply have no idea. But I was reacting to Hermes flat-out assertion that the soul/mind will forever cease to be when the underlying cells are gone. To me, that flies in the face of everything we know about science. It requires a leap of faith, and seemingly requires some dualist pixie-dust.

The Rodolfo Llinas quote is very appropriate. We don’t know exactly how to get from the physical to the supervenient intentionality, but “we can taste it”. As soon as we get there, we have solved the hardest part of the problem. Everything else is within sight.

There is an open question about how far back you can go, and how many dead souls you can re-vivify. It is an information preservation problem. For example, check out this recent experiment, where a computer scan can predict people’s resolve to “do the right thing” better than people predict their own behavior. Moral intentions obviously leave measurable signatures in the physical world. Suppose that we could install super-sensitive instruments light-years away and collect information from them instantly. We could reconstruct mental states from long ago. Obviously, there is the possibility of signals cancelling each other out and leaving indeterminate states, but the point is that we have no idea what will be possible.

I just think it’s completely reckless, and unsupportable by science, to declare that we will forever cease to exist just so long as we destroy our bodies.

I think this recent post about dueling Jesuses is somehow appropriate.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Anyone who believes that heaven is filled with disembodied souls running around, is not a Christian

Well, at least not a true Scotsman, I mean Christian.

Hey, even the dirty Papists believe it. That’s why Catholics have historically venerated the bones and dirty clothes of the Saints.

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Atheist.pig — another good quote this time from Rodolfo Llinas. Thanks.

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm

JS Allen:Thanks for sharing the article Hermes. It took me about 30 minutes to read it, and I recommend you do the same. I don’t agree with the author’s conclusions, but when you articulate why you don’t, you’ll understand why I am articulating the only credible atheist position.

Care to give me a summary? I found so much unworthy of my time in my brief skimming of it, I was only modestly curious. 30 minutes to read it? That makes me even less so.

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

JS Allen, you seem to be under a strange preconception that I am responsible to address your points — especially when you do nothing to support them.

When you put forward your own claims, then — and only then, we will have an actual conversation.

Meanwhile, I note — disappointed but not surprised, that you avoided my two difficult^^^ comments, and went for the simple ones;

JS Allen: If we accept that intentionality operates by different principles at a higher level of organization, it’s enough to refute Hermes argument about the soul’s mortality.

Hermes: Hmmm… no. No it doesn’t, and you should realize how and why it does not.

JS Allen: The supervenience approach leaves the door wide open for souls to be immortal, which is what gets Ray Kurzweil so excited. Imagine a computer in the distant future that doesn’t even need you to upload your soul, but instead is able to recompose and re-embody souls of people long dead.

Hermes: I can think of about 3 different serious gaps or problems with the above. I can’t imagine that you don’t see them too. As such, will you address those issues?

^^^. Difficult or maybe just inconvenient?

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Hermes June 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Zeb, thanks for your comments on this blog. I’ve found them generally insightful and thoughtful. Yet, I can only do with what is at hand. If I made up comments for JS Allen, I could likely bring this conversation to a satisfying conclusion, but I’ve decided to take the harder road — wisely or foolishly — and demand that JS Allen actually speak for themself.

My criteria is simple; deal with reality, and make it clear when something is a speculation and not a fact.

Unfortunately, JS Allen has not shown how what he(?) proposes is not speculative.

Yet, I’ve been accused of lacking imagination. Either I have not presented myself well here, or I have not been perceived correctly. In either case, imagination — suppose that … — is not at all times warranted.

Zeb: Basically, concepts usually included in “soul” are not deniable and yet not reducible to simple matter, so we conclude they must be immaterial.

A slight change in emphasis from how I’m reading that, and we’re in full agreement. Maybe we already are? The word simple seems inadequate.

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Care to give me a summary? I found so much unworthy of my time in my brief skimming of it, I was only modestly curious. 30 minutes to read it? That makes me even less so.

He was trying to summarize the various positions, so it was already a summary to begin with. I felt his summary of the various positions was fair, except in the case of Dennett. I don’t quite understand his criticism of Dennett, other than that he has a prior commitment to rejecting “mother nature” as an explanation. I also felt his “non-causal” bit was rather too “innovative”, just like your lone-wolf attempt to prove that minds are irretrievable after the cells die.

To be totally frank, I don’t get the sense that you have the mental horsepower to even follow your own claims to their natural conclusion. You can’t even summarize and respond to a paper that you yourself cited. Are you serious? Why did you cite it if you can’t say why it’s wrong? Do you think anyone really believes your vague ramblings and puff-chested posturing?

Hermes: I can think of about 3 different serious gaps or problems with the above. I can’t imagine that you don’t see them too. As such, will you address those issues?

Hermes, you’re an idiotic troll. You ask me to read you mind (when I’m not convinced that you have much of one), assert baldly that I can read your mind, and then nag me for not having done so. I have no desire to get inside your addled brain.

