The seventh criterion

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 8: “Who Was Jesus?”)

William Lane Craig openly admits that he believes in assuming the New Testament is right until proven wrong. For the sake of appearances, though, he proposes a kind of academic neutrality that is at least nominally open to the possibility that individual events recounted in the NT might be true or false, regardless of the reliability of other reported events. Today we’re going to look at the six criteria that he uses to judge the authenticity of individual gospel events. We’ll also look at the seventh criterion, which he seems to avoid mentioning.

I should point out that these six criteria are not Craig’s own invention, but rather are intended to represent the kind of criteria historical scholars typically use to evaluate any historical claim. Craig may have adapted them somewhat to his own purposes, but in general most of them are not too bad. Let’s take Craig’s criteria in the order he presents them.

1. Historical fit: The incident fits in with known historical facts of the time and place.

For example, as Richard Carrier recently pointed out, Matthew and Luke each tie Jesus’ birth to a different date: Matthew has 4BC, prior to the death of Herod the Great, and Luke has 6AD, the year of the first Roman census. Christian apologists ignore the obvious explanation—that Mary was in labor for nine years—and instead try to find some way to make Herod co-governor with Quirinius in 4BC or some such. As Carrier points out in extensive detail, such explanations are not a historical fit, for a number of reasons. The Gospels contradict each other, so just deal.

2. Independent, early sources: The incident is related in multiple sources, which are near to the time when the incident is said to have occurred and which don’t rely on each other or on a common source.

This would be a good criterion, if Craig applied it correctly. Unfortunately, he considers the New Testament authors to be multiple independent sources, despite the fact that they are all passing on the common tradition as taught in the church. Just five pages earlier, he was arguing that the Jewish culture had perfected the art of passing on oral tradition intact, which means that the NT authors were not independent (at least after the initial formative period when the stories stabilized in more or less their present form). An independent source would have to be some non-Christian record, and it would need to say more than just “This is what the Christians tell us they believe.” Unfortunately for Craig, almost none of that has anything at all to do with the historicity of the New Testament.

3. Embarrassment: The incident is awkward or counterproductive for the early Christians.

This is another good criterion, and one that most Christian apologists get wrong. If Christians are going to preach a Messiah who is prophesied to be “the stone that the builders rejected,” then it’s not an embarrassment for Christians to tell stories about the “builders” (i.e. the scribes and chief priests) rejecting him. A genuine embarrassment would have to be something that contradicts the story, not something that reinforces it. For example, if the Christian God is supposed to be the judge of the living and the dead, and Jesus turns around and denies that God is the God of the dead, then that undercuts the gospel and makes salvation and eternal judgment a lie. As such, reports of Jesus saying this are more likely to be true than if he were reported as saying and doing things that only reinforce the gospel.

4. Dissimilarity: The incident is unlike earlier Jewish ideas and/or unlike later Christian ideas.

This one’s pretty iffy. Zola Levitt once remarked that Jews have a saying: “two Jews, three opinions.” Even among rabbis, there’s a range of opinion and a number of disagreements. Once you add in the gap between rabbinical beliefs on the one hand, and the mish-mosh of superstitions and heresies that lay believers absorb on the other, it’s pretty hard to objectively determine that certain disagreements are “dissimilar” whereas other disagreements are not. At best, dissimilarity shows only that the person relating the story had a bias in favor of the novel idea. Then again, there is some merit in observing cases where a recorded teaching contradicts subsequent Christian dogma. To the extent that a Biblical record disproves accepted Christian teachings, it’s less likely to be the product of mere orthodox propaganda. Somehow I don’t think Craig is going to present too much of that evidence, though.

5. Semitisms: Traces of Hebrew or Aramaic language (spoken by Jesus’ countrymen) appear in the story.

Linguistic evidence is another good criterion, and it’s one that highlights a singularly remarkable aspect of the Gospel. None of the early documents about Jesus’ life are in his native language. Not one. No manuscripts, and no mention of any early believer so much as hearing about the possible existence of any such document. [Note: no, I stand corrected, as Jayman reminds me in the comments. Eusebius claimed that Papias claimed to have heard of a Hebrew gospel of Matthew (though one might suspect that either Eusebius or Papias was mistaken, given the balance of the evidence).] Imagine if you were researching Mohammed, and discovered that prior to the late 900’s the only records of him—and the Qur’an itself—were all in French. Might raise some eyebrows, eh? I’m still skeptical of the conclusion that Jesus never existed, but if I were to be convinced, I’d find this bit of evidence particularly compelling.

6. Coherence: The incident fits in with facts already established about Jesus.

This one’s the ringer. Call it confirmation bias instead of coherence if you want a more accurate label. Remember, Craig has already admitted that he believes in assuming the NT is true until proven false. Criterion 6 takes standard dogma about Jesus, elevates it to the status of “established fact,” and then uses the stories as evidence confirming the authenticity of each other. Pretty bogus. Internal consistency is necessary in order for the accounts to be true, but it’s not sufficient. This one only works as a negative evidence, using contradictions to prove that at least one of the reports must be false.

So what about the seventh criterion, the one Craig avoids even mentioning? Let me add it to his list.

7. Real-world consistency: The incident is consistent with what we can actually observe in the real world.

Notice the difference between this and #6. Craig only uses the “coherence” criterion to measure the consistency of the stories with one another. That in itself is not a bad criterion, except that Craig is limiting the scope too much. For an alleged historical event to be acceptable as genuinely authentic, it needs to be consistent not only with the facts that Christians accept as “established,” but with the rest of real-world facts as well. The reason we don’t accept Achilles’ invulnerability is because in the real world, there is no river you can dip your baby into that will turn him invulnerable. The same goes for the Gospel as well.

This criterion is conspicuous by its absence, because Craig wants us to assume that miracles are possible by default. He does not want us evaluating miracle stories in the light of what we actually find in the real world. He wants us, in other words, to “keep an open mind”—where “open-minded” means neither more nor less than “gullible.” He wants us to believe what men say, just because they say it, regardless of the internal and external inconsistencies in what they tell us. He has spent this much of the chapter, including his five arguments for assuming that the entire New Testament is true, working towards that end.

What’s remarkable about these criteria is the way they so frequently fail to achieve his goal when applied fairly and objectively to the evidence. Craig therefore follows this discussion with a certain amount of pre-emptive damage control.

Notice a couple of things about these “criteria.” First, they’re all positive signs of historical credibility. Therefore, they can only be used to establish the historicity of some incident, not to deny it. If a story is not embarrassing or dissimiar or found in independent early sources, that obviously doesn’t mean that the incident isn’t historical.

Slick, eh? Craig is lying to us, but he makes it sound as if he’s telling the truth. Not all of the criteria can be used to deny the historical credibility of a report, but some can. For example, if the reported incident is not a historical fit—like the idea of Quirinius being governor in 4BC—then you can indeed use this evidence to disqualify the report as authentic history. And Criterion 6 can only be safely applied as a negative check. Craig, however, gives examples from the three criteria that do fit the conclusion he wants us to draw, and then applies it to the six criteria as a whole. Pretty sneaky. (And why on earth does he have scare quotes around “criteria”?)

The only way you could justifiably use the criteria to deny historical credibility would be by presupposing that the gospels are unreliable until they are proven to be reliable. We’re right back to the burden of proof issue again! If we adopt a position of neutrality in approaching the gospels, then the failure to prove an incident is historical just leaves you in a position of neutrality. You just don’t know whether it’s historical or not.

Agnosticism is the last refuge of the believer, and here we have Craig setting up a defensive position he can fall back to if the contest doesn’t go his way (e.g. if someone happens to notice the missing seventh criterion, and apply it). “We can never know!” is the rallying cry of the faithful, and if you say, “Yes, we can, and here’s how,”—well, I’m sure you all know how that turns out.

Second, the criteria don’t presuppose the general reliability of the gospels. The criteria apply to specific incidents, not to a whole book. So they can be used to detect historical nuggets of information in any source, even the apocryphal gospels or the Qur’an. That means that in order to defend the historical credibility of some event in the life of Jesus, say, His burial, you don’t need to defend the historical credibility of other events like His birth in Bethlehem, His feeding the five thousand, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and so on.

Aka the divide-and-conquer approach. If you have a good argument against X, the believer will say that it does not apply to Y and Z, and therefore Y and Z could still be true, and therefore X is probably true as well, because if Y and Z are true, then the gospel writer is reliable and should be taken as truthful by default. Remember, this was one of Craig’s arguments for why we should assume that the NT is always true: because the NT authors are reliable witnesses. The six criteria are just there so Craig can plausibly deny and/or isolate the historical problems with the NT, and hopefully score a debate point or two on allegedly historical grounds.

The rest of the chapter is going to go downhill from here. For all the time he spent setting up these “historical” criteria, he’s not really going to look at the New Testament from a neutral, scholarly stance. Instead, he’s going to set out to prove that Jesus claimed to be God Incarnate, with C. S. Lewis in the background warming up the old “Liar, Lord, or Lunatic” schtick. Serious historical issues aren’t even going to come up.

On the other hand, what he does say should give us the chance to have a little fun, so stay tuned.

102 Responses to “The seventh criterion”

  1. adam.b Says:

    You know using WLC’s criteria I’m pretty sure I could prove the existence of werewolf’s.

  2. Reginald Selkirk Says:

    Unfortunately, he considers the New Testament authors to be multiple independent sources, despite the fact that they are all passing on the common tradition as taught in the church.

    Sometimes verbatim.

  3. jayman777 Says:

    DD:

    Unfortunately, he considers the New Testament authors to be multiple independent sources, despite the fact that they are all passing on the common tradition as taught in the church.

    On the one hand you say that the Gospels contradict each other. On the other hand you say they are all using a common tradition. If they were all using a common tradition we wouldn’t expect them to contradict each other. But apparently they do. You’re trying to have it both ways.

    Also, claiming that NT authors are not independent of each other runs counter to the scholarly consensus. In the Gospels alone scholars typically point out the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition. At least Craig is apparently starting from a consensus position.

    Just five pages earlier, he was arguing that the Jewish culture had perfected the art of passing on oral tradition intact, which means that the NT authors were not independent (at least after the initial formative period when the stories stabilized in more or less their present form).

    The conclusion doesn’t follow. For example, if Mark is based on the eyewitness account of Peter and John is based on the eyewitness account of John then the two Gospels are independent of each other. You need a much better argument to conclude that the Gospels do not contain independent traditions.

    This one’s pretty iffy.

    Actually it’s quite common. Even you seem to come around to it when you think it can serve your atheism. An objective person would use it even when it contradicts his present beliefs.

    None of the early documents about Jesus’ life are in his native language.

    First, there are Aramaic snippets in the Gospels. A Semitism is not simply an Aramaic word but also includes Greek words that betray an underlying Aramaic tradition. Second, don’t assume that Jesus had only one native language. While Aramaic may have been his day-to-day language in Galilee and Judea he probably knew some Hebrew and Greek.

    No manuscripts, and no mention of any early believer so much as hearing about the possible existence of any such document.

    Papias states: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.16). Note I am not claiming this is the Gospel of Matthew of the NT.

    I’m still skeptical of the conclusion that Jesus never existed, but if I were to be convinced, I’d find this bit of evidence particularly compelling.

    Why? Writing in Greek allowed the NT writings to be read over the entire Roman Empire. Any writing in Aramaic or Hebrew would be liable to be translated into Greek as soon as it left the Promised Land.

    This one’s the ringer. Call it confirmation bias instead of coherence if you want a more accurate label.

    Ironically it appears to be you who is guilty of confirmation bias. You’re reading into Craig’s criterion something that isn’t there but confirms your atheism. The criterion of coherence works with facts already established by criteria 1-5. So, for example, if on 1-5 we know that Jesus spoke in parables it makes it that much more difficult to claim that some other parable couldn’t possibly come from Jesus. Try to be charitable in your reading.

    • JeffyJoe Says:

      Let’s just cut through the smoke here. You know the enormous, glaring problem with WLC’s arguments about the resurrection? He explains an historical event by proposing that there is a magic being who can do anything and that being wanted the event to happen. If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, you have excused yourself from reasonable debate. And the bull about “all you have to do is be open to God to accept this explanation” is an insult to the listener’s intelligence. What if I believe in Vishnu? Vishnu wouldn’t have wanted to raise Jesus from the dead. No, what you have to believe is that there is a god and Jesus was his son sent to suffer and die and be raised again. In other words, you already have to be a Christian for WLC’s arguments to (appear to) make any sense. And claiming that it’s standard historical practice to allow magical explanations for events is, well, simply a lie.

      • jayman777 Says:

        JeffyJoe:

        He explains an historical event by proposing that there is a magic being who can do anything and that being wanted the event to happen.

        That’s a self-serving over-simplification.

        No, what you have to believe is that there is a god and Jesus was his son sent to suffer and die and be raised again. In other words, you already have to be a Christian for WLC’s arguments to (appear to) make any sense.

        This is simply untrue. You merely have to believe Craig’s hypothesis is the best explanation of the facts. I follow another blog where a non-Christian is coming to the realization that the evidence for the resurrection is good. As far as I can tell he is not a Christian yet but he shows that you don’t have to start as a Christian when examining the resurrection to appreciate the evidence.

