Science, Biblical Criticism, and Double Standards (Sigh, Par for the Course)

In my book, Why I Became an Atheist, the reader will find several chapter length arguments, some paragraph length arguments, and then there are a bunch of "gems" scattered around that could be made into larger arguments. I think what I’ve written fits together as a whole quite well, but if the reader really wants to get the full scope of it then try reading through the book a second time. Several arguments in the early parts of the book depend for their force on the arguments in the later parts of the book.

One such scattered “gem,” if you will, is mentioned on page 61 where I argued that since methodological naturalism “has produced so many significant results, I think it should equally be used to investigate the Bible, its claims of the miraculous, and the origins of the universe itself, and it provides a great deal of evidence against the Christian faith.” [I mention this on pages 50, 119-120, and again on page 185].

What is methodological naturalism? It’s a method in scientific inquiry whereby “all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events.” Dr. Barbara Forrest tells us that “a massive amount of knowledge" has been gained by using this method.

This same method has been adopted by historians. Bart D. Ehrman, as a historian, adopts this method when it comes to studying the Bible, especially the New Testament, his area of specialty.

The rise of Biblical Criticism can probably be seen in light of the rise of modern science which adopted the method of naturalism. Again, we’ve gained a “massive amount of knowledge” from using it.

Applied to Biblical studies scholars have assumed a natural rather than a supernatural explanation for the stories inside the pages of the Bible. Based on the assumption that the past is just like the present in which miracles don’t occur, by taking their cue from the scientific enterprise that assumes a natural explanation for everything, Biblical scholars began studying the Bible afresh. As historians that’s what they must do. Robert M. Price tells us that if historians didn’t assume a natural explanation for events in the past they would be “at the mercy of every medieval tale, every report that a statue wept, or that someone changed lead into gold or turned into a werewolf.” [Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 20].

Many believers reject what these Biblical scholars as historians do, but why? Why is it that methodological naturalism has worked extremely well in every area where it's been used--every single one--but that when it comes to looking the collection of canonized books in the Bible such a method should not be used? My claim is that since methodological naturalism has worked so extremely well in every area where it's been used--every single one--that we should apply that same method when it comes to studying the Bible.

If believers don’t want to apply methodological naturalism across the board into Biblical studies, then please tell me where it should be applied and where it shouldn't. If this method should not be applied to the Bible then why do believers hold to a double standard, allowing it to be used when seeking a cure for cancer (why not call for a miracle worker instead?), or to discover our evolutionary biology (why not just quote Genesis 1 and shun science altogether?), or to explain the weather (why not just do a rain dance?), or a crime scene (why not just cast lots as they supposedly did in Joshua's day?), or a freak tragic accident (why not just say God was punishing someone?), or a noise in the night (demons? angels?), but not when it comes to the stories in the Bible?

This is probably the crux of the issue with me. Without assuming a natural explanation in science and in historical studies we would still think God alone opens the womb, that sicknesses are the result of sin, that the reason we win wars is because God was pleased, and the reason why there are natural disasters is because God is displeased. Given these type of supernatural explanations we would already have the needed explanations in God so there would be no room for science, which is undeniably important to the human race for a wide variety of reasons.

58 comments:

unBeguiled said...

Great stuff John.

Steven said...

Al Moritz, did you read this post? This is why your equivocation of naturalism's "faith" with religious faith is wrong. This is also why your reference to Ellis misses the point.

Eric said...

"One such scattered “gem,” if you will, is mentioned on page 61 where I argued that since methodological naturalism “has produced so many significant results, I think it should equally be used to investigate the Bible, its claims of the miraculous, and the origins of the universe itself, and it provides a great deal of evidence against the Christian faith.”

John, can you come up with a miraculous claim that could not, even in principle, be explained naturally? With enough creativity, and with enough appeals to quantum weirdness, advanced extra-terrestrials, multiverses, ignorance, etc. it seems to me that no miraculous claim can survive methodological naturalism. The victory, though, is a hollow one, since it is gained at the expense of begging the question.

Eric said...

Sorry, that last sentence should read:

"The victory, though, is a hollow one, since, by begging the question, it is gained at the expense of logic."

J. K. Jones said...

How can methodological naturalsim me used to prove methodological naturalism?

How DNA we prove that the best way to solve problems is to look for natural, physical causes by appeal to natural, physical causes?

Seems circular.

Hail Crom said...

Eric,

It must be nice to have a little jesus on your shoulder whispering the truths of the universe in your ear. The rest of us poor saps that aren't as fortunate as you have to rely on reason, and methodological naturalism to sort through how the world works.

Why don't we put your claim to the test Eric. Name one argument for jesus' miracles or resurrection that does not have a perfectly reasonable, natural explanation. Name one argument for christianity that requires a supernatural explanation.

Once you let go of your imaginary friend this naturalsim stuff won't seem so scary to you.

Steven said...

J.K.

Think of it this way. Methodological naturalism is self justifying in the sense that it can be shown that it works empirically (and it is also not perfectly reliable). To anticipate Eric's response.... This does not automatically rule out "other" ways of drawing conclusions, but I do think that it means that these other methods have to at least be held to the same standard. They have to be able to produce reliable and thus verifiable results. And this is where they fail.

As I mentioned on a previous thread, the scientific method does not automatically rule out non-natural causes, however, it has (so far) proven to not be possible to derive reliable information for explanations that are derived from non-natural causes.

If, and when non-natural causes can be shown to have *any* kind of reliability at all (and that they can do so in a way that clearly distinguishes them from a natural cause), then they will be admitted into the realm of more probable possibility, but until then, they certainly won't be admitted into the realm of science or any other field where making reliable predictions matter.

The bar is set high, but I do not believe it is impossibly high.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, that this is a conundrum means nothing to me. Based on the outsider test I could just as easily ask why you reject the Catholic miracle claims at Lourdes, which are much better attested than anything in the Bible. Why do you reject them? Don’t tell me you use Hume’s standards; the question begging standards that they are. And don’t tell me you use double standards either. Explain why.

Plus there is a big difference when it comes to claims in the ancient superstitious past that you simply must take into account.

Robert J. Fogelin dismisses your begging the question objection and claims it is a gross misreading of what Hume and I argue. Fogelin says, “Hume nowhere argues, either explicitly or implicitly, that we know that all reports of miracles are false because we know that all reports of miracles are false. . . . Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into the water they do not remain on its surface. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of the water. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption—unless countered, a decisively strong presumption—in favor of its falsehood.” Fogelin concludes with these words: “That is Hume’s argument, and there is nothing circular or question begging about it.”

Eric, why are you afraid of my book? This is all to be found in it, plus more. You will not get the full impact from just a snippet or two here and there. Oh, I know what you’re doing. Like wading into water to see how cold it feels before swimming you’re doing the same here at DC in preparation of reading my book. Okay, I guess. But the water is just fine. You’ve read enough, now dive in. The water’s just fine. ;-)

Eric said...