JS Allen, you seem to be under a strange preconception that I am responsible to address your points

I’m under no such misconception. In fact, I’m certain that you can’t address my points, because your assertions 10-11 are indefensible and religious. If a person’s mind is a program running on the physical substrate of his brain, only superstitious faith would state that his mind could never run on another substrate. Every month, neuroscience makes this superstitious religiosity less tenable.

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Rich Griese June 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Hello JS Allen;

QUOTE; Hermes, you’re an idiotic troll. You ask me to read you mind (when I’m not convinced that you have much of one), assert baldly that I can read your mind, and then nag me for not having done so. I have no desire to get inside your addled brain.

Excellent! Than we can all look forward to our email updates not being filled with the endless, useless discussions between you too.

Now that you have declared him a troll we can certainly expect now further conversations between you two. Yeah! I would like to thank you for ending the insanity on behalf of all the sane people in the world.

Praise Jesus!

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 9:22 pm

@RichGriese – Click the “Manage your subscriptions” link at the bottom, and the e-mail flood will stop. You’re welcome!

Alternately, read Hermes blog post that he’s so proud of, and weigh in. We’re wondering how Hermes knows with certainty that his mind can never be revivified on a new substrate. Maybe the angel Moroni told him so?

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Rich Griese June 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Hello Joshua Allen,

QUOTE;@RichGriese – Click the “Manage your subscriptions” link at the bottom, and the e-mail flood will stop. You’re welcome!

Wait… is that your way of saying that you are going to continue talking to someone you call a troll? Hrm… ok. Well, thanks for the advice about unsubscribing, but see that would result in my not seeing updates from other people. I will simply add a email rule to move any of the comments to you to the trash folder. Best of luck to you.

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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JS Allen June 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm

@RichGriese – You’re absolutely right; thanks for talking me off the ledge. I’ll put any further commentary on this matter on Hermes blog.

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Tony Hoffman June 28, 2010 at 5:00 am

Yes, now that that appears to be over I’ll just add that neither Ayer nor TR Reid have responded to my last e-mails to them. I think that Rich Griese and I are interested in the historical claims of Christianity, so if anybody else had something along that line they wanted to add I’m still game; otherwise, I think this thing has run its course.

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Tony Hoffman June 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

“e-mails” above should have been “comments”

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Thomas Reid June 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

Tony,
Sorry to be away for a few days, some personal stuff came up. These will be my last comments on the thread.

Sigh. I have never said that supernatural events are impossible.

But that’s not what I called you on. I said you keep calling them “ahistorical”. If all you mean by that is that certain people who practice a certain method that defines out of existence supernatural events don’t engage supernatural explanations in their studies, that is all well and good. But of course, this is trivially true and no kind of undercutting response to Licona’s position. It’s actually a very innocuous point – is that really all you meant to point out?

And I haven’t said that studying past events is confined to the methods of history. All I am saying is that if you want to go off the History reservation looking for supernatural explanations, you shouldn’t call what you’re doing History. You should call it theology, or something else.

Thanks for clearing up your equivocation with “history” versus “History”. I understand now that you haven’t been objecting to the assertion that the resurrection actually occurred in the past.

I tried to last night but I think I now think I’ll need a reference (link) from you for exactly what is you think I should read. It would also be helpful to me if you could describe it as well.

Leibniz’ Monadology (ee section 17 in particular):
http://philosophy.eserver.org/leibniz-monadology.txt

Here is Plantinga’s expansion of the argument:
http://abmp3.com/download/4626478-against-materialism-www-maclaurin-org.html

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 9:33 am

I ask for simple things, and get ridicule from someone who is not willing to back their own statements with their own words. There’s only so much hand waving that is acceptable.

Rich Griese: Excellent! Than we can all look forward to our email updates not being filled with the endless, useless discussions between you too.

Granted.

If anyone is serious and is willing to talk directly, they can start again. For now, I’ll take JSA’s responses as a concession that there is no evidence on offer, only abstract suppositions.

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Tony Hoffman June 28, 2010 at 9:37 am

TR: “If all you mean by that is that certain people who practice a certain method that defines out of existence supernatural events don’t engage supernatural explanations in their studies, that is all well and good.”

Good. We do agree about this.

TR: “But of course, this is trivially true and no kind of undercutting response to Licona’s position.”

Actually, it is an undercutting response to Licona’s position, because he is calling his the best historical explanation. This is like saying that that God’s breath is the best scientific explanation for why water turns to a vapor. If you think it’s trivial that Licona appears to think that theological and historical explanations should be combined without distinction, and that theological explanations are valid in the field of History, then you appear to be stubborn in the face of facts. The word “historical” means something, and I do not think that Licona is using the word properly.

TR: ‘Thanks for clearing up your equivocation with “history” versus “History”.’

Actually, my first “history” was a typo – I meant to type “History” there as well. (I am virtually certain I did this in several other places.) Calling it an equivocation, when I have written so many comments here trying to explain historical methodology and the distinction between theological and historical explanations seems gratuitous. And now that you know that I meant to type “History” in the first instance, does that somehow change your understanding of my whole argument?

TR: “I understand now that you haven’t been objecting to the assertion that the resurrection actually occurred in the past.”