      • mikespeir Says:

        “You merely have to believe Craig’s hypothesis is the best explanation of the facts.”

        But Craig insists no one has any valid excuse not to believe. Surely, even if you’re truly convinced his is the “best explanation,” you can’t seriously expect for us all to see it that way. Not on the kind and quality of evidence he presents. JeffyJoe is right. When what you’re pushing is a claim that doesn’t correspond to anything in your own experience or that of anyone you know, you’re not at liberty to tell people things like, “You must believe that some guy 2000 years ago died and came back to life after two-plus days and you have to turn your life upside down on account of it. If you don’t, you’re in league with transcendent evil, are evil yourself, and will spend an eternity ruing the fact.” The simple truth is, at the time there was no way to record and transmit the kind and quality of evidence that would be needed to support such an imposition at this late date. If you find what there is believable, it can only be because you’re inclined to want it to be true and are willing to exaggerate how good the evidence is so as to convince yourself.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      On the one hand you say that the Gospels contradict each other. On the other hand you say they are all using a common tradition. If they were all using a common tradition we wouldn’t expect them to contradict each other.

      Unless of course the common tradition were to contradict itself. Your own objection consists of taking two statements from a common source (me) and asserting that they contradict each other. While this particular case happens not to be a genuine contradiction, there’s no reason in principle why a common oral tradition couldn’t contain the kind of contradictions I’ve alluded to.

      Also, claiming that NT authors are not independent of each other runs counter to the scholarly consensus. In the Gospels alone scholars typically point out the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition. At least Craig is apparently starting from a consensus position.

      You’re confusing separate traditions with independent accounts. Yes, there are variations in style and content between the various authors, but they are all telling stories that arose in the context of decades of verbal interactions between Christians who were focused on the story they wanted to share. A truly independent source would be one that arose outside of that common oral tradition, e.g. if we found a document containing the Sanhedrin’s notes of what Jesus said in the Temple. Different people retelling the common Christian tradition in their own personal styles may be separate “traditions,” but they’re not independent accounts.

      [I]f Mark is based on the eyewitness account of Peter and John is based on the eyewitness account of John then the two Gospels are independent of each other.

      No, again, while you might discern some kind of distinction between Mark and John, and might infer that Mark got his tradition from Peter, the fact remains that none of the Gospels were written until after decades of collaboration between Peter and John, focused specifically on the story of the Gospel. To call the results of that long collaboration “independent traditions” is to assign them a false weight.

      Out of curiosity, though, how much Christian scholarship would you say is based on the assumption that the NT writers are “independent” sources? Just ballpark. Most of it? Some of it? I’m curious how much of Christian apologetics depends on assuming the apostles were independent despite their undeniable collaboration in preaching the Gospel.

      This one’s pretty iffy.

      Actually it’s quite common. Even you seem to come around to it when you think it can serve your atheism. An objective person would use it even when it contradicts his present beliefs.

      It’s not iffy because of content, it’s iffy because there’s a certain amount of subjectivity involved. People have a range of beliefs, which means that there are going to be differences in any case. How different does something have to be to be “dissimilar”? Lots of wiggle room there, in terms of perceiving some things as being more or less “dissimilar” than others. On the other hand, there are cases where the dissimilarity is so pronounced as to leave little doubt, so I don’t reject the criterion (as you yourself somewhat back-handedly admit). I merely point out the need to be wary of potential abuse here.

      None of the early documents about Jesus’ life are in his native language.

      First, there are Aramaic snippets in the Gospels. A Semitism is not simply an Aramaic word but also includes Greek words that betray an underlying Aramaic tradition. Second, don’t assume that Jesus had only one native language. While Aramaic may have been his day-to-day language in Galilee and Judea he probably knew some Hebrew and Greek.

      I notice two things here. First, you do not cite any early documents written in Aramaic—a document written in Greek is not a document written in Aramaic, even if it contains “snippets” of Aramaic, n’est-ce pas? Second, you seem to have (temporarily?) forgotten the difference between a native language and a foreign one. Greek is the native language in Greece and is a foreign language elsewhere; Aramaic was the native language where Jesus grew up, and it’s pretty peculiar that there are no Aramaic records of any Aramaic-speaking Jesus preaching to any Aramaic-speaking crowds. You can’t account for that absence with the irrelevant speculation that Jesus might have learned a foreign language or two.

      No manuscripts, and no mention of any early believer so much as hearing about the possible existence of any such document.

      Papias states: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.16). Note I am not claiming this is the Gospel of Matthew of the NT.

      Ah, touché, I’d forgotten about Papias. Though to be precise, what we actually have is Eusebius claiming in the late third to early fourth century that Papias once claimed to have heard of a Hebrew gospel. Since there’s no other trace of that document, it seems possible that Eusebius or Papius might have been mistaken. But regardless, I’ve amended my post. Thanks for the correction.

      I’m still skeptical of the conclusion that Jesus never existed, but if I were to be convinced, I’d find this bit of evidence particularly compelling.

      Why? Writing in Greek allowed the NT writings to be read over the entire Roman Empire. Any writing in Aramaic or Hebrew would be liable to be translated into Greek as soon as it left the Promised Land.

      The Book of Mormon is alleged to be the record of a nation of Hebrew-speaking Israelite emigrés who sailed to Central America around the time of Isaiah. It seems rather odd to me, therefore, that all the early manuscripts we have for the Book of Mormon are written in English (plus a page or two of pseudo-hieroglyphics that look nothing at all like Hebrew). I’d expect an authentic story by and about Hebrews to be written in Hebrew or some related derivative, wouldn’t you? And the lack of Aramaic records of Jesus’ ministry strike me the same way. Sure, some Greek translations would make sense, and even a few documents originally written in Greek (or Latin—it was the Roman Empire, after all). But no Aramaic documents at all, even to preserve the original texts of the things Jesus actually said? Conspicuously suspicious. At least the Qur’an is written in Mohammed’s native tongue.

      Ironically it appears to be you who is guilty of confirmation bias. You’re reading into Craig’s criterion something that isn’t there but confirms your atheism. The criterion of coherence works with facts already established by criteria 1-5.

      It’s entirely possible that both Craig and I suffer from a certain amount of confirmation bias. One does not preclude the other. Nevertheless, I think as we proceed through the chapter, I’ll be able to document my claim above. While it’s possible in theory to apply coherence as a valid criterion given a set of genuinely established facts about Jesus, what we’re going to find in the remainder of the chapter is that Craig tends to use coherence with each other as grounds for concluding that they’re all established fact. It’s a more subtle form of circular reasoning , but it’s fallacious nonetheless.

      Plus, Craig’s averral notwithstanding, coherence is really most reliable as a disqualifier: stories that are inconsistent with established fact are less likely to be true, but anyone could make up a story that was “coherent” without actually being true. Remember the parable about the banker and the man with two cows? It’s coherent, because Jesus did tell parables, but this coherence doesn’t mean that Jesus necessarily ever told any such parable.

      Try to be charitable in your reading.

      Likewise, I’m sure. :)

      • jayman777 Says:

        DD:

        Unless of course the common tradition were to contradict itself.

        Then the common tradition would contain independent traditions. Your post is not an historical tradition analogous to the tradition passed on from eyewitnesses so your analogy fails.

        A truly independent source would be one that arose outside of that common oral tradition, e.g. if we found a document containing the Sanhedrin’s notes of what Jesus said in the Temple.

        Sorry, but you’re placing yourself outside the historical mainstream. Here’s what atheist/agnostic historian Bart D. Ehrman writes (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (2nd Edition) p. 231): “Luckily I don’t need to say much about the independent attestation of the apocalyptic traditions, given what I’ve already said. Not only are these traditions early, they permeate our independent sources. We find Jesus portrayed as an apocalypticist in Mark, Q, M, and L (there are numerous passages I haven’t cited above; see, again, the bibliography). Fragments of the tradition are found even in John (for example, 5:28-29); and they are argued against in our later Gospel of Thomas (why argue against something unless someone else subscribes to it?). All of these sources were independent of one another; all of them to a greater or lesser extant — the earlier the greater, as it turns out — portray Jesus apocalyptically.”

        To call the results of that long collaboration “independent traditions” is to assign them a false weight.

        Hardly, it is to recognize that Peter and John (for example) were both eyewitnesses. I say we should count two witnesses as two witnesses while you propose counting them as one. Whether Peter and John ever talked to each other is irrelevant.

        Out of curiosity, though, how much Christian scholarship would you say is based on the assumption that the NT writers are “independent” sources?

        As the above quote from Ehrman makes clear, this is not a Christian vs non-Christian issue. It is more of an historian vs non-historian issue. Off the top of my head, I don’t recall ever seeing a serious historian (relevant academic position and publishing through academic publishers) conclude that the NT is one common tradition without any independent traditions whatsoever.

        Greek is the native language in Greece and is a foreign language elsewhere

        That it was foreign does not mean it was not the best language to disseminate ideas with if you had an empire-wide audience. The German branch of the company I work for will often communicate in English for a similar reason.

        Aramaic was the native language where Jesus grew up, and it’s pretty peculiar that there are no Aramaic records of any Aramaic-speaking Jesus preaching to any Aramaic-speaking crowds.

        I’m no expert on the topic but Wikipedia states (under Aramaic Language): “Galilean Aramaic, the dialect of Jesus’ home region, is only known from a few place names, the influences on Galilean Targumic, some rabbinic literature and a few private letters.” An argument from silence based on so few extant Aramaic texts is not impressive. You might as well take it further and argue that first century Galileans did not speak Aramaic much at all! I mean look at how few sources they left behind. The only other alternative is that your expectations are off.

        I’d expect an authentic story by and about Hebrews to be written in Hebrew or some related derivative, wouldn’t you?

        Not necessarily. I find it quite intelligible that someone would disseminate his ideas in a language that could reach a wide audience. This is all the more intelligible when a text has to be copied by hand (would you want to write and translate by hand?). Moreover, the expectations of the ancients take priority over our expectations. Can you cite any ancient who found it strange that the NT was written in Greek? If not then isn’t it possible your expectations are unrealistic?

        At least the Qur’an is written in Mohammed’s native tongue.

        But Arabic spread with the conquests. If, in some alternative history, Arabic was isolated to a small geographic region surely most Islamic texts would be in another language.

    • rlwemm Says:

      “On the one hand you say that the Gospels contradict each other. On the other hand you say they are all using a common tradition. If they were all using a common tradition we wouldn’t expect them to contradict each other. But apparently they do. You’re trying to have it both ways.”

      This could be compared with the current beliefs that circulate among the U.S Tea Party devotees that Obama is Muslim and was not born in the United States. The posts that make these assertions come from a common tradition of anti-liberal thinking that also argues that Obama is evil incarnate and definitely the Anti-Christ. The posts also contradict each other in various other ways. They are alike in being totally unable to admit that the views that assert have been definitively and demonstrably proved to have no basis in fact.

      If you want to use Craig’s argument for the authenticity and reliability of the material written by the Gospel writers then you will also have to accept that the claims made by those indoctrinated by the Tea Party are also accurate. The only difference is that the disproof of the Tea Party claims has been preserved. There is historical evidence that material that dis-confirmed political, ideological or religious views of the dominant groups of the first few centuries were systemically sought out and destroyed, usually long with those who produced or guarded them. Any review of the beginning of the gentile version of the Jewish Nazarene Cult (aka Christianity) will reveal the systematic and blood-thirsty suppression of opposing views and the wholesale destruction and burning of literature that expressed them.

      In other words, lack of disconfirming evidence in the canonical books of the Christian Bibles (Coptic, Catholic, Protestant) is likely to be an artifact of first choosing books that favoured a gentile perspective and then destroying anything that did not. Scholars are fortunate that a few disconfirming inklings of other points of view survived this early censorship of the acceptable orthodox books. The later finding of some manuscripts (e.g. The Dead Sea Scrolls) that had survived the censorship destruction was even more fortunate. Craig ignores the implications of these writings.

  4. A significant loophole | Alethian Worldview Says:

    [...] got into an interesting discussion with Jayman777 over at Evangelical Realism on the topic of whether the New Testament documents can be considered independent accounts of first [...]

  5. Paul King Says:

    In fact Biblical scholarship recognises that there was considerable copying between the three Synoptic Gospels, only arguing about who copied who. The independent Lukan traditition would only cover the material that was not copied (whether from Mark, Matthew or Q, if there was such a document). Counting the Synoptics as independent sources is an extremely dubious position.

  6. Janney Says:

    Jayman,

    I follow another blog where a non-Christian is coming to the realization that the evidence for the resurrection is good.

    Can you give us a link?

    • Aaron Says:

      Seconded.

    • jayman777 Says:

      Janney, search for the blog called Subversive Thinking.

      • mikespeir Says:

        “Regarding an “encounter with aliens” in 2012, after my study of ufology, I think there is evidence (not conclusive, but more or less good and interesting) to think some beings outside the Earth have been in touch with us for a long time. This could include beings from other planets, or from other dimensions (in both cases, they could be considered “aliens”).”