"The rest of us poor saps that aren't as fortunate as you have to rely on reason, and methodological naturalism to sort through how the world works...Once you let go of your imaginary friend this naturalism stuff won't seem so scary to you."

Hail Crom, you claim to 'rely on reason,' yet you don't seem adept when it comes to using it.

My post, whether I was right or wrong, pointed out a limitation of methodological naturalism -- period. Now, let's look critically at what you wrote (you know, let's apply that 'reason' thingy you seem to think you know something about).

My car can't fly. This is a fact. It's a limitation of my car that I've recognized. So, *does it follow that I'm afraid of my car*? Farcical, eh? Well, that's exactly the sort of move you just made: you inferred (can I even use that respectable term here?) from the fact that I argued that MN has limits that I must therefore be 'scared' of naturalism (never mind the fact that you've confused naturalism as such here with methodological naturalism; don't worry, you'll get better at this 'reasoning' thing the more you work at it).

Now, does it follow from what I wrote that I do not myself advocate the use of MN when it comes to trying "to sort through how the world works"? Obviously not -- no more than a recognition of the limits of MN precluded Alister Mcgrath from getting a DPhil (PhD) in molecular biophysics, Francis Collins from heading the Human Genome Project, or John Polkinghorne from making important advances in particle physics.

Do yourself a favor: Try to rely on reason more *in fact* in the future, and less on the rhetoric of relying on reason.

Tyro said...

Eric,

John is entirely correct in saying that methodological naturalism has led to huge gains. Instead of implying that it can't deal with miracles (which truly is begging the question), why don't you offer an alternative?


As for whether this is a weakness, I think not. In fact, the overwhelming success and the essentially complete lack of any of these boundary cases doesn't just strengthen the case for naturalism, it significantly undermines the case for supernaturalism. It's not like we've had to twist observations to make them fit into this framework.

John W. Loftus said...

To see why admitting supernatural claims into scientific discussions should be prohibited, consider David A. Shotwell’s conjectural hypothesis that “each subatomic particle is inhabited by a ghostly little gremlin.” According to this hypothesis, “each gremlin maintains the existence of its particle by a continuous creative act and is in instantaneous telepathic communication with all the others. By this means they cooperate to produce the universe and its lawful behavior. This hypothesis ‘explains’ everything that exists and every event that occurs.” The reason he advances this hypothesis is to show that “if you admit the supernatural into your calculations, anything goes. That is why a supernatural explanation is useless to a scientist.…It provides no direction for research, suggests no testable hypotheses, and gives no reason to expect one result rather than another from any observation or experiment.”

This was from my book, Eric. Come on, what are you afraid of? You have the answers, don't you?

Luke said...

Yup, double standards again. It's the only way religions survive.

Eric said...

"Robert J. Fogelin dismisses your begging the question objection and claims it is a gross misreading of what Hume and I argue."

John, your argument -- at least as you've presented it here -- and Hume's cannot be identified. (And, as you know, we could both go on citing scholars and pulling out arguments from their works about Hume's argument on miracles).

You're advocating the use of MN -- which you define as "a method in scientific inquiry whereby all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events" -- when investigating miraculous claims, while Hume was arguing that, as you quote Fogelin as saying, "on the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that [we've never observed a miracle]. On the other side we have isolated reports of [miracles]. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or the second sort?"

You see the difference here, right? And if you see the difference, you see that Fogelin's defense of Hume cannot be applied to your argument, right?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, you said I was begging the question. Of what was I begging the question? When it comes to Biblical criticism scholars assume there were no miracles. I thought that was what you were referring to, assuming that miraculous events don't take place, which is part and parcel of the method of naturalism.

Brad Haggard said...

John, I know this will make me a kook, but I think that the miraculous does occur today. We have to sift through reports, but just because you may have never experienced a miracle doesn't mean they don't occur. The example of the resident of the tropics rejecting the idea of snow comes to mind. And you may have referenced it, but the methods chapter of The Jesus Legend shows the circularity of this argument.

And let me say this, MN hasn't gotten us much farther in social sciences or psychology. And most of our "new" knowledge in history is only rediscovered knowledge.

I think is is a double-standard to say that MN equals philosophical naturalism.

Eric said...

"Eric, why are you afraid of my book?"

John, this question is truly bizarre! I think I win the prize for the person on this site who quotes from your book the most (the author excepted, of course).

"John is entirely correct in saying that methodological naturalism has led to huge gains."

I've said nothing to the contrary. Read my response to Hail Crom.

"As for whether this is a weakness, I think not."

It is a weakness if the question is, "Do miracles occur?"

"Based on the outsider test I could just as easily ask why you reject the Catholic miracle claims at Lourdes, which are much better attested than anything in the Bible. Why do you reject them?"

John, I fail to see how this is relevant. Let's say I do in fact use a double standard. What follows form that with respect to my argument concerning MN? Nothing, from what I can see. So, if my worst case response with respect to this question doesn't affect my argument, why is it relevant?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric said...John, I fail to see how this is relevant.

Then you just fail to see.

Pluck out your eyes, my friend. You need new ones.

Tyro said...

It is a weakness if the question is, "Do miracles occur?"

Why is that a weakness? The answers may not satisfy you but I don't see how that makes them any less valuable or meaningful.

What alternatives do you propose?

Hail Crom said...

Eric,

You can be honest, the reason you have a problem with methodolical naturalism is because you want your buddy jesus to be a miracle working savior that will take you to heaven when you die.

I will be more specific. Explain for us fools that rely on reason and methodological naturalism why the creation of the christian faith and new testament documents cannot be explained by a reasonable natural explanation. Here is a natural explanation...

We will assume Jesus actually lived.

We will assume that his followers believed him to be a messianic figure.

We will assume he was crucified

Yes, I am feeling generous today.

After committing their lives to this messianic figure, the superstitious, and uneducated disciples were devastated at his death. They perhaps felt things like, guilt, fear, dissapointment, depression, etc. They tried to explain the events based on their superstitious/religious background. They read through their scriptures, they considered different possibilities. At some point, one of them has a dream or vision, Jesus is alive, or Jesus is in heaven next to god, etc. After all their scriptures give stories of their god communicating to humans in dreams, visions, theophanies, audible voices, etc.

Paul persecuted the christian cult, he no doubt heard their preaching, crying, screams when he went to bed at night. He no doubt heard the scriptures they used to defend their beliefs. At some point he has a dream/ vision, perhaps due to guilt from terrorizing people. Paul also believed his god communicates as his scriptures state, through voices, appearances, messengers, dreams, visions. Paul joins the christian cult.

As the preaching spreads the legend builds. Jesus becomes a miracle worker, he becomes a prophet, he becomes the son of god.

Eventually after decades of oral tradition being passed around, someone decides to write down some of these myths (mark). Mark gets passed around and others rewrite it the way they want, and add more on....the embellishments continue (matt,luke).

Eric, explain why this natural explanation is beyond acceptable.

