Have My Arguments Really Been Refuted?

Repeatedly I am told by some Christians in Blogsphere that I’m stupid, that my research is old, and that my arguments have been refuted a long time ago. They respect Dr. Paul Copan, and fail to realize that we both studied under Dr. Craig, that we both graduated from TEDS, and that we both attended Marquette University. We probably never met because he entered TEDS the Fall after I had just graduated. Paul will be giving the James D. Strauss lectureship at LCCS in October, which is a lectureship that as a student at LCCS with Dr. James F. Sennett we helped to set up in the first place! The only reason these Christians berate me and approvingly quote from Copan and Sennett is because they agree with them and they disagree with me. Sennett himself thinks it's an illusion that Christians have a rationally superior faith.

But such an attitude comes from Dr. William Lane Craig himself, so why would I expect anything different from his followers. I remember sitting down and talking with Bill Craig, at an apologetics conference. While we were talking he said to me “Hume has been refuted years ago.” To which I replied, “I didn’t know Hume could be refuted because he merely said that the wise man proportions his belief based upon what is most likely to be the case.” To which Bill admitted, on second thought, that I was right, “You’re right, Hume cannot be refuted.”

You see? Hume cannot be refuted. I repeat. David Hume cannot be refuted. There is no such thing as a refutation of Hume because his is an inductive argument with a more or less plausibility factor to it. And yet, here's Dr. Craig saying that. No wonder Christians will say that some of my arguments stemming from Hume have been refuted. Craig said it to me, and I suspect he still says it to others. I only called him on it. But Craig acts as if this is the case in his debates. I saw this when Dr. Craig recently claimed Dr. Ehrman’s argument was “mathematically fallacious.” This is a ridiculous charge. It is no such thing. This is rhetoric coming from Craig. Mere rhetoric. It catches the stupid off guard into thinking Craig won the debate.

But Craig repeatedly does this. Let me share what Mackie said about miracles, and then share what Craig said in response. The late J.L. Mackie in his book, The Miracle of Theism (Clarendon Press, 1982) argued against the belief in miracles, along with Hume. Let me quote from him: “The defender of a miracle…must in effect concede to Hume that the antecedent improbability of this event is as high as it could be, hence that, apart from the testimony, we have the strongest possible grounds for believing that the alleged event did not occur. This event must, by the miracle advocate’s own admission, be contrary to a genuine, not merely supposed, law of nature, and therefore maximally improbable. It is this maximal improbability that the weight of the testimony would have to overcome.” “Where there is some plausible testimony about the occurrence of what would appear to be a miracle, those who accept this as a miracle have the double burden of showing both that the event took place and that it violated the laws of nature. But it will be very hard to sustain this double burden. For whatever tends to show that it would have been a violation of a natural law tends for that very reason to make it most unlikely that is actually happened.”

Mackie then distinguishes between two different contexts in which an alleged miracle might be considered as a real one. First, there is the context of two parties in which “already both have accepted some general theistic doctrines and the point at issue is, whether a miracle has occurred which would enhance the authority of a specific sect or teacher. In this context supernatural intervention, though prima facie (“on the surface”) unlikely on any particular occasion is, generally speaking, on the cards: it is not altogether outside the range of reasonable expectation for these parties.” The second context is a very different matter when “the context is that of fundamental debate about the truth of theism itself. Here one party to the debate is initially at least agnostic, and does not yet concede that there is a supernatural power at all. From this point of view the intrinsic improbability of a genuine miracle…is very great, and that one or other of the alternative explanations…will always be much more likely—that is, either that the alleged event is not miraculous, or that it did not occur, or that the testimony is faulty in some way.” Mackie concludes by saying: “This entails that it is pretty well impossible that reported miracles should provide a worthwhile argument for theism addressed to those who are initially inclined to atheism or even to agnosticism.” (From chapter one).

