Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Comparative religious miracles

i) An atheist trope is to neutralize the Christian argument from miracles by appealing to many purported miracles in other religions. In my experience, I've never seen an atheist actually document anything comparable in non-Christian religions. This is just a hypothetical counterexample they toss out. 

ii) Many atheists labor under the illusion that the occurrence of non-Christian miracles is incompatible with the truth of Christianity. They never explain why they think that. 

iii) Hume appealed to purported non-Christian miracles. His argument is that such a phenomenon creates a stalemate between revival religious claimants. Up to a point that's true if the argument from miracles was the sole argument for Christianity, but it's not. 

iv) In Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), Yujin Nagasawa has block quotes of reported Christian/biblical, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim miracles without any footnotes to the source material he's quoting from. It would be nearly impossible for the reader to track down the source in order to consider elementary questions about genre, the date of the source, &c. in relation to the putative event. He does have a chapter bibliography which hints at where he's quoting this material from, but that's it.

v) I'm going to quote from The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (Cambridge 2011), G. Twelftree, ed. This has contributors representing different religious viewpoints. It bends over backwards to be evenhanded. Each contributor gives a sympathetic account of purported miracles in non-Christian religions. So this is about as good as it gets. As scholarly, nonpartisan reference work. 

Despite that, notice the poverty of the examples. Notice the distance in time and space between the purported miracles and the source material. There's nothing comparable to the Christian argument from miracles. I'll be quoting from the following chapters: 4. Miracles in the Greek and Roman world by Robert Garland; 10. Miracles in Hinduism by Gavin Flood; 11. Miracles in Islam by David Thomas; 12. Tales of miraculous teachings: miracles in early Indian Buddhism by Rupert Gethin:

The fact that the Greeks used the word iama from iaomai, meaning "to heal", rather than thauma, suggests, however, the cures are to be regarded as routine rather than miraculous, even though they came about in surprising ways (81). 

[Aelius Aristides] is the only firsthand literary account from the beneficiary of a miraculous cure that has come down to us from Graeco-Roman antiquity (82)…Regarding the "truth" of the claims, Charles A. Behr, Aelius Aristides and the Sacred Tales (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1968), 39, writes, "Many of Aristides' cures seem transient…" (92n20). 

Salmoxis was denounced as a charlatan by Herodotus' Greek informant (4.94-6). They claimed that he faked his resurrection by building a hall with an underground chamber and then went into hiding for three years, after which he popped up again–literally so, perhaps–to the amazement of all (83).

Even more ridicule attached to the philosopher Empedocles of Acragas (c. 492-32 BCE), who is said to have stayed the winds, cured the sick, resuscitated the dead and become a god. His chief claim to fame, however, was the bathetic manner of his death. The most colorful account has him leaping into the volcanic crater of Mt. Etna with the intuition of faking his apotheosis, only to be revealed as a fraud when the volcano belched up one of his bronze sandals (Diogenes Laeritius, Lives 8.69). It may be that the reports of his miraculous powers, largely extrapolated from his poetry, aroused such derision that posterity exacted its revenge by assigning him a particularly ignominious death (83).

In the absence of any contemporary account of Pythagoras' life, there is no knowing when reports of his wondrous deeds first began to circular (83). 

We hear of no Roman miracles workers, and it may be that here, as in so many other areas of professional expertise, the Greeks claimed a monopoly, particularly in light of the fact that miracle workers were, as we have seen, to some degree perceived as entertainers (84).

The Jewish philosopher Philo (Embassy 144-5) credited the deified Augustus with the ability not only to "calm the torrential storm on every side" but also to "heal plagues that afflicted both the Greeks and the barbarians". However, extravagant flattery of this sort was routinely offered by those seeking favors or rewards and is part of the language of soteriology (84).

Tacitus' account is nicely nuanced. Though he does not dismiss the story outright as fabrication, he falls short of endorsing the claim that Vespasian had miraculous powers…There are no reports of Vespasian performing miracles after his accession. Quite possibly claims to this effect would have been greeted with incredulity in the capital itself (85). 