John W. Loftus said...

What's YOUR method, Eric? I have one, and it works in every other area of learning. It progresses knowledge, It's fruitful. It advances our way of life.

Brad, I responded to The Jesus Legend book right here.

Cheers.

Eric said...

"Eric, you said I was begging the question. Of what was I begging the question?"

With your advocacy of MN to 'investigate' miraculous claims. Now, if it's true, as my question above suggests (can you come up with a miraculous claim that could not, even in principle, be explained naturally?), that there's not an example of a miraculous claim that could not be explained naturally, then MN will never give you a supernatural output. However, that's not surprising, since it only allows -- by definition -- natural inputs!

"You have the answers, don't you?"

Of course not. (I tend to agree with Strauss: as you study philosophy, it's not necessarily the case that you get any closer to the _T_ruth, but it is the case that you get better at clearing away the nonsense.) If I come across that way, i.e. as a 'know-it-all,' I apologize. However, as you know John, many people claim that you come across that way as well, so perhaps I'm in good company, eh? ;)

I'm passionate about the big questions, just as you are; and I have my biases, just as you do. Sometimes, this combination of attributes comes across the wrong way. I tend to adopt your rule: I'm respectful as long as the other guy is (I know, it's better to be respectful however the other guy acts, but, as I said, I'm passionate -- and I'm weak!). You (and, e.g. Tyro) are generally respectful, so I treat you in kind. Hail Crom was insulting, so I insulted him. It's not the high road, but it's the best I can manage at the moment!

John W. Loftus said...

I suppose Eric, it can be a bit frustrating to both of us to talk so often and gain no headway. Thanks for the reasonable discussion and your patience. I've been over these arguments quite a bit over the few years here (hence the many links).

I'll be putting up an argument sometime soon that should lead reasonable people like us who disagree to skeptcism about that which we disagree about. This type of skepticism favors me, of course.

When I'll do that I can't say. But I've already given you the gist of the argument.

Eric said...

"What's YOUR method, Eric? I have one, and it works in every other area of learning. It progresses knowledge, It's fruitful. It advances our way of life."

John, mine is the same as yours -- just as it's the same as Alister Mcgrath's, Francis Collins's, and John Polkinghorne's. These men have actually studied science seriously, and (with respect to Polkinghorne and Collins) have made contributions that children will be learning about long after we're all dead. I find it amazing that it's almost always the people with no scientific training whatsoever who see problems where so many scientists who have actually accomplished something see none.

Now, what's my 'method' for determining whether a 'miracle' has occurred? Well, I can't say that I have a method as such, since I don't go around investigating all miracle claims. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have to, since Christianity stands or falls on one miracle, the resurrection. With respect to other miracles, I'm as much in the dark as most others are here. I suppose that I'd say that one should begin by asking whether miracles are possible, and then go on to abduction when evaluating specific cases. I have no problem whatsoever with assuming, at the beginning of any investigation, that there's most likely a natural explanation; however, I do have a problem with assuming, at the beginning of the investigation, that there must be a natural explanation, or that any natural explanation is preferrable to any supernatural explanation (*that's* where your argument and Hume's differ, as I see it: MN does prefer any possible natural explanation to any supernatural explanation, while Hume doesn't necessarily do so).

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, try this on for size. See what I'm talking about.

Hail Crom said...

Eric,

As you said, you pointed out a limitation in methodological rationalism. Um i thought we were going to be using that fancy word.....reason. Your limitation was that it provided answers to questions that you do not like. You realize that this is like saying ....the limitation with telling the truth is that it prevents you from telling lies... so what, not all limitations are bad things. Then you said John's argument wasn't logical. Wel that is nice, but that does not make it untrue. An argument can be valid and untrue, and an argument can be invalid and true.

I have noticed that most of your posts boil down to petty nitpicking and end up with you desperately trying to show that your beleifs are still POSSIBLE, regardless of how many of your sacred scriptures you have to throw out in the process.

That is why i said you are scared, i never said i was deducing your scaredness from your two failed points in your original post.

Eric said...

"I suppose Eric, it can be a bit frustrating to both of us to talk so often and gain no headway. Thanks for the reasonable discussion and your patience. I've been over these arguments quite a bit over the few years here."

I always seem to learn something from you, John, even when we disagree (which is almost always!), so I wouldn't say that there's no 'headway' made as far as I'm concerned. However, you've been dealing with these issues at a high level much longer than I have, which is perhaps why what is fun for me can be frustrating for you! I'm confident that I've yet to present a response or an argument you haven't already considered, or that we've yet discussed a subject I know more about than you do. But hey, that's why I'm here!

And, I assure you, I both respect and appreciate your comments. It's simply wonderful of you to make yourself available to everyone in this way, and to take part in so many discussions with people like me, whom no one has ever heard about, when you're also involved in the debate on the 'big stage' as it were.

Tyro said...

John, mine is the same as yours -- just as it's the same as Alister Mcgrath's, Francis Collins's, and John Polkinghorne's. These men have actually studied science seriously, and (with respect to Polkinghorne and Collins) have made contributions that children will be learning about long after we're all dead. I find it amazing that it's almost always the people with no scientific training whatsoever who see problems where so many scientists who have actually accomplished something see none.

I know that Collins has described how he reached his conclusions about miracles. He was walking in a forest and came upon a waterfall and was struck by its beauty and it was this and apparently this alone which led him to Christianity. Of course we can say with some certainty that it was more than this and must have included growing up in a Christian culture, being told Christian myths, and a willingness to abandon whatever scientific methodology he used in his career to suit this particular conclusion. You can imply that we are mere proles and shouldn't question his process but you should also know he is in a very small minority within the scientific community and his peers have criticized him roundly (and he has offered no further justification). It seems clear that, whatever scientific expertise he may have in some areas, he was not using them here.

Now, what's my 'method' for determining whether a 'miracle' has occurred? Well, I can't say that I have a method as such, since I don't go around investigating all miracle claims. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have to, since Christianity stands or falls on one miracle, the resurrection.

Based on what you've said and what little I know of your experts, it seems that the alternative to MN is to arbitrarily select events and declare them supernatural.

I'm sure you can see how this cannot work and cannot ever lead us to knowledge. It certainly can never resolve competing claims nor can it ever correct mistakes.

Eric said...

"As you said, you pointed out a limitation in methodological rationalism. Um i thought we were going to be using that fancy word.....reason. Your limitation was that it provided answers to questions that you do not like."

Hail Crom, this is absurd. The limitation I pointed out doesn't depend in any way on what I or anyone else would prefer, but on the logic of the argument. An atheist could make the same argument I have; in fact, most do, which is why there's a distinction between 'methodological naturalism' and 'metaphysical naturalism,' and which is why nearly everyone agrees that you cannot get to the latter by way of the former. You seem to be consistently confusing the two. For example, the veridicality of miracles is entirely consistent with methodological naturalism, but is not consistent with metaphysical naturalism.