        Oh, my goodness.

      • Janney Says:

        Interests:

        parapsychology
        afterlife research
        philosophy
        pseudoskepticism
        pathological skepticism
        scientism
        dogmatic atheism
        ideological materialism/naturalism
        music
        sports
        politics
        movies

        Jayman, I really don’t think this guy is a helpful example for you. I mean, unless you’re just calling dibs on everyone who doesn’t believe in death.

  7. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Jayman: “Off the top of my head, I don’t recall ever seeing a serious historian (relevant academic position and publishing through academic publishers) conclude that the NT is one common tradition without any independent traditions whatsoever.”

    The question was different than that, though, wasn’t it? The questions was, “…how much Christian scholarship would you say is based on the assumption that the NT writers are “independent” sources?”

    That answer should be more embarrassing for you to try and answer, so I can see why you avoided it.

  8. jayman777 Says:

    (1) mikespeir, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me about the resurrection (or much else for that matter). You’ll have to supply an argument to convince me that it is, in principle, impossible for the evidence for the resurrection to be convincing in this day. Merely claiming I want to believe is no better an argument than me claiming you want to disbelieve.

    (2) Tony Hoffman, I think I answered DD’s question while correcting him on his faulty assumptions. The embarrassment lies with skeptics who deny independent traditions in the Gospels against the consensus of historians.

    (3) I don’t agree with everything on the Subversive Thinking blog. It is an example of someone from outside Christianity who thinks Craig’s arguments for the resurrection make sense even to non-Christians. He points out how skeptics such as Bart Ehrman say one thing in their writings and another thing in public debates. While mikespeir claims I am willing to exaggerate the evidence for the resurrection that blog demonstrates that skeptics denigrate the evidence for the resurrection. If the evidence was so bad skeptics would not need to employ such tactics.

    (4) Paul King, I agree there are also dependencies between the Gospels. I am objecting to the claim that all the accounts in the Gospels are from one source.

    • mikespeir Says:

      “You’ll have to supply an argument to convince me that it is, in principle, impossible for the evidence for the resurrection to be convincing in this day.”

      Nah. I don’t have to convince you of anything. You’re the one saying a man came back to life after being dead more than two days 2000 years ago. You’re the one siding with an apologist who tells me I’ll spend an eternity regretting not believing it. You’re the one who needs to do the convincing, and what you’ve offered is weak in the extreme. But don’t feel bad. Far better apologists than yourself have proven they can’t come up with the evidence either.

      • rlwemm Says:

        By this logic you would have to agree that aliens have been abducting humans and flying across the United States (but not elsewhere0 for decades. The Believers all provide independent testimony that they have been abducted. They obviously sincerely believe this, maintain the beliefs in the face of ridicule and have stories with a remarkable degree of similarity. Many of these individuals have no history of psychosis or any indication that they suffer from delusions in any other area of their life. That is, they do not appear to be liars and they do not appear to be lunatics.

        However, on the basis of the Rule that claimed events should be consistent with what we know about reality there is good reason to suspect that they suffer from delusions, cognitive distortions, abnormal brain states (lucid dreaming, sub-clinical temporal lobe eleptiform spiking), mistakes of attribution and visual memories that are fueled by the stereotypes of “aliens” that exist in their culture.

        Exactly the same criticism could be made about the stories that ended up in the books selected for inclusion in the text book for the new universal Roman religion by 3rd century members of a political committee charged with developing the new religion that would appeal to as many Roman citizens as possible. If you don’t believe that the cumulative personal testimonies of modern people who believe that have been abducted by aliens, then what basis do you have for believing stories of ancient people who could reasonably be supposed to suffer from the same kind of cognitive distortions?

    • Paul King Says:

      With regard to the “Subversive Thinking” blog, you are wrong to say that the author SHOWS that Bart Ehrman says “one thing in their writings and another in public debates”. He offers two alleged examples but neither is supported by adequate evidence (the first is missing important context and the second relies on a false dichotomy).

      It looks to me as if a guy who likes to bash skeptics has found some new skeptics to bash and the resurrection arguments are just a pretext.

      If I wanted to say that I had a good argument it is not the sort of thing I would want to point to at all. It certainly doesn’t point to any merits of the arguments – rather it tends to diminish those merits by association.

    • rlwemm Says:

      While stories about “resurrections” of the “dead” appeared to relatively common at the time when the New Testament was written and compiled, and are still relatively common in third world countries, there is no known incidence of such an event in any industrialized country since modern methods of truth determination (both scientific and legal) became the norm.

      This is a strong argument that unsophisticated and educationally backward people could easily have been mistaken in believing that Jesus, or Lazarus or any other character was miraculoulsy raised from the dead. We now know just how unreliable the human brain is at independently and subjectively coming up with an interpretation of events that is consistent with the measured and scientific results. Ergo, it is extremely probable that the “eye-witnesses” that are presumed to be the source of the material reported by the New Testaments writers were sincerely mistaken in what they believed they had observed or experienced. Besides, this material was the result of multi-level hearsay.

      If Jesus of Nazareth both existed and had the characteristics usually attributed to their god by Christian theologians (omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolence, prefect wisdom) then it is extremely unlikely that he would refrain from writing down his message, or choosing literate disciples who would take careful notes of his sermons. Original manuscripts would not have been lost, or be ambiguous when translated into other languages. Quotations from other Jewish writings (for example, from the Old Testament) would be accurate and attributed to the correct writer. The manuscripts would not contain mutually exclusive doctrines that resulted in bloody war among the faithful. There would not be embarrassing contradictions of doctrine that require semantic distortions or special redefinitions in order to make them appear to be consistent.

      The contradiction between the doctrine that salvation (from whatever) is obtained by “faith” or by “works” or by some combination of the two, is well known. Others are not.

      How, for example, could a thinking Christian reconcile the doctrine of eternal life for those who believe the right things about Jesus and act in the right way and eternal death for those who do not with the incompatible doctrine that those who believe and do the wrong things will be eternally tortured in some hellish place after their deaths? How can an eternally dead person also feel eternal pain? If the doctrine of hell is to make any sense then everyone gets eternal life after their earthly life. In that case, the Johnanine promise of “eternal life” is hollow. Worse, since there is already a record of a war in heaven that resulted in the banishment of residents to hell, there is thus no guarantee that the place would not be war-torn again, in the presence of humans who continue to have free-will. Or banishment of these post-death rebels to the pains of hell.

      So much for lack of theologically embarrassing inconsistencies. So much for lack of material that is inconsistent with the facts that are available to the modern educated people. So much for lack of logical inconsistencies between the actual biblical record and the characteristics traditionally imputed to the central character.

  9. Janney Says:

    Jayman,

    …that blog demonstrates that skeptics denigrate the evidence for the resurrection.

    That blog says skepticism is pathological, naturalism is ideological, and atheism is dogmatic. And science is scientism. And people don’t die.

    It demonstrates what happens when you open your mind too far. I’m telling you, just because a fella can run real fast doesn’t mean you want him on your team.

  10. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Jayman: “I think I answered DD’s question while correcting him on his faulty assumptions.”

    Ha, no. You avoided his question by trying to pretend it was about something else; DD asked you, and I’ll repeat it again now for you so you can read it a third time, “…how much Christian scholarship would you say is based on the assumption that the NT writers are “independent” sources?”

    Let’s see again how you chose to answer this the first time question.

    Jayman: “Off the top of my head, I don’t recall ever seeing a serious historian (relevant academic position and publishing through academic publishers) conclude that the NT is one common tradition without any independent traditions whatsoever.”

    Independent sources, as the term is commonly understood in the study of History, means several things, among which is that the sources are not influenced by other accounts. Typically, this would mean something like not being aware of, or at least not working from or based on, other accounts. But it also means not encumbered by the same kinds of restrictions, perspectives, desires, and fears that are faced by other sources. Independence depends on the thing being documented, of course; the two diaries of two U.S. Marines fighting in separate regiments could be considered independent accounts of U.S. combat in the battle of Iwo Jima, for instance, but they would not be considered two independent accounts if both contained entries on the question of why the U.S. was justified in fighting WWII. In the first case there is presumed to be no opportunity for collaboration or passing of information, and in the second case both would clearly have been influenced by the same things, and on that topic one would have to consider their shared information (culture, new reports, political speeches, military indoctrination, etc.).

    I believe the paragraph above is something that a student taking AP History in high school would understand. The implication of your inability to properly grasp DD’s question is that you are not even working from that level. The fact that this is easily recognizable should embarrass you, and makes a mockery of your attempt to bluster your way through by writing, Jayman: “The embarrassment lies with skeptics who deny independent traditions in the Gospels against the consensus of historians.”

    What’s so humorous about your (false) clinging to the notion that the Gospels represent independent sources for the Christian story is that for more than 200 years it’s the real historians who have assiduously demonstrated exactly how actual independent traditions (Greek, Eastern, mythological, as well as cultural, social, and political) best explain the documents we find in the NT. In other words, the existence of independent traditions (the real kind, not the faux one you hoped existed) is one of the best arguments that the Christian explanation for the documents found in the NT is not correct.

  11. Sam Says:

    Here is my argument in favor for dogmaticism :

    (Yes, I consciously profess dogmaticism).

    As a child, we need to rely on the word of our parents, else we would not survive.
    It is impossible to survive without relying on some sense of authority.
    Hence, authority is the basic method of cognition, more basic than sense-impression, or logic.

    Once you accept that (and I think all christians do, even if they have a different logic for it), it opens the door for all other arguments.

    Sincerely, Sam

    • Janney Says:

      You mean, in the course of growing up, your ability to reason has not improved?

    • rlwemm Says:

      What is functional and useful in childhood is dysfunctional in adulthood.

      In normal development the authoritarian stance is outgrown by the age of nine. How old did you say you were now? .

  12. Janney Says:

    Wait! I take my question back. It occurs to me that you’ve just endorsed an idea which was almost certainly beyond your comprehension as a child, so my question is answered, but I didn’t notice right away.

    So… your ability to reason has demonstrably improved since you were a child. Are you sure this doesn’t affect your ideas about a “basic method of cognition”?

  13. Kevin Harris Says:

    Need some info. Where did you get the 7th Criterion? What is your reference, etc.? Thanks.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      I derive the 7th criterion from the idea that there is a difference between “true” and “false,” to wit: that “true” refers to that which is consistent with actual truth, and “false” refers to that which is not consistent with the truth. Consequently, any report that fails to be consistent with real-world truth ought not to be accepted as authentic history by any conscientious historian. If someone reports that Brigham Young had X number of kids, and if that’s consistent with the number of offspring born to all the women he got pregnant, then that’s reasonable to accept as authentic. If the report says he had that many kids without without any women being involved in the process then that’s inconsistent with what we observe regarding reproduction in the real world, and should not be accepted as authentic.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        Your 7th criterion is good to an extent but is not adequate as an historical criterion, i.e. there may have occurred an event that is unique. Because something doesn’t occur regularly does not mean it could not occur once. So, it amounts to an anti-supernatural bias which rules out an otherwise well-attested event a priori.
        Pannenburg points out that the religio-historical context of Christ’s resurrection lends weight to it’s validity. If you would like, we could discuss this principle and apply it to your Brigham Young example.

      • rlwemm Says:

        Kevin: The filter is a probability filter. It is only a “supernatural filter” if the claim is about a unique event for which there is no other evidence, or which goes against the evidence everywhere else.

        Any claim that a human or other form of life has been resurrected (a) is unique, unless we have valid proof of any other such resurrections from a body that is undeniably dead (b) goes against all overwhelming cumulative evidence we have in every other case, and is therefore (c) extremely unlikely.

        Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, especially when they claim a unique instance of something happening.

        While stories of resurrections of purportedly dead bodies were rather common around the time that the New Testament portion of the Christian Bible was written, especially in relation to the various “divinities” of the era, there have been absolutely no instances of such a thing happening when there were well-trained medical professionals and medical technicians around to test that the “resurrected” body was, in fact, actually dead or did, in fact, have non-human god-like qualities. This means that ALL the stories, both ancient and modern, of people and gods being resurrected from the dead are extremely likely to be mythical and/or based on the false attributions of medically ignorant people.

        The same can be said for all other “miracles” that people and their writings claim to have happened. We know that the brain has serious flaws in its ability to make sense of things about which is has insufficient knowledge and that it mus-perceives things in terms of explanations that are familiar to it. In the light of modern research findings in the neurosciences we can safely say that the chances that the person was deceived by their faulty perceptual processes is far and away more likely than that they experienced a truly miraculous event that was unique in breaking the otherwise immutable laws of nature.