Julian the Theurge is said to to have caused a miraculous downpour in 172 CE, when the Roman army was dying from thirst during Marcus Aurelius' campaign in Germany (88)…The earliest surviving reference to the rain miracles is in Tertullian, Apology 5.6 (c. 197-8) [93n27]. 

Perhaps the most famous contemporary guru associated with the miraculous is Sathya Sai Baba…There is much controversy surrounding Sai Baba…He has borne the brunt of negative criticism that his "miracles" are in fact sleight-of-hand [cf. Erlendur Haraldsson, Modern Miracles: An investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (New York: Fawcett, 1997) and accusations of sexual abuse and even complicity in murder [cf. David Bailey, A Journey to Love (Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Towers Hotels Pvt. Ltd, 1997] (195; 197n33; 197n34). 

In this context we must lastly mention the "miracles" associated with icons of the gods. In September 1995, a "miracle" occurred in a Delhi temple when the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, drank milk offered during worship. Due to mass communication this phenomenon spread and icons of Ganesha were drinking milk throughout the world within a few days. This was attested from Malaysia to London and 60 percent of the Delhi's population visited a Ganesha temple at the time. The phenomenon died down in due course and was explained by "rationalists" in India as the porous stone of the image absorbing the liquid (196).

According to traditional accounts, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE by the angel Gabriel from God himself…The reference in 54:1-2–"the hour [of judgment] is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder. But if they see a sign, they turn away, and say, "this is [but] transient magic'"–was interpreted as a physical occurrence in the heavens witnessed by Muhammad and people around the world. And the reference in 17:1 formed the basis of a tradition that became a whole genre of literature in itself: "Glory  to [Allah] who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts we did bless–in order that we might show some of our signs"….The story of this event was greatly elaborated as time went on…These later amplifications of references in the Qur'an that at best hint at miracles associated with Muhammad boost his status to that of at least the equal of the greatest of his predecessors (204-5).

One of the best-known early examples of this genre is the Kitab al-din wa-al-dawla, The Book of Religion and Empire, by 'Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari (d. c. 860 CD), who worked at the caliphal court in Baghdad for many years as a Christian but then converted to Islam at the age of seventy…'Ali also adduces examples of miraculous events that are immediately recognizable as works of wonder. They include the Night Journey, which here Muhammad proves when he returns home by giving the skeptical Meccans details about a caravan approaching the town that he could not have known about without seeing it, the sudden and painful deaths of five of his most vehement critics in Mecca, his diverting a storm that threatened to damage some dwellings, turning a plant stem into a sword and understanding what a bird was communicating, a calf that was about to be slaughtered proclaiming his advent, a wolf doing the same, his withholding rain, increasing food and providing water for his companions on a journey (207-8). 

From its beginnings in the fourth or third century BCE, Buddhist literature abounds in tales of miracles…In the earliest texts, the Buddha himself is  routinely portrayed as exercising his ability to perform miracles: he makes someone sitting near him invisible to another (Vin 1 16); he overpowers fiery dragons (naga) by himself bursting into flames (Vin 1 25), he disappears from one shore of the Ganges and reappears together with the community of monks on the far shore (D II 89), when the great god Brahma fails in his own attempt to make himself invisible, the Buddha makes himself invisible (M 1 330) [216,21). 

The Irrationality of Miracles

Jason Engwer pointed out the following.
Gary out of one side of his mouth:

"Some of the miracle claims are just downright stupid. Any educated Christian with a college degree should be embarrassed that Keener included these claims in his book. One such claim is that a woman who had previously undergone a complete hysterectomy prayed to Jesus for a child and nine months later she delivered a healthy child. If that story is true, that is more miraculous than the virginal conception of Jesus!"

Out of the other:

"When Jesus puts back together the thousands of pieces of tissue of a victim of a bombing, or reattaches the head of someone who has been decapitated, or reattaches a severed leg from an amputee, you will have my full attention. Until then, since prior investigations of 'miracle' healings have demonstrated that there is always a possible (and more probable) naturalistic explanation (such as the previous chemo and radiation treatment finally kicked in), I'm not buying your magic tales."