"Then you said John's argument wasn't logical. Wel that is nice, but that does not make it untrue."

But it does mean that the premises don't support the conclusion. Also, I went a bit beyond a claim about it's logic with my question. If it's the case that MN prefers any natural explanation to any supernatural explanation, and if it's the case that there's a possible natural explanation for any event, then it follows that MN will never support the conclusion that a miracle occurred. Now, if what I've just written is true, then I've shown a priori that any investigation of a miracle that supposes MN will settle on a naturalistic explanation; if I know this a priori, doesn't that put the lie to the notion that there's any 'real' investigation of a miracle going on? And doesn't it show that MN isn't used to investigate whether a miracle has occurred, but to explain why one hasn't?

John W. Loftus said...

And Eric, there is something about you I admire. Not only are you smart, but you're willing to test what you believe. You're taking the Outsider Test in my opinion, just by visiting so often.

Tyro said...

Now, if what I've just written is true, then I've shown a priori that any investigation of a miracle that supposes MN will settle on a naturalistic explanation; if I know this a priori, doesn't that put the lie to the notion that there's any 'real' investigation of a miracle going on?

Actually no, MN does not mean that it will settle on a naturalistic explanation. There are many things over the years and still to today which do not have any explanation at all. Yet.

This is the problem, surely. In the absence of a naturalistic explanation, theists have always tried to shove supernatural explanations and they've generally proved to be wrong. In fact it's worse and many seek to undermine well-supported naturalistic explanations.

This is why I ask what alternative you propose. We know that attempts to label events as supernatural have proved false time after time. At a minimum, I think you should show why your case is different.

To be fair, the ID gang is trying to do this. Or they're trying to be seen to be trying to do this. They've failed the first and are somewhat successful at the second, but at least they understand that we need to do more than show current ignorance.

And doesn't it show that MN isn't used to investigate whether a miracle has occurred, but to explain why one hasn't?

No. MN can show that one hasn't and it can often show why, but it doesn't always reach a conclusion. It would be more accurate and more fair if you said that MN is used to determine possible naturalistic explanations, if any can be currently found.

At best, we find ourselves ignorant of the true cause. You know as well as I that jumping to conclusions based solely on ignorance leads us astray yet it seems this is what you would have us do. How can we do this and yet avoid the repeated, embarrassing and predictable errors which has always happened?

Eric said...

"It seems clear that, whatever scientific expertise he may have in some areas, he was not using them here."

Tyro, if I remember correctly, Collins was raised in a secular home, and it was not merely his religious experience that persuaded him, but the arguments of C.S. Lewis. Also, roughly forty percent of scientists agree with Collins, i.e. believe in a *personal* god (which is what the survey asked); if a deistic god as well had been part of the survey, I suspect the number would've risen by quite a bit (it certainly would've risen; it wouldn't have fallen). So, we can perhaps conclude that scientists are evenly divided here (though I know that he's in the minority when it comes to elite scientists). Also, he's in the majority when it comes to doctors (seventy plus percent, if I remember correctly), and Collins is also a Doctor.

Finally, I don't think that miraculous claims are properly scientific questions. Science deals with statistical regularities, and has (in general) a preference for falsification over verification, so it's not well suited to deal with singular events (in most cases; others, such as, say, the evolution of homo sapiens, or the Big Bang, are of course within the realm of scientific investigation), and especially not with singular events that don't coincide with our statistical regularities (i.e. laws). Also, science begins with MN; here, I'll repeat my argument: "If it's the case that MN prefers any natural explanation to any supernatural explanation, and if it's the case that there's a possible natural explanation for any event, then it follows that MN will never support the conclusion that a miracle occurred. Now, if what I've just written is true, then I've shown a priori that any investigation of a miracle that supposes MN will settle on a naturalistic explanation; if I know this a priori, doesn't that put the lie to the notion that there's any 'real' investigation of a miracle going on? And doesn't it show that MN isn't used to investigate whether a miracle has occurred, but to explain why one hasn't?"

Eric said...

"Actually no, MN does not mean that it will settle on a naturalistic explanation. There are many things over the years and still to today which do not have any explanation at all. Yet."

Sure. Richard Dawkins says that physics is still waiting for its Darwin. And I have no problem with this. But when no natural explanation is available, the response is, 'Yes, but one may be coming,' as with Dawkins, or, 'Yes, and one is not possible, so we'll simply have to settle for no answer' as with the 'mysterians' such as Colin Mcginn with respect to consciousness. (Now, I'm not making a god of the gaps argument here -- rather, I'm sticking with the theme, i.e. the limits of MN.) Can you give me an example of a case in which MN could lead to the conclusion, 'Wow, it's a miracle!' If you can't, it seems to me that my argument about the a priori nature of naturalistic conclusions, given MN, still stands.

Eric said...

"And Eric, there is something about you I admire. Not only are you smart, but you're willing to test what you believe. You're taking the Outsider Test in my opinion, just by visiting so often."

Thank you, John. I appreciate that. It also alleviates a concern I had -- I worried I was making myself something of a pest by visiting so often! Then again, my being a pest is consistent with my taking the OTF, so perhaps I'm not exactly 'safe' as far as that's concerned...

Tyro said...

Also, roughly forty percent of scientists agree with Collins, i.e. believe in a *personal* god (which is what the survey asked); if a deistic god as well had been part of the survey, I suspect the number would've risen by quite a bit (it certainly would've risen; it wouldn't have fallen).

I don't have the stats on hand, but a survey showed that 52% of all scientists said they had no religious affiliation and from what I recall this number grows significantly as we go into biologists, and grows huge as we go into the National Academy of Science members. The better a scientist you are, the less religious to the point that the number of religious drops to single digits.

It is most definitely not a plurality as you imply.

Also, he's in the majority when it comes to doctors (seventy plus percent, if I remember correctly), and Collins is also a Doctor.

Collins is a doctor, yes, and as such I don't much value his opinion. Why should we care what medical doctors believe theologically any more than we should care what barbers or dentists believe? If you want to use them as a source of expert opinion, their expertise should be relevant.

As for Collins, his fame comes from his work as an administrator of the Human Genome project (again, do we care about the opinion of administrators?); his popular fame comes from the fact that he's a scientist and a theist - a rare duck in this world.

I've shown a priori that any investigation of a miracle that supposes MN will settle on a naturalistic explanation; if I know this a priori, doesn't that put the lie to the notion that there's any 'real' investigation of a miracle going on?

No, the investigation is real. This is shown trivially by pointing to the countless examples of "miracles" which were investigated and shown to be frauds or had elegant (if unknown) scientific explanations.

Why do you think this is a bad thing? Is it just because there is no way to say "yes, a miracle happened"? Tell me how anyone could do this.

Personally I don't think there is such a thing as "supernatural". What would it look like? How do you know we haven't already found it? What's the difference between "supernatural" and the discovery of a new set of natural laws?