        The same problem occurs with events such as the beginning of the known universe. Many religions, including Christianity, have “god explanations” for how the universe began. The classic creation myth from the Epic of Gilgamesh was slightly modified and regurgitated in two forms (one from the traditions of the South of Israel and one from the north of Israel) in the commencing chapters of the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible. At this point in our well-supported scientific knowledge we know for a fact that the universe, the earth and the occupants of the earth did not commence in a manner or sequence that is consistent with either of these three creation myths (Gilgamesh, North Israel, South Israel). The modern version of this mythology has modified the story still further. Now it posits some kind of divinity as the necessary spark to start the physical ball rolling. This is unsupported by any evidence and remains pure speculation. Since it posits a unique event that does not follow any of the laws of physics, either Newtonian or Quantum) of provide an detailed testable explanation that would account for this third method, the explanation is firmly in the “miracle” and “unique” category. It is extremely improbable and requires extraordinary proof to provide it with a higher probability of occurrence than those derived from the carefully reasoned and mathematically supported speculations of career astro-phyicists.

        In summary, religious claims and explanations are highly improbable, given what we know. That do not stand on an equal footing with evidential science. Special pleading that supernatural claims cannot be expected to conform to the laws of physics makes no difference to this conclusion because these claims are themselves unsupported by any valid evidence. Religious claims of miraculous events remain unsupported assertions, conjectures, musings and speculations. They are no more valid than any other speculation about “possible worlds”. They have absolutely no predictive power.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        If we may, I’d like to keep it to the resurrection of Christ at this point (and perhaps discuss creation accounts later). The Christian hypothesis is not that Christ rose naturally from the dead; almost any explanation would be better than that due to our background knowledge (as you rightly point out). The Christian hypothesis, however, is that God raised Jesus from the dead. So the hypothesis only requires one additional consideration: whether God exists.
        It would be good if you addressed Pannenberg’s principle since I brought it up. The religio-historical context of Christ’s resurrection increases it’s probability.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        Hi Kevin,

        The 7th criterion introduces a bias against falsehood, which is actually a good bias to have. If you are saying that a bias against falsehood also discriminates against the supernatural, what does that tell you about the supernatural?

        Remember, there’s more to being consistent with real-world truth than merely being repeatable (and in fact, repeatability isn’t even a requirement for meeting the 7th criterion). One-time events are perfectly acceptable, as long as they meet the criterion of being consistent with the verifiable facts we observe in the real world.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        I agree we want to eliminate falsehood. But don’t equivocate “falsehood” with “supernatural”. And to call an event wherein God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead a falsehood begs the question. That’s what we’re examining!
        What do you think of Pannenberg’s principle?

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        I agree we want to eliminate falsehood. But don’t equivocate “falsehood” with “supernatural”.

        Well, I’m not the one equating a bias against falsehood with an anti-supernatural bias. :) But I assume you’re not intending to do so either. So let’s just agree that to be historically authentic, a report needs to meet the 7th criterion and be consistent with real-world truth. Does that sound fair?

        And to call an event wherein God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead a falsehood begs the question.

        Does it not also beg the question to call it an actual event (as opposed to identifying it as a report or claim about an event)? The point is not to beg the question, but to answer it, and that means that we should examine the relevant possibilities and select the alternative that is most consistent with real-world truth. Does that sound like the correct approach to you?

        What do you think of Pannenberg’s principle?

        Pannenberg is welcome to join our discussion if he or she so desires. In the meantime, I think that what the facts say is more important. If you have factual evidence that pertains to the question, whether from Pannenberg or elsewhere, feel free to share it.

  14. rlwemm Says:

    Kevin wrote: “The Christian hypothesis, however, is that God raised Jesus from the dead. So the hypothesis only requires one additional consideration: whether God exists.”

    Not quite.

    * It also requires that your particular version of god exists. It won’t work if a deist or non-interventionist god exists. It won’t work if the Allah version of god exists. It won’t work if the god does not have the properties required to raise a half-caste god-man from the dead.

    * It won’t work if the Jesus character was not really a half-caste god-man but a full flesh and blood one.

    * It requires that the god that exists can raise people of flesh and blood from the dead. None of the claimed cases of gods, or prophets of gods, raising people from the dead can be medically verified. There are very good reasons to assume that they are of the same caliber as the urban myths that are repeated all over the internet, and that those who recounted those stories in the past are just as honestly deluded as the people who repeat such stories today.

    * It requires that the Jesus of Nazareth described in the Christian Bible actually existed, and that most if not all of his recounted life story and teachings can be correctly attributed to him rather than to other teachers, preachers, faith healers and Messiahs that existed around that time. There is considerable dispute about this among reputable academic scholars (by which I do not mean cognitively biased evangelical scholars with subjective agendas that prevent them from acknowledging anything that will get them expelled from their theologically-dependent college jobs.)

    * It requires that those who originated the stories about the resurrection of Jesus had abnormal brains that were incapable of making false attributions that were strongly influenced by the prevailing beliefs in magic and miracles at that time or by their need to find a plausible explanation for why their particular Messiah contender was killed by the authorities before he could fulfil the Old Testament criteria for such a figure.

    * It requires that the original followers of Jesus (whoever they really were) actually believed that their teacher was at least half god (which would be blasphemous for a Jew and against the teachings about the characteristics of the prophesied coming Messiah.

    * Finally, it requires reasonable proof that the resurrection of a body by a god is the best and most probable explanation for what might have happened to get the story of this event started. So far it would appear that those who believe that this event is less than very remotely probable are those with a vested interest in thinking that. To an un-indoctrinated but well educated outsider, the story appears to be absurd and to raise far more questions than it answers.

    Pannenberg’s Principle is itself subjective and speculative. He is clearly not familiar with current knowledge in cognitive psychology and the neurosciences. According to the well supported research in these areas, all personal knowledge is subjective. The human perceptual process is deeply flawed and errors of attribution and causality are a common everyday occurrence. Everybody’s brain lies, especially in matters that have emotional relevance to the person. Even memories are reconstructed on the basis of current beliefs and expectations. They are not accurate replays of what actually happened at the time. This is why scientific, measurement-based and other objective methodology is needed to determine truth in all areas, not just in the physical realm. There is no good reason, other than the desire for wish fulfillment, why the supernatural realm should not be subjected to the best and most objective forms of truth determination possible. “Personal experience” is one the most unreliable and error-prone methods of truth determination known to behavior scientists.

    Pannenberg may be a good philosopher, according to the rules of that discipline (although this has been heavily disputed by other philosophers) but his logic is not informed by the behavioral and cognitive sciences. If you think you can hide behind his assertions then your brain is deluding you, too. His arguments are designed to relieve the doubts of the Faithful. Do not imagine that cognitive outsiders will be convinced.

    • Kevin Harris Says:

      rlwemm said: “According to the well supported research in these areas, all personal knowledge is subjective. The human perceptual process is deeply flawed and errors of attribution and causality are a common everyday occurrence”.

      Then I can write off everything you’ve written including the paragraph I just quoted. It’s just subjective, and the proposition in the your quote itself fails it’s own criteria and is therefore self-refuting.

      • Janney Says:

        Well, no. “This is why scientific, measurement-based and other objective methodology is needed….”

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        That fails it too! See? We can’t go down this line of reasoning. It lead to a vicious infinite regress of self-refutation. It requires one to have personal knowledge of objective methodology. But personal knowledge is subjective! And so on…. and so on…

      • rlwemm Says:

        Nope. If what I see is supported by validly obtained evidence, which it is, then only a fool will reject it.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        rlwemm, I’m just suggesting you need to abandon that criteria. It amounts to saying, “I have objective knowledge that there is no objective knowledge”. It pulls the rug out from under itself! Here’s more:
        “I know from personal experience that nothing can be known by personal experience”.
        “We know from accurately studying history that one cannot accurately study history”.
        “Its historically true that we cannot know historical truth”.

      • rlwemm Says:

        “I know from personal experience that nothing can be known by personal experience”

        Straw man argument. Not what I said. You are insisting that my statements are absolute, or should at least be translated in that way. (You are a theist and philosopher, after all.) My statements were not absolute Nor do I believe that they must be translated this way. (I am a scientist, after all).

        I said that personal experience has been repeatedly shown to be extremely unreliable. I said that personal experience and human testimony should not be accepted as definitely valid unless they are supported by evidence that has a far greater record for accuracy and reliability.

        For the record: I know from a multitude of studies on human perception, some of which I have authored or been involved in running, that the personal experience is a very unreliable method of determining truth because it is so easy to manipulate and so easily contaminated by culture, emotion, education and past and present experiences. These studies are replicable by other behavioral or neuro-scientist. The interpretations of the data have stood the test of rigorous attempts to debunk them.

        I am saying that the methods theists use to determine religious reality are some of the most flawed available and do not withstand rigorous attempts to debunk them. I am saying that theists avoid rigorously attempting to debunk their speculations and opinions.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        I can appreciate much of this. But I also find it dangerously close to embracing
        self-refuting propositions. All of us, scientists and philosophers and plumbers, should make sure our criteria do not fail their own parameters.

      • rlwemm Says:

        I think that is a classic “argument from ignorance”. You have obviously not done much (if any) scientific research.

        Applied science has accomplished and produced a great deal by restricting itself to using these “dangerously close to self-refuting” methods. They clearly work.. If they did not you would probably be spending all your time subsistance farming instead of sitting comfortably at your keyboard typing stuff that appears on the internet. Since the methods are extremely productive they are obviously not self-refuting, no matter how “close” you insist that they are. Neither philosophy nor theology have produced much of practical value using their preferred methods, no matter how far you think their methods are from self-refuting. To paraphrase a biblical assertion: By their fruits you shall know them.

        The only “danger” posed by the application of routine academic research methods is that they do not always produce material that supports what your acquired religion wants you to believe.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        Tony, the gobbeldygook we were discussing was self-refuting statements, e.g. the old “there are absolutely no absolutes” thing, or, “it’s true that there is no truth”, “no sentences have five words”. Make sense?

      • rlwemm Says:

        Scholarly, scientific and, to varying extents, legal methods of truth determination are chosen on the basis of their long history of success in a variety of circumstances. That is, we have hard evidence that they are the best methods that we currently know for determining what is true or false. The methods are not perfect; nor do they make any pretense of being so. The variables have varying degrees of reliability which are measurable and the methods have varying degrees of probability which are also measurable. It is expected that at least the statistical level of probability and the margin of error are routinely calculated and reported.

        On the other hand, religious methods of truth determination use variables that have been determined to be the least reliable and frequently avoid using measurable methods at all.

        When have you ever heard a theologist talk about the probability, level of certainty and margin of error of his determined “truth”? Religious apologists claim absolutes and certainties and rarely, if ever, admit to any shades of grey or the slightest likelihood that they may be wrong. They are cognitively blind to the fact that their opinion is not universal, even among members of their own particular religious faction. Since the is no agreement about the criteria for determining who has the best of only “truth” every theist has to be assigned an equal probability of being right. This means that the probability of any one of them being totally correct is so small that it is almost certain that they are not.

        Further more, religious apologists routinely use the most unreliable methods to determine truth: personal experience, subjective testimony, emotional brain states, personal opinion, gut feelings, “just knowing” and absolute and unquestioning trust in the infallibility of the statements and textual interpretations made by their preferred religious leaders (if they are Followers) or absolute but unverifiable confidence in their ability to determine the will of their god and the meaning of their religious texts (if they are Leaders.)

        The only one of the types of “evidence” that are the mainstay of religious apologists that is accepted as valid evidence in a court of law is personal testimony. Even that is dismissed if CSI findings discount it. Courts are becoming increasingly cynical of the reliability of personal testimony as behavioral science turns up study after study that reveals how inaccurate it can be and how easy it is to influence. Watch any show by Darren Brown to see how it can be very easily manipulated. Darren can get people to swear that their white car is red, and then to protest that their original white car is not really theirs. Scary, but it makes the point nicely.

        Scientific methodology not only rejects unconfirmed personal testimony as a valid form of evidence but it does its level best to control and screen out its effects. When truth accuracy affects lives clinical research uses “double-blind” methodology: a protocol where neither the researcher nor the subject knows whether the subject is being administered the experimental drug or not.

        Use this type of robust research method to study prayer and its claimed efficacy evaporates. The only way out of that is to use “weasel words”, such as suggesting that it is a sin to test their version of god or that he won’t do miracles when observed because it would prevent people from exercising the “virtue” of Faith (= uncritical gullibility) .

        Theologists confuse unsupported person opinion with supported fact all the time. They start with the opinion that their particular version of “god” exists because they believe they have experienced him (or her or them) personally. That’s a logical fallacy based on ignorance of how the brain works. Every theist since the beginning of religions argues that they have valid personal experience of the existence of their god, saint, devil (bad god). This gets a little embarrassing when the object of their devotion and the one which caused them to personally experience “miracles” is proved to be a fiction. St. Christopher is a case in point. Our Lady of Gaudelope is another. Both fakes that are no longer accepted as real by the heirarchy of the Catholic Church. This has not stopped the Faithful from insisting that they continue to experience their presence and see their miracles. Humans will do almost anything to save face when confronted with data that disproves their fantasies. There is no reason to suppose that you or I are any different.

        In other words, if you make a statement that you cannot back up with some kind of reliable and valid evidence then it becomes mere unsupported personal opinion, not a supported fact. If you make a statement that you can support with valid and reliable data then it becomes a supported fact, not a mere personal opinion.

