Do These Beliefs Cancel Each Other Out?

I received this email from a Muslim recently. He agrees with me that Christianity is wrong, but rather than being an atheist he thinks I should be a Muslim. Just look at how sure he is about reminds me of how sure Christians are of their faith too.

I totally agree that the trinity really makes no sense whatsoever, how can three equal one, and that is what leads to atheism in many Christians. I just want you to know if you ever experienced Islam this is the only true religion that makes sense. There are many former Christian preachers and fellow Christians that have come to Islam. If you truly want to find out the truth please give Islam a chance. Please don't compare Islam to what you hear all over the media because it is completely not true.

I just want to let you know that all the questions are truly answered in Quran. There are preachers and ministers coming into Islam. So just ask yourself truly why are they coming to Islam? If you’re looking for the true religion please check this out. We believe Jesus was a prophet not a god. That’s what led to atheism. Don't just go by what you hear in the media. Also there is a lot of scientific miracles in the Quran to take a look at that haven't been proven wrong.
For what it's worth here are my thoughts when I received this e-mail:

David Hume argued that competing religious claims of miracles "cancel each other out." That is, if competing religions offer up testimonies of the miraculous as support for their faith, then testimonies of miracles themselves cannot provide the basis for religious beliefs. Why? Because these testimonies cancel the credibility of each other out.

The late Ronald Nash said this is probably the strongest of Hume's four subsidiary arguments. [Faith & Reason, p. 238]. Richard Swinburne criticized Hume by arguing that competing religious claims only cancel each other out if the proclaimed miracles of each religion did in fact occur, and if these purported miracles are used to establish the truth of each of these separate religions (since there is nothing prohibiting God from doing a miracle out of kindness to anyone of any faith). [The Concept of Miracle, 1970, (pp. 60-61)].

But listen to what Hume actually said: "This not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against anyone, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed." [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X]

For Hume this is an epistemological problem, and a credibility problem. Against Swinburne, who claims the force of Hume's argument only works if the proclaimed miracles of each religion did in fact occur, the question in Hume's mind is how he can even know whether or not both miracles occurred, since the credibility of both is suspect. And as far as these purported miracles being used to establish the truth of each of these separate religions goes, how about the claim that Muhammad was miraculously inspired to write the Koran (where it states Jesus did not rise from the dead), and compared that with the Christian claim that Jesus did rise from the grave?

Hence, the Muslim faith does indeed "cancel out" the credibility and epistemological significance of Christianity, and vice versa.


Todd Sayre said...

I realized that back in social studies class in middle school when we did a unit on classical Greek and Roman mythology. That gave me some ideas about what was going on, but I needed to do further research. I went to the library and read about the Norse, Egyptian and Native American myths regarding the world's creation and destruction, the origin of man and what happens after you die. I found the stories fascinating.

None of them really made any sense, of course. That was okay though because I thought they were just stories. Fiction, in other words.

Finally I realized what had been bothering me about all these myths. "Myth" was just a word used to describe old religions. These ancient people really beleived these stories. Anubis and Apollo and Odin and the rest were as real to them as Jesus and Moses and Noah are to the people filling the world around me.

I had already pretty much figured out that I didn't think Christianity was true years ago. (Thanks Cub Scouts!) The whole thing just didn't make any sense to me. But I thought that meant that there was something wrong with me. Now, with all this research into mythology, I had some real data that indicated the problem was with everybody else. They just didn't yet realize that their religion was as much a myth as every religion to come before it. (It would take a while yet for me to get interested in reading seriously about other religions still living in the world.)

"Radical" Russ Belville tells a similar story. He tried to share his newfound knowledge with the world via a school project. I wasn't that kind of kid though. I wouldn't be the first to ask a question. I certainly would never volunteer an answer without being called on first. I was content in just knowing what I thought was the most important piece of information in world.

It wasn't until I discovered the internet that I came to realize that there were others out there who made the same discovery. Along the way I learned what atheism and agnostism was, which was nothing good so far as I could tell here in rural middle Georgia (US). The best pre-internet experience I had was being introduced to Joseph Campbell and Carl Sagan in high school.

So yes, I agree with you that knowledge of multiple religions tend to cancel each other out.

Daniel said...

It's always the height of irony to hear an adherent of one religion explaining why the adherents of the other religion are wrong, especially when they explain how "their" miracles are true, but the "others'" miracles are fallacious and absurd.

Mark Plus said...

Why didn't all those billions of people who prayed to the "wrong" gods for millennia notice something amiss until they converted to christianity? And why didn't the christians in Syria, Palestine and Egypt during the early Byzantine era, just a few generations removed from paganism, find something lacking in praying to Jesus until they converted to Islam?

Hallq said...