I think that the history of quantum mechanics is exactly what would happen - people would start with "miracle", it would change to "I don't understand, let's look closer", which would change to "It's unlike anything we knew before, but this is how it works." The only way to keep it at the "miracle" stage is to keep us ignorant.

Again, if you have any reason why this isn't the case, I'm really hoping to have my mind changed. I'm not naturally a cynic and I will leap gladly onto anything which could make me believe all this fuss over MN isn't just smoke. Please, give me some branch to hold on to, no matter how small. I've got nothing here.

Eric said...

Tyro, let me ask you a question to see exactly where we disagree.

Is there any case you can think of where a person investigating a miracle with the presumption of MN would conclude that a miracle had occurred? For example, to use an example Dawkins brings up (in the Blind Watchmaker, I think), if a statue of the Virgin Mary waved at you -- it really waved, and it really was a statue -- would you conclude that a miracle had occurred, or that an extremely improbable molecular event (i.e. each molecule's random motion didn't cancel out the motion of all the others, resulting in the sort of stability statues normally exhibit, but instead every molecule in the statue's arm and hand moved in one direction, and then back in the other) had occurred. This is improbable to the extreme, but it is a naturalistic explanation of an event that many would otherwise consider supernatural. We could make the case more extreme: suppose that you stood in front of the statue and implored it to persuade you that god exists, and that it promptly walked away from you, entered a bookstore, grabbed a Bible, handed it to you, and stepped back into its original position. Now, we can also explain this naturalistically, in the same way we explained the waving of the statue's hand, though this even is *far* more improbable. So, an investigation of this even that presupposed MN could present us with a naturalistic alternative -- an improbable naturalistic alternative -- to a supernatural explanation, i.e. god performed a miracle. Wouldn't it be the case that since we have a naturalistic explanation, MN would commit you to either the former explanation, or to agnosticism and the hope of a future explanation (e.g. aliens), or to a mysterian position, and preclude you from concluding that a miracle had occurred?

I'm reminded of a quote from Chesterton here (which I can only paraphrase): I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable.

Eric said...

Here's that great Chesterton quote.

Tyro said...

Eric,

Wouldn't it be the case that since we have a naturalistic explanation, MN would commit you to either the former explanation, or to agnosticism and the hope of a future explanation (e.g. aliens), or to a mysterian position, and preclude you from concluding that a miracle had occurred?

I believe I've answered this several times already in several different ways. I'll be blunt: no, science and MN would not conclude "miracle" or "supernatural".

Could you please answer the questions I've asked several times: what is the alternative, and why is this a bad thing?


As for your examples, we know of many ways to get statues to wave and to perform other illusions or tricks. How do you go about ruling these out? At what point is it ever valid to say "miracle" rather than "I don't know how it happened"? I'm reminded of the video that John posted recently about a person who saw a shaking lampshade and said "ghost", and if we used his testimony we'd always say ghost. But if we were there we may notice that "rising convection currents" is a much, much better explanation. The world is filled with people who've been tricked or are so blinded by their desire to support their faith that even when the real answer is presented they refuse to accept it. We must learn from the mistakes of others and be very careful before saying "miracle". I just want to know what you think is required.

Tyro said...

Here's that great Chesterton quote.

I believe that too. What should we learn from this?

For a start I think we must recognize that our intuitive explanations of events are likely to include the impossible and downplay the unlikely or misunderstood.

To my view, this quote gives me good reason to mistrust anyone who argues against MN or who disregards human fallibility such as you appear to be doing.

Lee said...

I believe, similar to the late George Carlin, that "natural" is a sort of bullshit word. Oil spills are natural. Video Games are natural.

Natural to me is all that exists. I do not see a macro-distinction there. Naturalism is the study of what exists. All the other shit is speculation about non-existant beings. Its nonsense. bullshit talk.


If God exists not only is he "natural" but he is the most natural being in existance.

The "Super" in Super-natural implies naturalism, just of a sort that we are not normally familar with.

Its all bullshit and its bad for ya.

I'll be here all week (biting Carlins stuff)folks. Thanks.

Eric said...

"I'll be blunt: no, science and MN would not conclude "miracle" or "supernatural"."

Thank you. I think it's more the case that they *could* not conclude 'miracle,' rather than 'would' not.

"what is the alternative, and why is this a bad thing?"

I'll take the last question first. If you limit your explanations to those amenable to MN, and if -- if! -- it's the case that miracles occur, then you'll be forever closed off to this truth (Why? See your answer above). Also, if we leave aside the question of whether miracles in fact occur, and merely claim that you concede the *possibility* of miracles -- I don't know if you in fact do or don't -- but you commit yourself to a method of investigation that would not (could not?) let you reach the conclusion that a miracle had occurred, then you've closed yourself off from what you believe to be possible (which is never a good idea methodologically).

In short, it's demonstrably bad if you're open to the possibility of miracles to *limit yourself* to a method of investigation -- actually, to the conclusions that such a method will permit, given its methodological constraints -- that can never reach the conclusion that a miracle has occurred. (It seems to me that this is the heart of our discussion: you take me to be claiming an alternative method of investigation, when I'm simply descrying and criticizing the problems with the method we're discussing *for this particular category of event*. We start with this method, since it has, as you've said, been enormously successful. However, we must never forget that it's a method, not a metaphysical conclusion; and we must be wary of pulling metaphysical conclusions from methods that exclude at the outset possibilities we concede at the outset.) Now, this doesn't mean that we leap to the conclusion 'miracle!' whenever we encounter a roadblock; indeed, as I said, I don't think (though I'm open to the possibility) science can ever reach the conclusion, 'A miracle has occurred.' This brings me to your other question.

Now, what's the alternative? As I said above, I'm not presenting one. But that doesn't mean there's nothing left to say here. First, we have to look at what we believe in fact obtains. If you believe that god exists, then 'miracles' are rendered more plausible. If you believe that he doesn't, then you probably don't think miracles are possible -- period. If you don't know what you believe, then you should at least be open to the possibility that god exists, and thus to the possibility of miracles. So, we first have to determine where you're coming from. (This is all very general, of course, and the discussion could be complicated in any number of ways; I'm simplifying for the sake of brevity.)

After that, as I said earlier, abduction is the best we can do. For example, N.T. Wright makes an abductive case for the resurrection; if you believe that god exists, his case will seem that much stronger (though not at all dispositive -- Muslims believe in god, but presumably repudiate Wright's arguments). Now, as I said earlier, I have no problem with starting such an investigation by assuming there's a naturalistic explanation; my problem is with ruling out, a priori, any possible supernatural explanation (which is what, it seems to me, MN does, not metaphysically, but by what it will allow to count as an explanation; which is why, as I said, you cannot limit your conclusions to the ones it can provide). And I think, using this method, we will, as you have said, demonstrate that the vast majority of all miracle claims are buncombe. However, if you're asking how we *confirm* that a miracle has occurred, then, as I said earlier, I don't think it can be done. Still, this doesn't mean that it's necessarily irrational to believe that a miracle has occurred (Wright's case is quite rational); rather, it means that we can never 'know' -- where knowing involves a sense of the justification requirement that can be demonstrated to others -- that a miracle has occurred. However, as John himself has said many times, there's not much we can 'know' in this strong sense. In short, I'd say that while we cannot know through abduction that a miracle has occurred, we can be within our rational rights in believing that one has occurred; this conclusion, however, is precluded if you begin with MN.