        I no longer believe that it is anything more than remotely possible that any kind of god exists, unless the label is used to describe an inanimate object. I can justify this conclusion with heaps of data. OTOH you continue to believe that a particular version of a particular god most certainly exists, but you can provide no valid data, only unsupported speculation, to back up your emotionally predicated belief. That does not make me absolutely and infallibly right, but it gives my considered opinion a lot more weight than yours.

  15. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Kevin Harris: “All of us, scientists and philosophers and plumbers, should make sure our criteria do not fail their own parameters.”

    What gobbledygook. Seriously, what are we supposed to understand from a statement or position like this? What is the contribution to intellectual life or betterment that follows from this kind of prim-sounding advice?

  16. rlwemm Says:

    Kevin: There is a big difference between saying “There are absolutely no absolutes” (which I agree is gobblygook) and “There are absolutely no moral absolutes” and, more academically, “There is no support for the notion that there are any universal moral absolutes.” If you leave out the important qualifiers you significantly change the meaning and come up with your straw man objection that the logical statement is “close” to nonsense. It’s a specious argument that rests on devious semantics. I expect you to be more rigorously honest.

  17. Kevin Harris Says:

    “Well, I’m not the one equating a bias against falsehood with an anti-supernatural bias. :) But I assume you’re not intending to do so either. So let’s just agree that to be historically authentic, a report needs to meet the 7th criterion and be consistent with real-world truth. Does that sound fair?”

    KH> Obviously, any investigation, historical or otherwise would hope to discover real-world truth. You can clarify for me whether you consider a divine miracle or supernatural event possible. If they are, then they are open to historical investigation.
    And to call an event wherein God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead a falsehood begs the question.

    “Does it not also beg the question to call it an actual event (as opposed to identifying it as a report or claim about an event)? The point is not to beg the question, but to answer it, and that means that we should examine the relevant possibilities and select the alternative that is most consistent with real-world truth. Does that sound like the correct approach to you?”

    KH> It’s tautological for one to say that something can happen only if it conforms to reality. All the investigation in the world is not going to discover a married bachelor, or a woman that exists but never existed. Those things are contradictory and thus not reality.
    But if you mean that an historical investigation should rule out an event a priori because it is unique, or rare, or possibly divine, then I disagree. Historical investigation can determine an event by exploring the best explanations the evidence offers.

    “Pannenberg is welcome to join our discussion if he or she so desires. In the meantime, I think that what the facts say is more important. If you have factual evidence that pertains to the question, whether from Pannenberg or elsewhere, feel free to share it”.
    KH> Wolfhart Panneberg argued that the religio-historical context of the resurrection lends weight to it’s credibility when investigated. It wasn’t just somebody or anybody whom God reportedly raised from the dead: it was Jesus, whose unprecedented life, moral paradigm, and radical claims were vindicated by God in the resurrection.
    Now, if one were to apply this to, say, an account of Joseph Smith walking on water, I would argue that it’s a waste of time to do much investigation into it. There are too many problems with the religio-historical context of Smith (like fraud, etc.) to warrant it. But that is not the case when it comes to Jesus.

    • rlwemm Says:

      Kevin, you must first define what you mean by a “miracle” in clear and unambiguous terms. Your definition must make it clear what a miracle is not. For example, how do you differentiate a “miracle” from a normal but rare event? How do you differentiate a miracle from coincidence? How do you differentiate a miracle from false causal attribution due to ignorance, environmental influence, gullibility or wish fulfillment? Does the event need to be witnessed by more than one person? Does it matter if the observers all have a predisposition towards a religious explanation or do you need to have independent (devil’s advocate) observers. Is it a miracle if it happens quite often (like winning a football match after praying for such a win) or only if it happens only once?

      Until you have your definition straight there is no way of deciding if the scientific method does not allow us to conclude that a miracle has occured, that a miracle has occurred that is caused by a god, that a miracle has occurred that is caused by a particular god, that a miracle has occurred that is caused by a particular god with the characteristics attributed to it by a particular religious faction or individual? If there is no clear way of knowing whether something is a miracle then it is a logical fallacy to conclude that one has been observed.

      In other words, the real reason why science never concludes that something is a miracle is not the term rarely has a coherent operational definition.

      There have actually been scientific studies that have investigated religious claims that allow the term “miracle” to be operationally defined for the purposes of the study.
      For example, there have been several studies done on the efficacy of intercessary prayer in matters of health.

      A assumed “miracle” in this case was defined as a significant number of people in the experimental group (aka those who were prayed for by bunches of devout Christians) who had more positive outcomes than those in the control group (who were not prayed for by these experts in intercessary prayer.)

      The only methodologically sound studies (and there are several that do not meet this critera) have found that there is never more than a very slight effect and that is not always in the direction that would indicate a positive miracle: a small but statistically significant group of prayed-for patients actually did worse than those who were not prayed for.

      The conclusions: (1) if this is evidence of “miracles” then it is very weak, very unreliable and the phenomena is not always positive OR (2) the effects were artefactual due to the inherent problems of sampling OR (3) the apparent worsening in a experimental patient group had to do with emotional states arising from the knowledge that people thought they were sick enough to be included in a public prayer list and not from any malevolent miracles.

      In other words, your claim that scientific study absolutely precludes the conclusion that something is a “miracle” is unfounded. The real problem is that well conducted studies do very little to support the notion that miracles occur, when “miracles” are defined as any significant effect that contradicts the laws of nature.

  18. Kevin Harris Says:

    rlwemm, we are dancing all around agreement. But I was trying to explain to Tony what self-refuting statements were.
    I agree the qualifiers must be in place. What I found from your statement, “According to the well supported research in these areas, all personal knowledge is subjective. The human perceptual process is deeply flawed and errors of attribution and causality are a common everyday occurrence”, is that the qualifiers were not there. If your statement is true, then our perceptions of any scientific research is also subjective and cannot be trusted!
    So let’s clarify. I think you and I both would hold to a form of Common Sense Realism. That is, our senses and apprehension of scientific research, etc. is possible and can be generally trusted (unless there is good reason not to trust it in a particular instance). So, do you agree with the basic reliability of sense perception?

    • rlwemm Says:

      Kevin wrote: “The human perceptual process is deeply flawed and errors of attribution and causality are a common everyday occurrence”, is that the qualifiers were not there. If your statement is true, then our perceptions of any scientific research is also subjective and cannot be trusted!”

      Kevin, you still don’t get it, do you?

      Human perceptions are neither equally subjective nor equally unreliable. There are various degrees of perceptual unreliability depending on what sense is being used, under what circumstances, in what environment, under what cerebral conditions and whether it involves measurements that can be independently repeated and confirmed by other humans or by computers.

      The human perception that 2 + 2 = 4 is a lot more reliable than the human perception that the car that scratched ours last week was blue. The human perception that a particular xray shows a cancerous growth is a lot more reliable when made by medical experts in the particular specialty than when made by those with less or no expertise. There perceptions are even more reliable when independently confirmed by other experts, by computerized diagnostic analysis that is built on a large accumulated data base and by complementary forms of investigation (such as biopsies, neurological signs, neuro-psychological profiles and patient history.).

      You are avoiding acknowledging that academic and scientific methodology specifically addresses and seeks to correct the unreliability of individual human perception in line with the current understanding of how and when they can be distorted. . The extent to which is it successful can often be calculated in which case the process given given coefficients of reliability and validity. How many religious people do you know what are willing to admit to any significant level of uncertainty?

      The problem with religious methodology is that it makes the unwarranted assumption that unconfirmed and unchallenged human perception is totally valid and reliable. It also avoids using the most reliable methods and opts for the least reliable methods. It does not attempt to provide estimates of likely error, or confidence levels and ranges or uncertainty. It simply asserts, without proof, that it is 100 percent correct. What extraordinary arrogance! It can be summed up by the Dunning-Kruger Effect: the less knowledge a person has in a particular area the higher they rate their competency in that area and, conversely, the more knowledge a person has in a particular area the lower they rate their competency in it and the less prone they are to making statements of absolute knowledge.

  19. Janney Says:

    Kevin,

    If your statement is true, then our perceptions of any scientific research is also subjective and cannot be trusted!

    Well, no. Her statement has been verified by scientific, measurement-based and other objective methodology. Cognitive bias is a well-established fact of life at this point. Daniel Kahneman’s put out a pretty good book on the subject.

    …do you agree with the basic reliability of sense perception?

    Most sciencey types do.

    • Anonymous Says:

      But the problem is, Janney, that if all our perceptions are subjective and unreliable, then our perceptions of the “verified, scientific measurement-based…objective methodology” are subjective and unreliable. We still have to construct the methodology and perceive the data.

    • Kevin Harris Says:

      Janney, the problem is we still have to perceive the data “verified by scientific measurement…methodology”. If our sense perceptions are merely subjective and unreliable, then our setting up of the methodology and reading the results with our sense perceptions are merely subjective and unreliable!

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        That’s not actually a significant problem. If you pick any individual person and try and predict how long they will live, your prediction will be subjective and unreliable. Yet in aggregate, if you predict how long people will live on average, the randomness and variability cancel each other out, and you end up with an estimate reliable enough, in general, to build an entire insurance industry on.

        It’s the same way with science. One individual, subjective observation may be unreliable, but because there is an underlying objective reality, the variations introduced by subjectivity cancel each other out, and the truth emerges. Granted, there’s always room for improvement, it still becomes a narrower and narrower range of possibilities the more carefully and repeatedly you apply the tools of scientific validation.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        Agreed. I don’t think it’s a significant problem in general. And, it just shows that despite how subjective our experiences can be and how unreliable our senses can sometimes be, apparently some things are knowable!

        What I didn’t bring up, but was tempted to, was the idea that science is the only way to discover truth, i.e. if it can’t be verified by the empirical sciences, it’s not true (Scientism). I think that is quite false but bet several contributors to this thread think it’s true.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        Science is simply a set of tools for verifying whether or not our conclusions match actual real-world conditions. As an alternative to that, you can indeed adopt ways of “knowing” that do not include a facility for reliably verifying that one’s conclusions are objectively true, but what would be the point? You’d just be compromising what it means to “know” something, such that one’s “knowledge” would fail to distinguish the true from the false. I can see where that would possibly enhance one’s social standing in certain circles, but I think the costs outweigh the benefits.

  20. rlwemm Says:

    My ACTUAL position, is that there is little valid evidence for more than one or two moral absolutes, and even these are debatable. Provide the “valid evidence” and I will cheerfully change my mind. Unlike you, I have no emotional investment in either conclusion.

    OTOH, your statement appears to be: “It is absolutely true that there are absolute moral values.” You make this statement as if your authority for saying so is all that is needed to make it true. What you should really be saying is “My preferred religious position is dependent for its integrity on their being absolute moral values.” That, at least, would be intellectually honest.

    The elephant in the room (aka glaring but unacknowledged problem) is that theists have an absolutely lousy track record of deciding what these proposed moral absolutes are (adjective intended). Even the god described in the books of the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Bible seems to have trouble deciding what things are always bad and what things are always good. A huge number of divine examples of “righteous” behavior in the Bible would get a person sentenced to at least life imprisonment in today’s world. Even the central theme of Pauline Christianity (punishment by proxy) is something that every legal system in modern civilized countries considers to be insanely unjust. How can the followers of the Abrahamic religions decide when displays of their god’s behavior are absolutely moral and to be emulated by all, and when they are only right when their god does it, and therefore not to be emulated by all? If torture, sex slavery and genocide are good when commanded by god but bad when commanded by anyone else, Believers have good reason to be confused about morality. Their god does not give them unambiguous examples. How can a Believer determine whether what they feel in their “heart” their god wants them to do is actually a good thing to do or a bad thing to do? Perhaps it is the devil speaking. How can they tell?

    A Believer’s morality is all relative and almost entirely dependent on what their particular religious faction determines is “right”. Hence all the disagreements about the “badness” or “goodness” of things like abortion, artificial birth control, condom use to prevent AIDS, sex education, divorce, re-marriage after divorce, tithing, women wearing trousers, doing work on Sundays, whether the Sabbath is Saturday or Sunday, and so on and on and on. The is no firm moral ground on which to stand.

  21. Tony Hoffman Says:

    KH: “Historical investigation can determine an event by exploring the best explanations the evidence offers.”

    This sounds like you have been taught what you know of History at the lap of apologetics.

    History is never about determining what happened. It is about looking at what happened (the historical facts), and determining what the best explanation are for those facts.

    Contrary to the pablum of apologists like Craig, no Historian can speculate on a supernatural explanation and remain a Historian. To do so would make them a Theologian, or a New Testament “scholar.” But Historian, no.

  22. Jeffy Joe Says:

    For the apologists in the room: Leaving aside the resurrection, can you provide examples of a professional historian arguing in an academic journal that a historical event is best attributed to supernatural causes? Unless you have a handful of good examples, it would only seem honest to stop claiming that you are just doing standard history. And let’s please put aside this “open to the supernatural/miracles” issue, You believe in miracles. Would you believe it if I said that God miraculously brought me back in time so I could see for myself that religious fanatics patched together the stories about Jesus’ resurrection? Of course not. Being “open” to miracles does not mean you have to believe a SPECIFIC miracle that someone claims. Plenty of people are open to miracles and don’t believe Jesus was resurrected (those pesky other religions).