Do you know what Craig said about Mackie's argument? Dr. William Lane Craig wrote in the introduction to the Truth Journal that "Mackie's critique of miracles is “particularly shockingly superficial.” Yes, you read that correctly, coming from the same man who claims Hume has been refuted and any such attempt to refute Hume is "mathematically fallacious." The fact is that Mackie’s argument is not superficial at all. It is very persuasive to me.

Craig claimed this about Mackie's argument when he was commenting on Alvin Plantinga’s critique of Mackie’s book, The Miracle of Theism . So I re-read Plantinga's essay, “Is Theism Really a Miracle?,” in Faith and Philosophy, [April 1986]. And as I was doing so, I thought to myself that this was superficial too, from my perspective. I'm serious! It's obvious that Plantinga critiques Mackie from a theistic perspective. He even says so. Plantinga refers repeatedly to the phrase "to me," "my evidence," "my experience," or "our evidence." Take for example this sentence: “as a matter of fact it could be that what is in fact a violation of a law of nature (a miracle) not only wasn’t particularly improbable with respect to our evidence (emphasis mine), but was in fact more probable than not with respect to it.” What kind of evidence is he speaking to that is specifically his? He’s debating Mackie from within a viewpoint Mackie doesn’t accept. That is, he totally ignores Mackie’s distinction between the two contexts in which an alleged miracle might be considered as a real one. Mackie’s debate is inside the second context where it’s a “fundamental debate about the truth of theism itself.”

Plantinga asks the following question: "why should we think it is particularly improbable that a law of nature be interfered with?" "I have no reason to suppose that the world is not regularly interfered with. Why couldn't interferences with nature be the rule rather than the exception?" But to people who disagree with Plantinga, that's not a very bright question at all. How often has anyone ever seen a real miracle? Science has progressed on the assumption that miracles don't occur in the laboratory. Plantinga debates with modern science here. Now to those of us who question the believability of miracles, that just seems superficial to us. It really really is superficial to us.

Why? Because it's all about "seeing." I simply see things differently, and I will argue that I see things better. But I can no more refute Craig and Copan and Sennett, than they can refute me. It's not about refuting. It's not even about scholarship (Oh, I agree with him, so he's a scholar, although Sennett calls me a "scholar"). It's about seeing. I see things differently, that's all. I have also offered reasons why I see things differently when I wrote about the Outsider Test For Faith. Just go here and read the posts about that test. While you're at it read some of the other ones that interest you. I see things differently, that's all, and there is no way anyone can refute what I believe.

Again, it's about "seeing."

I try to help Christians see things from my side of the fence. The more clearly I can help them see this, the more they may consider seeing as I do. They are trying to make me see things from their side of the fence. But I've been there as an apologist, and from their side of the fence it's ugly.

Sometimes Christians are simply motivated by fear of change to allow themselves to see things differently. There are a lot of other fears: fear of dying, fear of hell, fear of God's wrath; fear of being kicked out of the safe Christian community, fear of a loss of income (those in the paid ministry), fear of what it'll do to your family when they learn, fear of rejecting everything you have studied for too long, fear of knowing how to act and behave ethically in a world that has no absolute guidance, fear of being alone in the universe with no guidance from outside, fear of becoming what I am with misguided notions about how we atheists are evil people who cannot be trusted and are perverts (which just isn't true).


Anonymous said...

I think that part of your problem is John, that you seem to think every one who is rational should accept your arguments. I think it really bothers you that people don't. That's why you are on the internet debating amateurs and Craig and Copan are debating pros.

Matthew said...

Oh my, another cowardly Christian posting anonymously. The fact of the matter is that most Christians will put stock in whatever spin-doctors tickle their ears the most. Loftus is quite correct to defend Hume and what our coward of a guest doesn't address is that Craig's own pupil outsmarted him.

John isn't out in the academic world because he has a business to run and this blog of ours is an excellent way to refine our arguments. At least John has a very honest means of living. People pay Craig and Copen to spin history, philosophy, and reality to their liking, distorting these academic fields in the process.