"As for your examples, we know of many ways to get statues to wave and to perform other illusions or tricks."

No, this misses the point of the thought experiment. Remember, I stipulated that it was a statue, and that it did in fact move. I even provided a possible, though extremely improbable, naturalistic explanation.

Lee said...

Could God explain his own supernatural acts to humans if he wanted to? Could he explain his Godly mechanisms? Surely there is a logic to them, even if it is a sort of logic that would blow out feeble human minds.

If God could explain his supernatural acts, whatever they are, to us, would they cease to be "super" the more we saw the logic in them?

If God could not explain his supernatural acts to us humans then are his own supernatural acts incredible, bamboozeling and mysterious to even himself?

Tyro said...

Still, this doesn't mean that it's necessarily irrational to believe that a miracle has occurred (Wright's case is quite rational); rather, it means that we can never 'know' -- where knowing involves a sense of the justification requirement that can be demonstrated to others -- that a miracle has occurred.

Actually, given what we know I think it does mean it's irrational to believe that any specific incident was a miracle or even than a miracle has occurred.

Remember:
* MN fails if a miracle happened yet it's not just successful but almost unbelievably successful. I think that, when a discovery is announced, even dedicated theists wouldn't even pause to wonder whether MN was at the heart. Any alternative is so ludicrous as to be unthinkable. This is because naturalism is confirmed every day and in millions of ways.

* We know from countless examples that humans are not just bad observers but are prone to bad conclusions and miracle claims are only ever arguments from ignorance which we know are especially prone to errors.

* Every miracle claim which has ever been investigated has always had a natural explanation. It is possible that one may be the exception, but it is irrational to believe that one has found that exception, especially if one wants to believe.

Remember, I stipulated that it was a statue, and that it did in fact move. I even provided a possible, though extremely improbable, naturalistic explanation.

I know, and your explanation sounds like those lame explanations of people who argue that the best explanation for Jesus walking on water was a fortuitous sandbank. While it's technically possible for an egg to unfry itself if all of the molecules just happened to move in just the right way, we all know that doesn't happen and anyone who proposed this in the absence of some external controller should be justifiably ridiculed. So if we saw an egg unfry itself, what then? Is that a miracle? If someone could make eggs unfry themselves on demand and we could study them closely, microscopically, would we continue to think it was a miracle or would it just be another natural behaviour, previously unknown?

I think the latter, just as I think your moving statue would inevitably lead to a deeper understanding of the natural world.

'Cause yeah, I don't think there is a 'supernatural'. Not even you seem to be able to tell me what 'supernatural' would look like and you're its advocate!

Eric said...

"* MN fails if a miracle happened yet it's not just successful but almost unbelievably successful."

How does MN fail "if a miracle has happened"? That's the very question I've been asking -- how would we know MN has failed if there's always a possible naturalistic explanation (even if that explanation is the mysterian one), and if naturalistic explanations are the only ones MN allows? Hasn't the method predetermined the outcome, i.e. 'surprise! It's a natural explanation'? And if miracles are at least possible, isn't it a methodological 'no no' not to begin with, *but to limit yourself to the conclusions of*, a method that rules out, a priori, what you accept as a possibility?

"Not even you seem to be able to tell me what 'supernatural' would look like and you're its advocate!"

That's not true at all. Take my evangelizing Virgin Mary statue (and my stipulations): I'd say that would be a miracle, *even though there's a possible naturalistic explanation*. Or, take the resurrection (which differs from my statue example in this way: the statue example is a thought experiment designed to isolate the conceptual variables of natural and supernatural explanations, while the resurrection is an incident that an abductive case can, I think, adequately support).

In fact, the whole point of the statue thought experiment was to clarify whether you would, as I said MN dictates, always go with the naturalistic explanation. This seems to be the case, given your question above. Now, given this, and given the fact that there's a possible (if improbable) naturalistic explanation for any supposedly miraculous event, then it follows that your method does, a priori, preclude the possibility of miracles.

So, now that we know what conclusions your method will and will not allow you to consider, we have to determine if you think miracles are possible. If you do, then you cannot limit yourself to the conclusions of a method that will not allow what you concede to be a possibility; if you don't think that miracles are possible, then you'll have to explain why.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, if I were to point out your difficulties I would state them this way: 1) You are preoccupied with the possible exceptions rather than the probable rules; 2) you hold to double standards when it comes assessing religious truth claims; 3) without being able to offer an alternative method for thinking critically about similar claims. I think these things are obvious and should be noted, for when stated like this in the light of day your clandestine operation to hide these facts is exposed for what it is. You’re not really being honest with the facts. You’re not being honest with other things you know. You believe contradictory things and refuse to admit it.

Let’s face it boldly and honestly, I know of no miracle claim that can survive the test of MN, none. If you think so then bring it on. While you try and try to allow for Christian exceptions to the rule, you use this same method when assessing the miracle claims at Lourdes and find those miracle claims lacking for evidence. That’s what I’m talking about. You use the same method I do selectively and that’s a double standard. And yet MN is the ONLY method available to us!

Do you understand better? As I said you are smart, but smart people have always been able to defend unintelligent beliefs they arrived at for less than adequate reasons.

Eric’s concern is this: I have no problem with starting such an investigation by assuming there's a naturalistic explanation; my problem is with ruling out, a priori, any possible supernatural explanation…

MN asks us to rule out any false claims. That’s the rule. We must subject all claims to skepticism and seek evidence for them. Even though I accept the rule I allow for exceptions I have stated for the record what would convince me of the miracle claims of Christianity. There is plenty of things that would do that for me. So while I accept the rule I allow for exceptions. It’s just that I see no reason for allowing for any exceptions. This is consistent and critical and intellectually honest. You, on the other hand, only want to allow for CHRISTIAN exceptions. That is intellectually dishonest, in my opinion. And you cannot provide a better method for critically assessing any miracle claims or any claims for that matter.

I challenge you to tell me what I’ve already done. Tell me your method, and also tell me what would convince you to disbelieve. How do you consistently decide between miraculous claims? Also, what would be the case, what would have to obtain, for you to no longer believe? Asking this question allows me the opportunity to see what you think are the most important reasons for believing.

Finally, Eric finished by saying…So, now that we know what conclusions your method will and will not allow you to consider, we have to determine if you think miracles are possible. If you do, then you cannot limit yourself to the conclusions of a method that will not allow what you concede to be a possibility; if you don't think that miracles are possible, then you'll have to explain why.