  23. Janney Says:

    Kevin,

    For the record, your issue has also been taken up at Alethian Worldview.

    Janney, the problem is we still have to perceive the data “verified by scientific measurement…methodology”. If our sense perceptions are merely subjective and unreliable, then our setting up of the methodology and reading the results with our sense perceptions are merely subjective and unreliable!

    Do you mean to say that you don’t believe in the existence of human cognitive bias? Or are you actually saying that we can’t trust the sensory data we receive? (We might be brains in vats, or batteries on a planet run by robots feeding us sense data to keep us docile, or etc.)

    I ask because I got the distinct impression that you do believe in the Resurrection. If you do, then it seems safe to say that you believe your sense data can be trusted that far. But, if you also doubt the reality of human cognitive bias, then there is clearly some basic-level confusion going on in your head: you trust the Real World Out There to inform you of the questionably documented historical claim but not the thoroughly documented present-day one.

    (And if you consider the Resurrection to be “thoroughly documented,” in the same way as the cognitive biases in human thinking, I will have to call “some basic-level confusion” on that, too.)

    • Janney Says:

      Aargh, for crying out loud, I give up on the damn links. A coin-toss at best, when I try to link links.

      You’re at freethoughtblogs.com/alethianworldview, if you’re interested. Scroll down to “Damned if he do, damned if he don’t.”

    • Kevin Harris Says:

      I believe in both the basic reliability of sensory perception (Common Sense Realism) and that persons can be cognitively biased. As I’ve said in this thread, I think we can basically trust our sense perceptions unless there is some defeater or over-riding reason not to (e.g. we know we were drugged, or tired, conditions are right for a mirage, etc.)

      As to bias, of course persons can be, and are, biased. The question then becomes whether a person’s biases are warranted. If I am biased toward something, hopefully there are good reasons.

      I like the (Cartesian) brain-in-a-vat stuff! I think that while it would be difficult if not impossible to prove 100% I was not a brain in a vat, I don’t have any good reasons for thinking that.

      I also do believe the resurrection of Christ is historical. I don’t, however, think it is “thoroughly documented”, nor do I think anything else from the ancient world is thoroughly documented! I think when we apply the historical method to the resurrection we find it is on good historical grounds. In fact, I think it is the best explanation of all the data we have.

      • Jeffy Joe Says:

        Kevin. How about one example of a time when the “historical method” has been used by a professional historian to establish a supernatural intervention? This is just part of history right? So let’s start out with just one example outside of the resurrection, and we can continue the discussion from there.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        I also do believe the resurrection of Christ is historical. I don’t, however, think it is “thoroughly documented”, nor do I think anything else from the ancient world is thoroughly documented! I think when we apply the historical method to the resurrection we find it is on good historical grounds. In fact, I think it is the best explanation of all the data we have.

        When you say “best explanation,” are you saying it’s the most consistent with what we actually observe in the real world, or are you applying some criterion not based on consistency with real-world truth? If the latter, then what criterion or criteria are you using, by which a supernatural resurrection qualifies as “best”? And why do other explanations qualify as “not the best,” according to these criteria?

      • rlwemm Says:

        JeffyJoe:

        The usual definition of a miracle is a “diagnosis by exclusion” or “god of the gaps” argument. In order for an historian to conclude that an event was a miracle they would have to exhaustively prove that it could not be explained by any naturally occurring phenomena, including the laws of chance. This effectively requires that the historian’s knowlege of naturally occurring phenomena is infinite.

        There is a very long history of things that were once believed to be evidence of a miracle being found to be caused by understandable and measurable physical or statistical phenomena as sciencific knowledge increases.

        In the light of his history of ideas, the prudent response to events that appear to have no known physical cause is to put them in the “needs more research” basket. The niave and statistically irresponsible response is to attribute them to supernatural causes.

        Uncomfortable as it is for the theist position, there can never be certainty that any unexpected or inexplicable event is due to the intervention of supernatural being. Further, even if it did turn out to be a “miracle”, the chances of it being caused by the type of supernatural being that the particular theist believes exists is extremely remote, given the huge number of deities and supernatural phenomena that humans have summarized or invented.

        The failing is not on the part of the historian or the scientist. The failing is on the theist for demanding that these academics conclude that miracles exist in the absence of all the data. That is neither intrinsically sensible nor intellectually honest. If theists want scientists and historians to conclude that miracles exist they will have to come up with a set of positive criteria for the identification of a miracle, instead of the existing exclusionary ones. It is time that theist wore the blame for this failure rather than pretend that academics methods of inquiry at to blame.

  24. Tony Hoffman Says:

    KH: “As to bias, of course persons can be, and are, biased. The question then becomes whether a person’s biases are warranted. If I am biased toward something, hopefully there are good reasons.”

    I don’t think you understand the term bias as I do. As I understand it, a bias is never a good thing — it is a defect in perception or approach that prevents one from apprehending reality. To say that one is biased for truth, for example, would be nonsensical, like saying you’re prone to injuries that improve health. An unbiased individual would perceive and apprehend things as they are. Unfortunately, we are all biased.

    KH: “I like the (Cartesian) brain-in-a-vat stuff! I think that while it would be difficult if not impossible to prove 100% I was not a brain in a vat, I don’t have any good reasons for thinking that.”

    I agree. I don’t believe that I am a brain in a vat, but I admit that there is no way to demonstrate this. Fortunately, whether I am a brain in a vat or living as I think I am makes no practical difference to me.

    KH: “I also do believe the resurrection of Christ is historical.”

    By this I understand you to mean you think it actually happened.

    KH: “I don’t, however, think it is “thoroughly documented”, nor do I think anything else from the ancient world is thoroughly documented!”

    Documents are actually among the worst evidence we have from the ancient world. Of course, there is all kinds of supporting, undocumented evidence from the ancient world. There are countless relics, remains, statures, walls, coins, weapons, pots, ship hulls, art, etc. We have few written accounts of Caesar, it is true, but we have lots and lots of other, undocumented evidence for Caesar’s existence – coins, statues, and a political legacy that comports with what we know of that time and our own.

    KH: “I think when we apply the historical method to the resurrection we find it is on good historical grounds.”

    I appreciate your couching your terms as something you think to be true, but be aware that your words betray a poor educational background. The historical method cannot support a supernatural explanation; pretending that it could makes it clear that you have not exposed yourself to rigorous, non-religious study. Sorry, but that’s how it appears. And so your words here are about as persuasive as those of an indoctrinated Muslim student who might stride forth from the safety of his Madrass and lecture us on how the Koran is, through rigorous examination, the most perfect example of literature ever known.

    KH: “In fact, I think it is the best explanation of all the data we have.”

    I explained that this is another misconception of yours upthread. The fact that you repeat this canard without having responded to my criticism inclines me to think that you are not willing or able to subject your beliefs to actual examination. It may occur to you soon or someday that kind of behavior is consistent with those who’s beliefs are more important than reality.

    Cheers.

    • Kevin Harris Says:

      One can be biased in favor of one view over another in the event a conclusion cannot be agreed upon. One can then examine those biases. I think that “unbiased” means to be free of unwarranted biases.

      Secondly, yes, I think the resurrection happened, and I think historians would disagree with you concerning documents being among the worst kind of evidence. Far from it! Textual Criticism is a whole field based on this evidence! And the archeological evidence you mention when coupled with what documents and manuscripts say is even more conclusive.

      Thirdly, I disagree that historical investigation cannot support a supernatural explanation. That’s exactly what it can do! The historian may or not speculate on a particular conclusion but if the facts warrant it, he can certainly draw a supernatural conclusion. And just because it is rare, does not mean it’s ruled out a priori. As historian Dr. Paula Fredrikson of Boston University says,
      I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something.

      The historian is free to draw conclusions and inferences based on established facts and we are quite rational to conclude the resurrection given the facts surrounding his life, death, and impact, etc.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        This should have been in quotes from Dr. Fredrikson,

        “I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something”.

  25. Janney Says:

    Kevin,

    I believe in both the basic reliability of sensory perception (Common Sense Realism)…

    The first part is fine. And the words “common sense realism” sound fine, too. But a glance at the Wikipedia page for “common sense realism” tells me that those words are code for a lot more than “the basic reliability of sensory perception.”

    As to bias, of course persons can be, and are, biased. The question then becomes whether a person’s biases are warranted. If I am biased toward something, hopefully there are good reasons.

    Ai, no no no. Cognitive biases are permanent features of your brain. Everyone has them, there’s no getting rid of them, and there’s no question of “warrant.” They’re like the blind spots in our eyeballs, only more important. When rlwemm says “Everybody’s brain lies, especially in matters that have emotional relevance to the person,” this is what she’s talking about.

    But take heart in the fact that we can think around our biases sufficiently to recognize that they’re there! Especially if we work together at it, which is a fundamental principle of science. (So, for example, in matters of emotional relevance to you, it’s a good idea to consult people who are less emotionally invested.)

    • Kevin Harris Says:

      Due to all the nuances and history of Common Sense Realism, it’s probably best to call my view Common Sense Perception, i.e. the basic reliability of sense perception (as it relates to this thread).

      I responded to warranted biases in this thread, but agree that we must do our best to examine our biases, and, of course, others can help.

  26. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Janney: “…the words “common sense realism” sound fine, too. But a glance at the Wikipedia page for “common sense realism” tells me that those words are code for a lot more than “the basic reliability of sensory perception.”

    Yes, as Scooby Doo so famously observed, “Ruh roh.” Here’s The Cambridge History of English and American Literature on Common Sense Realism and its effect in the U.S.:

    “In 1835 De Tocqueville reported that in no part of the civilized world was less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. 6 Whether because of absorption in the material conquest of a vast continent, or because of a narrow orthodoxy which was then hindering free intellectual life in England as well as in the United States, the fact remains that nowhere else were free theoretic inquiries held in such little honour. As our colleges were originally all sectarian or denominational, clergymen occupied all the chairs of philosophy. Despite the multitude of sects, the Scottish common-sense philosophy introduced at the end of the eighteenth century at Princeton by President Witherspoon, spread until it formed almost the sole basis of philosophic instruction. Here and there some notice was taken of Mill and Positivism, and Edward’s Freedom of the Will 7 continued to agitate thoughtful minds inside and outside of the colleges, but in the main both idealism and empiricism were suspected as leading to pantheism or to downright atheism. The creation of the earth before man was a potent argument against Berkeleian idealism or denial of matter. The Scottish common-sense realism was a democratic philosophy in that sense that it did not depart widely from the popular views as to the nature of the material world, the soul, and God. 8 It did not rely on subtle arguments, but appealed to established beliefs. It could easily be reconciled with the most literal interpretation of the Bible and could thus be used as a club against freethinkers. Above all, it was eminently teachable. It eliminated all disturbing doubts by direct appeal to the testimony of consciousness, and readily settled all questions by elevating disputed opinions into indubitable principles. It could thus be authoritatively taught to adolescent minds, and students could readily recite on it. Unfortunately, however, philosophy does not thrive under the rod of authority; and in spite of many acute minds like Bowen, Mahan, Bledsoe, or Tappan, or powerful minds like Shedd and Hickok, 9 American philosophy before the Civil War produced not a single original philosophic work of commanding importance. To the modern reader it is all an arid desert of commonplace opinion covered with the dust of pedantic language.

  27. Janney Says:

    It eliminated all disturbing doubts by direct appeal to the testimony of consciousness…

    Yeah, see, this right here is a terrible idea. We know this now, like we know the earth is round. It seemed like a good idea, but we were wrong.

  28. Jeffy Joe Says:

    @rlwemm – Don’t know if you are still reading the thread, but just in case. One of your earlier comments (perhaps on another post) made it sound like you are a cognitive psychologists (or some closely related field). If so, me too! For the miracle thing, I would 95% agree with you except for one thing. I don’t actually think that proponents of miraculous explanations have to rule out every conceivable natural explanation (although of course natural explanations should be heavily favored because – you know – they happen). If miracle proponents could tell us something about how miracles WORK (e.g., when God would reliably perform them) such that they could make detailed *predictions* for what will happen based on their understanding of the miraculous (e.g., people praying to Jesus will be more likely to have their cancer go in remission than people praying to Allah), then I would have to start taking their ideas as seriously as I do other successful scientific accounts. That would get me awfully curious, at the least. Of course, they are miles and miles from this standard and show no signs of turning from post hoc rationalizations to risky predictions.

    • Jeffy Joe Says:

      Oops. Upon further thought, we DO have to give theists credit for trying to predict the end of the world. They seem willing to go out on a limb for that one. But they get negative credit for being wrong for 2000 years without losing any confidence in the beliefs that supported the predictions.