I don't think there's really a canceling out here. The standard Christian miracle claims, i.e. the resurrection, aren't exactly analogous to the claims of "scientific miracles" of the Quran. The second claim is that the Quran contained amazing scientific insights far before any scientist had discovered them. This is much closer to the prophecies of Nostradamus or Isaiah. That isn't a cancelling out, though. Rather, understanding the shoehorning behind one claim helps you understand the others.

Shane said...

Hume used the same epistomological reasoning to assert things such as that if I were to shoot a man, I could not be sure that the gunshot actually caused his death. If you wish to use Hume to make your point, your conclusion carries about as much weight as this one.

John W. Loftus said...

Shane, there is a reason why David Hume is universally recognised as the greatest English speaking philosopher. Can you show me some faults in his epistemological reasoning?

The truth is that we cannot know with apodictic certainty that some antecedent event in time caused a subsequent event in time based purely on sense data--empiricism. Hume claimed all knowledge came by way of the senses. Since we have no "cause & effect" sense, we do not see, hear, taste, smell or touch cause & effect. It's that simple. So we cannot know cause and effect in the same way we know sense data.

Based on what we experience from our senses we inductively conclude what prior event caused a subsequent event in time. It's a conclusion we make, not something we see. And just like the findings of any jury in a court case to decide if the defendent caused the crime, so also it is with our conclusions of cause and effect.

Since this is true of all normal events with which we are accustomed, then how much more is it true of supposed miraculous events that have purportedly supernatural causes.

Hume's reasoning follows this train of thinking: if this is so when it comes to cause & effect in the normal experiences of life, then how much more is it so when it comes to miracles. What's so faulty about his epistemological reasonings, I ask you?

Besides, the whole notion of cause & effect suffers by way of a series of category mistakes. If I place a slab of butter out on asphalt on a hot summer's day, and I asked you "what caused the butter to melt?" What would you say?

There are a lot of necessary conditions, like the low melting temp of the butter, the heat, me placing it out on the asphalt, plus the lack of a cold northern wind. But what precisely caused the butter to melt? While it is possible to offer one single proposition spelling out what the sufficent condition is that caused the butter to melt, it's not at all obvious to state.

How much more so is it far less obvious when it comes to supposed supernatural causes for purported miraculous claims that are used to support contradictory religions. This is point here in this post. They cancel each other out just like witnesses in a trial offer up contradictory testimonies.

Hallq, you might have a point here, but just ask a Muslim if their claims of miracles are analogous to the Christian claims, and guess what they will say? Muslims testify to a different God and a contradictory religion than Christians do. They offer mutually exclusive testimony, eh?

Former_Fundy said...

This reminds me of a couple of quotations:

"The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also." -Mark Twain

"One man's religion is another man's belly laugh." -Robert Anson Heinlein

Shane said...

The problem here is that you are only citing supposed miracles that cannot be tested empirically. There are many that can be tested empirically. In fact, this miracle has been tested empircally by both independent scientists and the World Health Organization. All have concluded that there is no natural explanation. It's easy to dismiss things like the inspiration of the Bible or the reception of the Koran, but it is far more difficult to address things like that or this.

JustinOther said...

Shane, I just read the page you linked to about the flesh and blood. Is there further info on this? I ask because it doesn't say who witnessed this miracle, and the link provided is a theist site. I'd like to see the study written by the scientists who studied it.

nedbrek said...

Of course the two disagree. Islam is antichrist.

1 John 2:22 "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son."

Jesus declared Himself as God on multiple occasions. It was the primary reason the Jewish leadership wanted to kill Him.

Revelations tells us 'the' antichrist (and his prophet) will perform miracles. Performing miracles is clearly not restricted to God. Again, look to 1 John - 4:1 "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." and 4:3 "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world."

Anonymous said...

if I wanted to distroy christian belief, I'd start a new religion to do so. Islahm was created by saten by fooling mohamed into believing he was God. Any religion that seks believers to arm themselves has nothing to do with God. God dosen't need our help to distroy us. He's demonstrated that many times. True Christians have belief in Christ Jesus for who he is. And for what he did on the cross. That is faith. You don't have to see it to believe it. You state many earthly examples as to your loss of faith. The devel has won you over to his side. Although I feel sorry for your decision, I know it would change in time of real personal danger, I've seen it time and again.... True Christians try not to judge but to inform others about the good news of jesus. And non of us are perfect, not even you. our judge will come and both of us will be there to explain ourselve.

John W. Loftus said...

Does God have the power to stop the Anti-Christ or not?

Does God have the power to stop Satan or not?

nedbrek said...

Of course God has the power to stop the antichrist.

But when He does, He will be coming to judge the world; and it will be too late to start believing in Him at that point!

The world was given by God to man. Man handed it over to Satan. Until Christ returns, we are challenged by the enemy (Revelations 12:12). The enemy's time is short, and if you put yourself in God's hands, you cannot be snatched out.