I don’t think any critical thinker would say that in principle miracles are impossible, unless s/he thinks it’s impossible for a God to exist. Sure they are possible. They are as possible as was Jim Carrey’s chances to get the girl of his dreams in the Movie “Dumb and Dumber.” There is overwhelming, staggering evidence that they do not happen. And this is the case even if there is a God or gods or goddesses. You are focused on a mere possibility even if it means being willing to embrace a method that, if used consistently, would open you up to many false miraculous claims, i.e. a method where "everything is fair game." You’d rather embrace such a method and suspend your critical thinking skills in other areas of life, rather than hold to your critical thinking skills across the board because this means you might miss something like a miracle. Not only do I think that is just plain wrong, inconsistent and even intellectually dishonest, but I claim that if God cannot convince us of a miracle without requiring us to suspend our critical thinking skills using a method that is rock solid, then he is impotent. Imagine your God for a moment, a God who created us with our minds, asking us to suspend those very minds in order to believe in his miraculous activity in the world. Isn’t that blatantly schizophrenic of the most intelligent being in the universe? He creates us as thinking people but demands that we suspend the way he created us so that we could be open to claims of his miracles in the world. Of course at the same time your God expects, no, demands that we use our minds not to be led astray by the false claims of other miracles which support other religions in the world. This does not make any sense to me at all, at all.

Perhaps you see better what I’m speaking of in defense of methodological naturalism.

On the subject of miracles, I’m with Robert G. Ingersoll, who said: “When I say I want a miracle, I mean by that I want a good one. . . . I want to see a man with one leg, and then I want to see the other leg grow out.

Steven Carr said...

The Outsider Test....

My article Miracles and the Book of Mormon uses exactly the same methods that Christians use when reading the Book of Mormon and the Koran.

I quote Christians applying the rules to the Book of Mormon that they refuse to use when discussing the New Testament.

Why do Christians find it obvious to use methodological naturalism when looking at other religions, so obvious that they don't even bother justifying their use of it, when they also claim that there is one religion and one religion only where the use of methodological naturalism shows bias and prejudice and can't be justified?

The phrase motes and beams comes to mind (I concede I was not the first person to come up with that analogy)

Steven Carr said...

ERIC
For example, to use an example Dawkins brings up (in the Blind Watchmaker, I think), if a statue of the Virgin Mary waved at you -- it really waved, and it really was a statue -- would you conclude that a miracle had occurred...

CARR
Let us see Dawkins answer this very question, as Eric has not read the book.

From 'The Blind Watchmaker'...

'A miracle is something which happens, but which is exceedingly
surprising.If a marble statue of the Virgin Mary suddenly waved its
hand at us we should treat it as a miracle , because all our
experience and knowledge tells us that marble doesn't behave like
that.'


Dawkins goes on to explain that a natural explanation is possible, but as likely as a cow jumping over the moon.

But will Eric be persuaded by actual quotes from Dawkins?

If Dawkins says outright that a natural explanation is as likely as a cow jumping over the moon, and that we should treat it as a miracle, Eric will , to his dying day, say that atheists rule out miracles from the start.

Kel said...

Methodological naturalism cannot explain miracles - but damn it gives us a good means to pit it against the principle of parsimony. A claim of a miracle in itself cannot be tested against, but all the means of being able to 'know' the miracle are covered. So methodological naturalism can provide us with a platform of explanation, that while we'll never truly be able to know, we will provide a platform to use the principle of parsimony.

Why go for an extraordinary claim that is beyond evidence, when we can explain just how said extraordinary claim can come about through ordinary processes that have been extensively tested? In that sense, any claim without evidence is indistinguishable from something imagined. When the same kinds of evidence used to argue for God is used to argue for the existence of aliens, you know you don't have anything worth listening to.

Al Moritz said...

Steven:

Al Moritz, did you read this post? This is why your equivocation of naturalism's "faith" with religious faith is wrong. This is also why your reference to Ellis misses the point.

You still do not understand. Ellis' point (and mine) is that you cannot apply methodological naturalism -- the method of sscience -- to things that cannot be observed, and things outside our spacetime (e.g. a wider nature that might have created our universe) cannot be observed indeed.

This has nothing to do with the Bible, methodological naturalism and the observable world.

And yes, my claim that atheism thus is a faith still stands.

Tyro said...

Some of these hypothetics have me scratching my head a bit.

I feel like someone who, after describing Einstein's gravity (General Relativity), find someone that persists in asking "well what if we could repel gravity by concentrating hard like a yogic flyer?"

The short answer is that this would be a problem, but the long answer is that this simply has never happened and this theory is immensely powerful, tested to an extreme degree and has never showed any exceptions, not for yogic flyers (and not for religious statues).

The fact that we can easily imagine exceptions doesn't mean that our theories have problems. In fact it's a strength because it means they're specific, clear, falsifiable and yet unfalsified (and therefore very close to describing reality).

So instead of pointing out holes and blindspots in MN and acting like this is a problem, understand that through centuries of concerted effort and investigation, we have not found any holes. Yes General Relativity can't "properly" investigate people who fly mentally, yes MN can't "properly" investigate miracles yet we've never found the inconclusive cases which would imply that there is a problem.

Knocking MN because it can't validate your belief in miracles seems to me to be as helpful a complaint as a yogic flyer complaining about weaknesses in GR. In both cases, the problem isn't with the investigative tools it's with the fact there doesn't seem to be any phenomenon worth investigating.

exapologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exapologist said...

Whether or not MN is true, I think the issue of MN is a red herring in the context of biblical criticism. For the problems for an inerrantist view of scripture, and more broadly of a conservative account of the historical Jesus -- are logically independent of MN. For it's possible to grant the possibility of christian theism and its historical verification -- miracles and all -- and thus of conservative views about Scripture and the historical Jesus, and yet still think a non-conservative view of these things is a better account. So, for example, one could be a supernaturalist, and believe in the possibility of miracles and their substantiation via ordinary historical methodology (as, e.g., Craig and Habermas do), and yet think that (e.g.) the genealogies and birth narratives of Jesus conflict too much with both each other and with known historical fact to accept the hypothesis of their reliability is the best explanation of the data. In fact, plenty of Christian NT scholars do reject conservative views of the NT for just these sorts of reasons (e.g., James Dunn, Dale Allison, John Meier, etc.). Thus, it seems to me that the issue of MN in this context is a red herring. The epistemic force of non-conservative views of scripture do not rely on accepting MN.

Brad Haggard said...

John, I looked at it and I had already commented on that article ;-)

But here's what I think you're missing. Eddy and Boyd want to open up historical study to supernatural, which would be, in their words, "messier", but they aren't advocating getting rid of all criterion. That's why we don't have to be gullible to every offhand miracle account, because we can filter everything through agreed upon criteria. When we use those, (embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.) then we see Christianity start to pull ahead of other religions.

Anthony said...