    • rlwemm Says:

      Hi Joe. Yes, I’m still reading. Just slowly. I have “sleeping sickness” flu which has dramatically cut down on my internet hours :-(

      I’m a retired clinical, neuro- and counseling psychologist (triple board membership). Yeah, I know, I overdid the specialist training somewhat :-)

      = = = U.S. – Australian Qualification Translation Problems.= = =

      Sadly, none of this is recognized in the U.S.. Unfortunately, the names that the Australian academic system gave these credentials (under the qualification naming legislation operating in the 1980s) are identical to ones given to para-professional or low-grade professional credentials conferred in the U.S.A. Until recently, Australia could not label any higher degree as a PhD is if contained any examinable coursework, or if non-examinable coursework was more than one third of the total content. This means that no American level professional PhD could be offered as such in Australia.

      The legislation here does not make provision for countries that have legal systems that require them to label their credentials differently. In Australia an old style Professional Masters degree in some specialist area of psychology outranks a (mere) PhD in a court of law. In the U.S. the reverse is true: the PhD. outranks a credential called a professional Master degree. The consequence is that the U.S. has been granting professional licenses to people that the Australian system would consider to be professionally inferior to the people that they reject. Sigh. Just as well I’d retired before I got here.

      I could probably get Melbourne University to provide documentation that my old style degree is equivalent to the American level PhDs that this university now offers, but this would probably still fail to get through the U.S. gateway assessment. the U.S. government approved Foreign Credential Assessment Agencies have guidelines that require that they dismiss any rating given by the country of origin if that rating is inconsistent with the one given by their inappropriately trained investigators. None of these assessors have professional degrees in psychology yet legislation in most American States gives them sole power to make gateway assessments of such qualifications. If they decide the the named degree is not equivalent to an American one with the same name then the next (professional assessment) level is not allowed to treat it as such either. Sigh. The differences are blatant. A traditional 3-year Pass Bachelor degree in Australia ends up with 2 majors and 2 minors (or a professional level double major and 1 or 2 minors). The U.S. Foreign Credential Evaluation system evaluates this as inferior to a 4-year American College level Bachelor which ends up with 1 major and 1 minor. Does not compute. It insists that the 4 year entry level professional and Honours degrees are equivalent to the U.S. 4-year generalist level College Bachelor that is merely the prerequisite to begin professional level studies. Big sigh.

      The Australian government spent years trying to overturn these unfair name=name assessments until it eventually (2008?) passed legislation that allowed it to rename its degrees to be consistent with American levels. Everything went up at least a degree name. The new style PhDs were 3 years or 4 with coursework and the old style PhDs of the 1970s (5 – 7 year research only) became post-doctoral research studies. This works for the new graduates but excludes those of us who got our top level qualifications under the old system.

      = = = =Now, back to the study of miracles. = = = =

      There are several problems with the current claims that medical miracles occur as the result of Christian faith healers. First, the definition cannot differentiate between ignorance and a truly extraordinary event. Second, the requirement that the extraordinary event be caused by a specific god simply begs the question. All definitions boil down to this:

      = = = A theist’s definition of a MIRACLE (FAITH HEALING VARIETY): Any positive health related change that I cannot explain by what I understand of the otherwise immutable laws of the universe, that happened during or after a religious event where the faithful or the leaders believe that such events are due to the workings of a particular god or saint (as long as it is the one I believe in). Note: Any negative health related change that occurs in the same circumstances is to be ignored as irrelevant. = = =

      Since the belief that the event was caused by a particular supernatural being is simply inferred rather than objectively self-evident, the occurrence of such events cannot be used to prove the existence of the supposed supernatural being.

      The argument falls wide apart when control groups are added and statistical analysis is appropriately employed.

      1. Similar unusual cures or lulls in symptom presentation are known to occur in response to faith healing sessions where the leaders subscribe to supernatural beliefs and gods that are incompatible. They also occur in the absence of any religious intervention whatever.

      2. Claims by religious leaders that the miracles are qualitatively different from those that occur without the intervention of a supernatural power are not supported by a good look at the evidence.

      3. Extraordinary changes in health following a religious event are exclusively confined to conditions where “spontaneous remissions” have been documented without religious intervention. Extraordinary changes in health that have never been known to occur in the absence of faith healing practice or intercessory prayer have also never been convincingly shown to occur as the result of faith healing or intercessory prayer. Missing limbs are never regrown, scaring from third degree burns is never repaired, the genetic code that results in a variety of congenital conditions is never changed, cerebral cortex lost as the result of stroke, tumors, accidents or dementing disease is never regrown.

      4. Claims that the intervention of a particular god, saint or super-normal power is better than the intervention of any other god, saint or super-normal power have not been objectively substantiated.

      5. The “hit” rate of faith healers and intercessory prayer groups is significantly and overwhelmingly inferior to the “hit” rate of standard medicine.

      6. The failure rate and the noxious rate are both much higher in faith healing practices than they are in standard medicine. Religious groups do not advertise these statistics and few, if any, collect and keep statistics of this nature at all.

      Standard academic research protocols require that ALL salient and relevant material be amassed and considered before a conclusion is drawn. It also requires that the unbiased reliability of the studies be taken into account when assigning relative weight to the conclusions.

      Theists do not generally do anything of the sort. They seek only those studies that support the conclusion that is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs and ignore, dismiss or avoid the discovery of material that does not support these beliefs. They promote seriously flawed research as “proof” of their pre-existing beliefs. If they are presented with the non-supportive findings of more rigorously conducted studies they either the implications for their claim, or they use a variety of ingenious, but weak, rationalizations to try to emasculate the better controlled research.

      This includes the special pleading that the science used in all the dis-confirming studies (but not in the confirming studies) is not appropriate for studying the supernatural. What that boils down to, is that they prefer to use evidence and investigatory protocols that are known to be the most biased and unreliable rather than ones that are known to be the most reliable and unbiased, simply because the least reliable of these provides support for their beliefs while the most reliable do not. In other words, the sole criteria the theist used to distinguish good research from bad research is the content of the conclusions.

      That, in essence, is also the theologically unpalatable extrapolation of the “non-overlapping majesteria” argument.

      Now if adherents of a particular branch of a particular faith could show that prayer or healing attempts by their most devout members resulted in significant health improvements or cures = = = = and that these effects were not seen anywhere else = = = = and their “hit” rate was better than standard medicine in at least these areas, then there would be a valid reason for inferring that something extraordinary was happening as the result of these particular interventions that ascribe to that particular variation of the divine. It still does not prove the the prime cause is a divinity, or the divinity worshiped by the healers, but it does suggest that at least something the Faithful are doing is causing positive change.

      No-one has presented any such evidence so far.

  29. Kevin Harris Says:

    When you say “best explanation,” are you saying it’s the most consistent with what we actually observe in the real world, or are you applying some criterion not based on consistency with real-world truth? If the latter, then what criterion or criteria are you using, by which a supernatural resurrection qualifies as “best”? And why do other explanations qualify as “not the best,” according to these criteria?

    The historical criteria have been spelled out by historians as detailed by Craig (this thread). By the same criteria, things like “someone stole the body”, “the swoon theory”fail to account for other factors (the various appearances, the transformation of the disciples despite their having every predisposition to the contrary, the Apostle Paul, etc).

    • Paul King Says:

      Your choice of criteria seems odd. Essentially you are claiming that a hypothesis that allegedly covers everything is automatically better than a collection of hypotheses that in aggregate explain the same events. I would say that that is a very simplistic view.

      It is also necessary to consider the sources. The Empty Tomb is first mentioned in Mark, and in the text that we have it is witnessed only by two women who told nobody about it. Other sources seem to derive it from Mark, with elaborations. Obviously the evidence is far weaker than we would like even for the mundane conclusion that Jesus was buried in a tomb at all.

      For the post-resurrection appearances, it is clear that something happened – but we have no story of events prior to Matthew. And it is also clear that Luke/Acts and Matthew have very different accounts of. Surely the best explanation of this is that the actual events were not so impressive and that they have been greatly elaborated in two different directions. Which leaves us with no reason to believe that there was anything supernatural. Perhaps there was nothing more than dreams, feelings that Jesus was present, mistaking strangers for Jesus – all things that can happen in ordinary life.

      If there is a small gain in explanatory power – and I question whether even that is true, since the resurrection hypothesis needs auxiliary hypotheses to actually account for events fully – I can’t see how it can possibly be sufficient to cause us to accept a miracle over mundane explanations which fit the actual facts that we have.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      The historical criteria have been spelled out by historians as detailed by Craig (this thread). By the same criteria, things like “someone stole the body”, “the swoon theory”fail to account for other factors (the various appearances, the transformation of the disciples despite their having every predisposition to the contrary, the Apostle Paul, etc).

      Ok, so you’re taking, say, the swoon theory, or “disciples stole the body,” and judging them according to Craig’s six criteria:

      1. Historical fit
      2. Independent, early sources
      3. Embarrassment
      4. Dissimilarity
      5. Semitisms
      6. Coherence

      And you’re saying that these six criteria disprove all the skeptical theories, even though Dr. Craig says these criteria are “all positive signs of historical credibility” and “can only be used to establish the authenticity of some incident, not to deny it.” Is that your argument?

      The thing is, the modern day theories you describe are not historical documents, so it really doesn’t make sense to judge them in terms of historical criteria. What difference does it make to check, say, the swoon theory, and see if there are any Semitisms in the 18th century German writings that first proposed it?

      Besides, in rejecting these more modern theories, aren’t you really applying the seventh criteria, comparing the claim against what we actually observe in the real world? You cite “the transformation of the disciples” as though their behavior were remarkable and unusual and therefore significant, but aren’t you really saying that when we look at how liars behave in the real world, we don’t find many deliberate deceivers who are willing to die for their lie? After all, you could be arguing that we need an open mind, and should not conclude that liars never die for their deceits just because it’s rare for liars to die for their deceits. But you don’t, do you? You argue that we should reject the theory because we don’t see real-world people making themselves martyrs over a lie.

      Or take the swoon theory. You reject it not because it fails to be an embarrassment to the people who proposed it, but because when we look at human abilities in the real world, we don’t find many men who could roll away the stone from their own tombs after having been savagely beaten and abused and left for dead. You don’t insist that the rarity of such a feat means that we should refrain from evaluating the claim according to what we observe in the real world. You apply the seventh criterion, and reject the theory because it’s inconsistent with what we observe in the real world. And that’s the criterion we should be using, because that’s the one that helps us distinguish between the true stories and the wishful thinking, superstitions, myths, and other falsehoods.

      PS: not all critical theories fail to pass Craig’s criteria, nor do they all fail the seventh. In fact, I think that would make an interesting blog post.

      • Kevin Harris Says:

        I would like to see you develop and define the 7th Criterion some more. You seem to be ambiguous on what “real world truth” is. Again, I still suspect it means, “whatever conforms to my worldview and experiences, etc.”.
        The Resurrection hypothesis is not the only option, but Craig, Wright, and others have shown that (1) it can’t be ruled out and (2) it seems to be the best explanation given the facts. Even on (1), one’s faith in Christ is warranted via historical support. If (2) obtains, one’s faith in Christ is even more warranted.

  30. pboyfloyd Says:

    “The historical criteria have been spelled out by historians as detailed by Craig (this thread).”

    So you’re saying that the “best” explanation is one that comes from the most Christian of historians as detailed by a Christian apologist?

    My how Christian of you! How quaint!

  31. Tony Hoffman Says:

    KH: “One can be biased in favor of one view over another in the event a conclusion cannot be agreed upon. One can then examine those biases. I think that “unbiased” means to be free of unwarranted biases.

    Okay, I think your definition of “bias” is highly idiosyncratic. It sounds as if you prefer to be prejudiced (that is probably the most common synonym for the word “bias), and I doubt that you would agree to that characterization. I would highly suggest you read up on the term “cognitive bias” to see how it is commonly used in discussions like these. Then apply that definition to your explanation above and see how it reads to others here, and why the term “warranted bias” is a kind of oxymoron.

    KH: “Secondly, yes, I think the resurrection happened, and I think historians would disagree with you concerning documents being among the worst kind of evidence. Far from it! Textual Criticism is a whole field based on this evidence! And the archeological evidence you mention when coupled with what documents and manuscripts say is even more conclusive.”

    No, you misrepresent me. I wrote that documents are among the worst evidence we have from the ancient world, and that is because a) there is relatively little of it, and b) it has often gone through many copies (susceptible to accidental and purposeful alterations) and it requires a great deal of interpretation – very often the documents are in physically terrible shape. And, yes, I know that the field of textual criticism exists. The fact that the field exists supports what I said above, because it seeks to try and alleviate the problem I described.

    KH: “Thirdly, I disagree that historical investigation cannot support a supernatural explanation. That’s exactly what it can do! The historian may or not speculate on a particular conclusion but if the facts warrant it, he can certainly draw a supernatural conclusion.”

    Then you are ignorant of how the History of field is practiced.

    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: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001043103.pdf )

    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.”
    I think that explains it pretty well.

  32. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Here’s another example of the difference between theological and historical study, this one from L.H. Marshall on Supernatural Occurrences, “Historical Criticism,” New Testament Interpretation; Essay on Principles.

    Marhsall: “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.”

  33. Deacon Duncan Says:

    @Kevin Harris:

    I would like to see you develop and define the 7th Criterion some more. You seem to be ambiguous on what “real world truth” is. Again, I still suspect it means, “whatever conforms to my worldview and experiences, etc.”.