Maybe our anonymous poster can grow a pair and use his/her real name like the rest of us. Otherwise, I will regard the poster as s/he really is, a coward!


John W. Loftus said...

What I object to is someone thinking I'm ignorant simply because I disagree. I think the folks at Triablogue are intelligent Christians, for instance. And I have tried to treat them with respect. But they grant me very little.

But my post wasn't exactly all about me and my arguments. I was also pointing out how silly arguments look to those on both sides of the fence...both sides! From each side of the fence the other side is superficial and looks stupid, or ignorant.

We just see things differently. I wish people could understand this, that's all. It's a mark of intelligence.

Now you're saying they won't see this. Okay. But why can't I remind them of this? So I do.

As far as debating amateurs go...the time will hopefully come....

Hallq said...

Ah, yes, let us do away with reflexively calling "stupid" anyone who disagrees. It's obvious to me that Dr. Craig has a first-rate mind, even if he's devoted it to arguing for forordained conclusions. Unfortunate, yes, stupid, no.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, another cowardly Christian posting anonymously. The fact of the matter is that most Christians will put stock in whatever spin-doctors tickle their ears the most.

What's your full name Matthew? Perhaps some people post anaonymously because they value their privacy, not because they are cowards.

Matthew said...

"What's your full name Matthew? Perhaps some people post anaonymously because they value their privacy, not because they are cowards."

Um, genius, check "About The Contributors"-I have no fear of my name being known- it's a matter of public record!


unemployed deity said...

"Take your self-righteous condenscension and blow it out your nose!"

Im a deity I dont have a nose

Hallq said...


When I first heard your story about Craig admitting that Hume cannot be refuted, I couldn't help but think I was missing some context. Recently, I read something where Craig claimed that "I see no reason to think that Pr(R/B)<<.5." To refuse to admit that there is anything improbable about a miracle seems to me a mark of great credulity. It suggests, though, that Craig's only real reason for thinking the resurrection probable is that he already knows that Christianity is true, ergo it its claims are probable. Does this fit with your knowledge?

John W. Loftus said...

Chris, the setting was an apologetics conference at Lincoln Christian Seminary in 1997, I believe. I went to see if my faith could be rekindled, because I was in the throes of doubt. I drove him from the Seminary around town to his motel. During a banquet we were talking and I was putting questions to him that were on the boderline of acceptable questions, not wanting to tip him off that I was consumed by doubt. So he was off his guard, thinking he was talking to someone who agreed with him. We were talking about miracles and when I was asking him about Hume, that's when he said it, and that's why I got the honest response from him about Hume not being able to be refuted. But he went on to argue that miracles were still possible, and I didn't try to dispute him. I had gone far enough that day.

So he knows that Hume cannot be refuted, but he'll act as if Hume has been refuted for debate purposes. Inside he knows.

Matthew said...

John shares "So he knows that Hume cannot be refuted, but he'll act as if Hume has been refuted for debate purposes. Inside he knows."

If Craig acts like Hume has been refuted for debating purposes, that's pretty dishonest, especially if he acknowledges otherwise, like to you! Inside he knows but outwardly, he doesn't want others to know because it makes it harder for him to defend his own position.

John, I have to be honest here: I think that Bill Craig is a complete spin-doctor for the Christian faith.


Scott said...

You are right. Miracles are very improbable, but that's what makes them miracles. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word "miracle" as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs" or "an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment". What could be termed a "miracle" without it inherently being improbable, unusual, extremely outstanding,extraordinary, etc.? Improabability is in the very nature of a miracle. So every critic should stop expecting Christians to make the miracles of the Bible seem probable since, obviously, miracles are NOT probable in any sense of the word. In fact, miracles are not even close to probable in most cases. Miracles are down right impossible, "but with God all things are possible." —Matthew 19:26