Brad wrote: Eddy and Boyd want to open up historical study to supernatural, which would be, in their words, "messier", but they aren't advocating getting rid of all criterion. That's why we don't have to be gullible to every offhand miracle account, because we can filter everything through agreed upon criteria. When we use those, (embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.) then we see Christianity start to pull ahead of other religions.

So Eddy and Boyd want to define criteria to allow miracles in historical research? Isn't it interesting that only Christianity would pass muster with this new "criteria"? I'm sure that if those of other faiths were defining that criteria the miracles that would substantiate their faith would pass muster as well. But then again if you had an international congress of religious faiths attempting to define that criteria then there would be very little to agree upon or the definitions would be so general that they would be useless.

Brad Haggard said...

No, Anthony, they want to keep the traditional canon of historical criteria, they didn't make it up. They just want to say that we can't a priori rule out the supernatural, if it passes muster on the other accepted criteria. That is where Christianity begins to move ahead.

Steven Carr said...

I see. There are critieria, and no double-standards?

Pure nonsense. Boyd has as many double-standards as any Muslim or Mormon.

Josephus's 'Wars of the Jews' was written with ten years of the events , by a direct participant , and he records eyewitness testimony - 'I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it'.

He is referring among other things to a heifer giving birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple.

Does Boyd believe a cow gave birth to a lamb, in a work written within *ten* years of the event?

Surely this is just as well attested as the raising of the widow of Nain's son.

In the 'Histories' by Tacitus, he records that the Emperor Vespasian cured blindness with spittle and cured lameness. Tacitus writes ' Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.'

Does Boyd believe Tacitus's reports, based on eyewitness testimony, and attributed by him to the god Serapis?

In Mark 8:23-26, Jesus cures blindness, partly by spitting on someone's eyes. Does Boyd believe him?

In the Histories, Tacitus also records that a priest of the god Serapis, Basilides, was seen by Vespasian in the Temple, although Vespasian knew , and checked by sending horsemen to verify, that a moment earlier Basilides had been in a town some eighty miles distant.


Does Boyd believe Tacitus, reporting the eyewitness testimony of the hard-headed Emperor/Soldier Vespasian?

In Acts 8:39-40, Philip was 'caught up' (same verb as in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul is 'caught up' into the third heaven) on the road to Gaza and reappears at Azotus.

Does Boyd believe Philip, like the pagan priest Basilides, transported from place to place like a character from Star Trek?

Ancient writers were credulous, gullible, unreliable, biased and superstitious.

Is it closed-minded to examine the idea that Christian writers may share some of these faults?

Are there any stories in the Gospels which, in Boyd's opinion, betray some of the credulity, gullibility and bias that we find in secular writers of the period, and in every single Christian writer who wrote non-canonical works?

And, of course, if we are going to use the same standards for the Book of Mormon as we use for the Koran and the New Testament we get documented evidence that all three contain plagiarism and frauds Miracles and the Book of Mormon

But, of course, Boyd and Eddie have to maintain that they do not have double-standards.

What else can they say? Cigarretes don't cause cancer?

John W. Loftus said...

exapologist, maybe you’re trying to diffuse the complaints of Christians who claim we don’t believe the Bible because we have an anti-supernatural bias, but I don’t see why we should. I’ve made my case in my book for a predisposition against the supernatural. Have you read it yet?

In any case a simple question can help us here. If Christians did not approach the Bible from a MN standpoint then what could they continue to believe even if they see the problems you mention? Could they continue to believe in the verbal-plenary theory of inspiration of the infallible, not inerrant, kind? They would just become moderates, evangelical moderates. With a MN standpoint I’m going for it all. Miracles. Virgin birth. Resurrection.

Steven said...

Al,

I am quite sure that you and Ellis know the difference between a theory, a hypothesis, and pure speculation.

However, within the field of cosmology, you both seem to be having trouble distinguishing these things. First off, string theory is not really a theory at this stage, it is a very elaborate hypothesis. Likewise, ideas about multiple universes are even further removed, and I consider these these ideas to be in the realm of speculation, perhaps approaching a real hypothesis (within the context of the string hypothesis).

That being said, I challenge you to find any scientist working in these fields, that considers these ideas to be true. Not just probable, but honest to goodness true. If you can, then you can at least say that your assertion might hold in some cases, but the vast majority of scientists working in this field don't think that way, and neither do I. So your equivocation of religious faith with naturalist "faith" is clearly wrong.

The most telling thing though, is that virtually everything that your are saying was leveled against quantum theory 100 years ago.

Al Moritz said...

Steven:

Al,

I am quite sure that you and Ellis know the difference between a theory, a hypothesis, and pure speculation.

However, within the field of cosmology, you both seem to be having trouble distinguishing these things.


Is that so?

First off, string theory is not really a theory at this stage, it is a very elaborate hypothesis.

Correct. The term "string theory" is a misnomer.

Likewise, ideas about multiple universes are even further removed, and I consider these these ideas to be in the realm of speculation,

So do I and so does Ellis. Erm, so what about your point on "having trouble distinguishing these things"?

That being said, I challenge you to find any scientist working in these fields, that considers these ideas to be true. Not just probable, but honest to goodness true. If you can, then you can at least say that your assertion might hold in some cases, but the vast majority of scientists working in this field don't think that way, and neither do I. So your equivocation of religious faith with naturalist "faith" is clearly wrong.

Regardless of being probable or "honest to goodness true", Martin Rees believes in the mutliverse, see book Just Six Numbers. So does Suesskind, see book The Cosmic Landscape.

Bernard Carr was quoted as saying: "If you don't want God, you'd better have a multiverse." Steven Weinberg, apparently told Richard Dawkins "If you discovered a really impressive fine-tuning ... I think you'd really be left with only two explanations: a benevolent designer or a multiverse."

(You don't believe me? Google it up. Hint: no, it's not just on religious websites.)

And so on.

The most telling thing though, is that virtually everything that your are saying was leveled against quantum theory 100 years ago.

With the crucial difference that the observability of quantum phenomena was never in doubt. In fact, the quantum hypothesis (now quantum theory) arose from an observation!

In contrast, a wider nature (multiverse or not) outside our universe lies forever outside observability because it lies outside the particle horizon (I don't know why I always have to repeat this, but apparently I do). The best hope for, at least indirect, observability might be that a putative multiverse has left an imprint on the cosmic microwave background map. But first, the evidence could probably always be interpreted in a different way, and second, there would still be no way to observe an essential prerequisite for the multiverse hypothesis to work, the idea that all universes within it have different laws of nature -- this would require direct observation.

Look, you can continue setting up strawmen (it's getttin' kinda silly though) in order to, at all costs, avoid admitting that atheism is a faith (since a wider nature or quantum field or whatever outside our own universe that could have created it can never be observed). But your constant and false evasion procedures won't change that fact: atheism is a faith.

I am done discussing this with you; if you want to come up with another evasive strawman move or otherwise have the last word, just go ahead.