    I think you wish I were being ambiguous, but in fact there is no ambiguity there at all. Real-world truth means the truth as it exists in the real world, external to and independent of the speculations, superstitions, emotions, preferences, biases, worldviews, and delusions of men. To discern truth means to bring one’s thoughts into consistency with the truth as it exists in the real world, outside of the thoughts and feelings of men. To expose falsehood means to detect inconsistencies between the real world and the things men say and think and feel (or to detect internal inconsistencies between different aspects of what men say).

    I don’t think that’s an unreasonable standard, and I think it’s wise to be suspicious of anyone who tries to reject that standard in favor of one that’s easier to compromise in favor of a predetermined conclusion.

    The Resurrection hypothesis is not the only option, but Craig, Wright, and others have shown that (1) it can’t be ruled out and (2) it seems to be the best explanation given the facts. Even on (1), one’s faith in Christ is warranted via historical support. If (2) obtains, one’s faith in Christ is even more warranted.

    Actually, #1 is wrong: the Gospel can indeed be ruled out due to both inconsistencies with itself and inconsistencies with reality. But even if it couldn’t, it would provide only as much warrant as we would have for believing in Santa Claus, unicorns, and little green men from Mars. That’s not a good thing, especially if we only lower our standards that far for Christianity, and not for the infinitely-many other undisprovable possibilities. It shows we know better and are forcing our conclusion anyway.

    As for #2, actual resurrection is only “best” according to a contrived standard that you only apply to the resurrection story, after disqualifying the alternatives using a different standard. If you applied the same standards to the resurrection story as you do to critical hypotheses, and vice versa, you’d get the opposite answer.

  34. tokyotodd Says:

    I’ve stumbled onto the discussion a few months late obviously, but was curious about this statement:

    “To discern truth means to bring one’s thoughts into consistency with the truth as it exists in the real world, outside of the thoughts and feelings of men.”

    In other words, to be objective; fair enough. George Washington was either the first President of the United States or he was not. The real-world evidence overwhelmingly supports the former, so a person would be unjustified in holding the proposition “George Washington was the first President of the United States” to be false, regardless of their personal thoughts or feelings. But aren’t questions about the nature of truth (what truth can and cannot be, etc.) inherently worldview questions? If so, wouldn’t bringing my thoughts into consistency with some different description of the “real world” simply mean adopting someone else’s worldview? Who then decides which worldview is the right one? I agree with your principle as applied to empirically verifiable facts (the distance light travels in one year, etc.), but can it really be extended to metaphysical questions such as whether God exists?

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      If objective reality exists independently of my perception of it, then different worldviews will themselves have greater or lesser value depending on how effective they are in allowing the holder’s perceptions to coincide with the truth. Some worldviews will lead to perceptions that are continually at odds with reality, thus requiring the holder to indulge in constant rationalizations, compartmentalized thinking, superstitions, denials, and so on. Other worldviews will be more efficient at separating accurate perceptions from misperceptions, and will reward the holder with an understanding that is naturally self-consistent, since it is derived directly from the inherent self-consistency of the truth itself.

      Now, if we’re going to use the term “truth” to refer to quasi-realities that exist only in the mind of the perceiver, then obviously the above standard does not apply. Where there is no objective reality that exists independently of our perception of it, there is no common, objective frame of reference we can use to make such value judgments. In such a context, there is no “right” worldview, since the individual’s perceptions are what define the “reality” being viewed, and therefore each individual worldview is correct without regard for any other.

      The question then becomes one of where the nature of truth lies? Is the nature of truth something that is inherent in some objective reality that exists independently of our perception of it? I rather think it is, because if it weren’t then that would mean that both truth and reality itself would be defined by our perception of it. Thus, we would all have to be solipsists, or at least I would be, since none of the rest of you would actually exist. But at that point, the philosopher will have talked himself out of a job.

      Besides, does it even make sense to say that the nature of the truth about objective reality would spring from from some subjective perception of some quasi-reality that exists only in the mind of the perceiver? The perceiver himself must draw his own existence from the objective reality of which he is a part. If that objective reality could not exist until some perceiver existed to perceive a subjective reality from which objective reality could draw the nature of its own truth, then it will never exist.

      Consequently it is objective reality itself which sets the standard by which we can determine which worldviews are capable of addressing questions about, say, whether or not God exists. If He purportedly exists as part of objective reality, then our best resource for examining the question is the worldview that is most efficient and accurate in determining which claims are most consistent with real world truth. And if He’s only part of some subjective quasi-reality that depends on the perceptions of the perceiver, then as far as I’m concerned the question of His existence is largely irrelevant.

  35. tokyotodd Says:

    To describe some object or state of affairs as an “objective reality” means that it has an ontological grounding–it does in fact exist, objectively, independent of whether (or in what way) a person might perceive it. Propositions about quasi-realities do not describe actual states of affairs: “This morning I saw Elvis on the subway.” Delusions, no matter how strongly perceived, are false. So we agree that something must actually exist (or be true) in order to be called an objective reality.

    “Consequently it is objective reality itself which sets the standard by which we can determine which worldviews are capable of addressing questions about, say, whether or not God exists.”

    Here we encounter the problem of how objective realities can come to be known: a question of epistemology that is quite independent from the question of whether something exists. In order for a worldview to be capable of addressing questions about God or miracles, it must first posit some sort of methodology by which these objects (if they existed) could be detected and empirically verified. This requires knowledge of the objects being investigated, without which it would be impossible, or at least highly presumptuous, to make predictions about how we might expect to encounter or observe them. This would seem to rule out naturalism as a useful worldview, since it simply presupposes the nonexistence of the supernatural and therefore cannot really address questions about it (except to regard them as meaningless).

    The main point I gather from the 7th criterion is that it seeks to exclude from “real-world truth” anything that has not been empirically verified and/or is not readily observed in daily life by people who are free of unwarranted presuppositions or superstitions. This works well for Elvis sightings (real-world evidence could be produced that should convince any earnest truth-seeker that Elvis has been quite dead since 1977), but I’m still not convinced it can be applied to the larger metaphysical questions.

    • rlwemm Says:

      The reason why naturalism cannot detect a god is that gods are unnatural. From this we could reason that if homosexuality is bad because it is unnatural then god is also bad because he, she or it is unnatural. :-)

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Here we encounter the problem of how objective realities can come to be known: a question of epistemology that is quite independent from the question of whether something exists. In order for a worldview to be capable of addressing questions about God or miracles, it must first posit some sort of methodology by which these objects (if they existed) could be detected and empirically verified.

      Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. First of all, let’s agree that objective truth/reality is essentially a singular thing—there’s not more than one set that can rightly be called “all things which exist in and of themselves, independently of our perceptions (or misperceptions) of them.” If Fact A is true, and Fact B is true, they are not separate realities, but are merely parts of a larger reality. This singular Truth/Reality is that which is consistent with itself.

      This property of self-consistency is itself the basis for all valid epistemologies: to “know” something means to have a conceptual representation of something that is consistent with the truth about the thing as it exists independently of our perceptions. We acquire this knowledge by means of interactions with reality, in which the self-consistency of the truth becomes apparent through the consistent patterns that arise in our interactions (we ourselves being a part of the self-consistent reality we are perceiving). Conversely, we detect falsehoods and inaccuracies in our perceptions by detecting inconsistencies and/or discontinuities in our conclusions, such that we can determine that our “knowledge” has failed to meet the standard that truth is consistent with itself.

      To apply this to specific examples, then, we need to use an epistemology that allows us to measure the claims of men against the objective standard of real-world truth. If what men claim is true, then by definition it must be consistent with observable reality. This is how we acquire knowledge about things that are true even though they are not directly observable. We cannot, for example, observe gravity directly, but we can discover gravity because the things we can observe are consistent with the way gravity works.

      Likewise, if, say, telepathy were real, we would be able to detect its existence because the things we can observe would be consistent with the operation of telepathy. For example, we could isolate the telepath in a soundproof booth and have them write down some longish sample of text being read to a subject out of the telepath’s line of sight. Something similar could be used to detect similar “paranormal” phenomena, like two people who were able to communicate “spiritually” with some third party—say, God, for example.

      Thus, if we truly understand and embrace the principle that truth is consistent with itself and with objective reality, then there is no epistemological barrier to discovering the truth or falsehood of claims about God, about miracles, or about the supernatural. Indeed, if the supernatural requires some kind of “special” epistemology specifically contrived to enable us to “know” things that do not derive from a rational exploration of objective reality, then that in itself is a significant indication of problems with the idea of “the supernatural.” The things that are genuinely part of objective reality do not require “special” epistemologies designed to avoid the constraints of consistency with objective truth.

  36. Janney Says:

    tokyotodd,

    Here we encounter the problem of how objective realities can come to be known: a question of epistemology that is quite independent from the question of whether something exists.

    If this is just a thrill-seeking plunge down the epistemological rabbit hole, then enjoy yourself.

    If this is an actual apologetic errand, then it seems sufficient to point out that 1) all the supernatural claims in the world are equally credible; and 2) your only chance to make a better claim is to appeal to the real world we all know and love, and you just took that off the table by plunging down the epistemological rabbit hole.

    • tokyotodd Says:

      I don’t see how that follows from my argument. I’m arguing that there IS objective, real-world truth, but that each person’s understanding of what the phrase “real-world truth” means is inherently a product of their worldview. This is not at all to say that we should take truth and objectivity off the table; rather, we should be careful when attempting to use loaded words—real, world, truth, etc.—as “objective” criteria. Educated, intelligent, rational people can and do strongly disagree about what these words mean.

  37. Janney Says:

    tokyotodd,

    I’m arguing that there IS objective, real-world truth…

    Oh, then we agree!

    …but that each person’s understanding of what the phrase “real-world truth” means is inherently a product of their worldview.

    Then in what sense is truth-and-objectivity still on the table? If it exists, but we can’t perceive it reliably because our worldviews get in the way, where does that leave us?

    And where do these unbelievably costly worldviews come from? And what benefit could begin to offset that cost?

    • rlwemm Says:

      Exactly! Since there is no notable concensus on the meaning or interpretation of “real world truth” then there is no such thing in the real and pragmatic world. If theists claim that there are “absolute truths” and “absolute morality” but show no ability to agree on the parameters or details of these things then they have effectively proved that they have no way to determine if they, or anyone else, has the right idea. IOW, the existence of such things, if they are real, is useless in a pragmatic application of moral principles or axioms. Useless.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Please keep in mind that my comments were made in the context of a discussion about the historicity of New Testament miracles, and specifically in response to the proposal that claims about miracles should be judged according to how consistent they are with “real-world truth.”

        So, what is real-world truth? The theist might say that the world was created by a personal God who is (or at least could be) active within it. On this view, miracles, though exceedingly rare (as miracles by definition would be) are perfectly consistent with what is held to be true about the world. On a view that holds the universe to be a closed system, the supposed intervention in the world by some external transcendent being is just nonsense and an obvious violation of what is held to be true about the world.

        Let’s say these opposing views (admittedly oversimplified here) are held by a billion or so folks each. They both can’t be right (maybe they’re both wrong), but if they hope to dialogue with each other on this subject, is it not problematic to frame the discussion with terminology that the two sides will hold to have very different meanings?

        I’m not saying they shouldn’t have the discussion (I think they should), but that they be aware of these differences from the outset.

        Regarding morals, I’m not aware that theists argue for “absolute” moral values, but at any rate the issue of morals is a quite different discussion.

  38. Science and the supernatural | Alethian Worldview Says:

    [...] a comment over at my other blog, tokyotodd writes: In order for a worldview to be capable of addressing [...]

  39. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Tokyotodd: “I’m arguing that there IS objective, real-world truth, but that each person’s understanding of what the phrase “real-world truth” means is inherently a product of their worldview.”

    I would amend this to say that there is objective, real world truth (the data), but that each person’s understanding of what best explains this data is based on their worldview.

    I can’t help but observe that the side whose understanding allows them to predict what new data will be accumulated has the edge on deciding which worldview is correct. Prediction seems like the crucible under which worldviews are tested. Do you disagree?

    Tokyotodd: “This is not at all to say that we should take truth and objectivity off the table; rather, we should be careful when attempting to use loaded words—real, world, truth, etc.—as “objective” criteria. Educated, intelligent, rational people can and do strongly disagree about what these words mean.”

    Possibly. But I don’t think we should confuse truth as objective data, and truth as correct explanation. Educated, intelligent people do disagree about the proper explanations, but I don’t think they can reasonably disagree about the data. And I think “real world truth” is as good a term as any for this.

    • rlwemm Says:

      The consensus among social and behavioral scientists is that objective morality does not, and never has, existed. There are, of course, intelligent educated people who disagree, as there is in every discipline. In this case, however, the disagreement stems from prior religious belief in the presence of a dogmatic or authoritarian personality who does not deal well with ambiguity, uncertainty and wide category thinking (shades of grey). We know there is a strong genetic component to this.

      In other words, the fundamentalist “world view” is as much a product or the person’s genetics as it is of their environment and upbringing.

  40. rlwemm Says:

    Sam Harris might kill me. :-)


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