I believe that you have, from the outset, assumed a number of things about my argument that were not true (you started out by asserting that I was arguing that the Resurrection did not occur, for instance). I am glad that you are taking the time to understand what it is I have been trying to say.

Here is my argument:

1) Licona asserts that the resurrection is the best historical explanation for the events described in the New Testament;
2) Historians (those who study and write about history as taught in History Departments) do not allow supernatural explanations (because the historical method “must proceed on the basis of natural causation”) in their methodology;
3) Licona’s assertion is false because of 2.

Licona appears to be equivocating, and I do not find that to be trivial. (If you or Licona would like to argue that the Resurrection is the best theological explanation, you won’t hear a peep out of me.)

TR: “These will be my last comments on the thread.” I would advise you not to write statements like this. I have written similar things in the past, and then it becomes awkward when I keep getting dragged back in.

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JS Allen June 28, 2010 at 9:55 am

@HermesProphetOfMoroni – I’ve already transferred the discussion to your post on the matter. I’ll not be discussing any further here.

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

That’s a really bad retort. With sincerity, I do indeed feel embarrassed for you.

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Haukur June 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm

An issue similar to the one Luke and Carrier are debating is explored in the first chapter of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s fan fiction story. Here’s a quote which I think gets to the gist of it:

The skeptical part of [Harry Potter] noted that he still hadn’t seen anything that violated the known laws of the universe. Surely a little conspiracy was far, far less improbable than the universe really working like that.

But it was also a technique of rationality to notice when you were confused. To stop and say: wait a minute, that feels a little off, my understanding of the world didn’t predict for that to happen. Even if Harry tried to explain the day’s events by sudden insanity or unmotivated conspiracies, that didn’t put everything back to normal. It didn’t make the day’s events expected. It didn’t make him feel not-confused. There was no denying that something very, very, very odd was going on.

If something like the reliable-witnesses-to-really-fast-transport scenario Carrier describes were to occur to Luke I think he would be justified in thinking: “Wait a minute, this is really really unexpected – maybe there are severe deficiencies in my understanding of the universe.”

What I’m saying is that it may not matter so much if sudden unmotivated conspiracies are more or less probable than a certain type of transport – as long as both are very improbable indeed. The first thing I would doubt in a situation like that is myself.

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piero July 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I’m not sure I understand Carrier’s point concerning the unlikelihood of a conspiracy. It is certainly very improbable that three previously reliable people would get involved in such a scheme, but this improbability pales into insignificance when compared to the infinitesimal probability of the monumental conspiracy needed to build such an advanced starship in secret.

Am I missing something?

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Charles July 4, 2010 at 10:17 pm

RE: the June 30th update

I still think something in the analysis is off. Because even if we assume the three friends believe their stories are true, that doesn’t mean that they are.

We know enough about self-justification to know given the right circumstances, we can convince ourselves of damn near anything. Memories get edited, deleted, revised. In ways that reinforce our narratives. So we have good reason to withhold judgement when people (even trusted friends) make wild claims if for no other reason than that they have brains!

But, so what? Le’ts take this to its logical conclusion. The best explanation we have for the early church is that people actually believed the stuff. And that means if we were friends with Peter, John, and Paul, then we would be warranted if we believed them when they said Jesus rose from the dead.

But that’s crazy talk.

And I think the same is true for his example. Because the difference between the two is not one of kind. But rather degree. And I think if Eli, Rush, and Young came to me with wild tales of interstellar space travel, I wouldn’t just take their word for it.

I’d ask to see the fucking ship.

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lukeprog July 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Charles,

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.

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Torbjörn Larsson, OM August 16, 2010 at 9:02 am

Thanks all, this was very educational, I was prompted to get into the “Jesus of Nasareth as myth” theory and make my conclusion.

The long thread shows that the debate mostly arise from a misunderstanding of testing. Despite bayesian methods being a successful part of science, especially in hypothesis building, it is mostly meaningless to ask a bayesian about hypothesis testing. Carrier shows this, he wants to confirm his hypothesis when testing means possible rejection.

Commenter ayer shows another form of this cryptoinductivist strawman of testing when he claims a) testing is verification and b) processes differs in testability over time (‘can’t test historical sciences’).

Granted, Carrier at one point discuss testing a minor hypothesis. But it is confused, because the historicity testing for existence of an object (similar eye witness accounts of, say, an interstellar ship) is confused with testing the predicted characteristics of said object (say, an interstellar ship ability to bring rocks sourcable as from another solar system by metallicity).

In other words, Charles and lukeprog got that part correct.

Returning to the Jesus of Nasareth as myth/historical person, it is most parsimonious (bayesian) to assume this religion founder as myth or outright pre-literature story as most of them are. The respective religions certainly think so of each other!

To test this myth theory, a prediction would be that there would be no independent eyewitness accounts. Evidently there are none, the non-myth historical sources describe the myth tradition itself. Test passed, we _can not_ reject the best theory – it is a myth. (And there are other obvious tests, such as the myth post-dating the described period by a generation or more.)

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