So, Gary apparently wants Jesus to produce miracles that he's already dismissed as "downright stupid" in principle.
It’s a common atheist tactic to claim that to believe in miracles is irrational.  This is why Gary feels comfortable saying it’s “downright stupid” when he disparages certain miracles.  But, I argue that it’s not irrational to believe in miracles, even on purely materialistic grounds.

To be clear, when I talk about “irrational” I’m referring to something that would be logically impossible, or something that it absolutely impossible to occur.  Furthermore, when I say it’s not irrational for miracles to happen even on materialistic grounds, I’m not referring to atheist claims of “spontaneous recovery” or “we’ll eventually figure out how to pretend God didn’t do this”-of-the-gaps arguments.  I mean legitimate miracles are perfectly consistent in a materialistic universe.

First, as I pointed out in one of my previous exchanges with Atheist Lehman, atheists assume that the supernatural is an impersonal force.  But God is a person.  It’s why He has the pronoun “He” (not because He’s gendered, so feminists can chill, but because He is not an It).  When we are looking at miracles, we are not looking at something that will happen due to machine-like causality, but instead we are looking at the choices of a personal agent.

One of the arguments that Gary brought out was that there are billions of people who pray to be healed, but not all are healed.  But this would only be a problem if God was obligated to answer all prayers.  We can easily imagine a hospital ward full of patients who have a bacterial infection.  A doctor may choose to give certain patients an antibiotic that he doesn’t give to other patients.  Those who receive the cure are cured, but those who do not aren’t.  Regardless of whether one wants to debate the ethics of a doctor making such a selection, it is clearly not irrational to stipulate that a personal agent could make such a decision for his own reasons.  In other words, it’s not like gravity (which functions no matter what someone wishes or desires) and so the fact that some, but not all, people who pray to be healed actually are healed is not grounds to rule that praying for a miracle is irrational.

But let me delve into this further with my second point.  The impetus for how miraculous healing works doesn’t have to be “magical” in any sense of the word.  All it requires is the existence of a higher dimension, something which string theory already teaches.  In fact, nearly all (if not all) of the miracles that Jesus performed could be adequately explained as the actions of someone who has the ability to use the fourth Euclidean dimension (I use the term “Euclidean” here to differentiate between it and Einstein’s use of the fourth dimension as time).

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to use the example of Flatlanders.  This work examined a theoretical two-dimensional space where creatures lived on a plane.  We can imagine a square drawn on a piece of paper with a heart-shaped icon inside the square.  To a creature that exists two-dimensionally, they would see only a line in front of them (they have only the x and y coordinates, no depth).  They would therefore see just the surface of the square and they would have to dig through the surface of the square in order to get to that heart icon.

You, existing in the third dimension, can see all sides of the square simultaneously, inside and outside.  You can even put your hand over the square and touch all points within the square simultaneously.  Neither of these concepts makes sense to a two-dimensional being, however, because they can only touch the outside of the square—never the inside, unless they burrow in.

Now consider some of the miracles of Jesus.  He walked through a locked door.  Irrational?  Well, a three dimensional being can use the third dimension to bypass a two-dimensional door.  To the perspective of a two-dimensional creature, we can walk through doors.  If Jesus could access the fourth dimension, bypassing a three-dimensional door is trivial.

Jesus turned water into wine.  Well, we can imagine a locked room in two-dimensional space that’s full of a substance—say, red chalk.  We can easily imagine erasing the substance out of that space and replacing it with something else, like black ink.  To the observer in two-dimensional space, a miracle has happened whereas for us, it’s just a natural aspect to the third dimension.

Jesus healed people.  Imagine what a doctor could do if he could see all points of a human body, inside and out, without having to cut into the body.  Just as we can reach in and touch the heart-icon inside a square without digging in, a fourth-dimensional being could see our entire heart and reach in to remove plaque or to repair arterial damage, all without cutting into our body or needing to use surgery.  Gary, being in the medical field, ought to appreciate how much one could do with this ability.

Again, extra dimensions are believed by many in modern physics.  It’s certainly not prima facie irrational to hold to their existence.  And it wouldn’t take a “magical” being to do anything.  If we had some way to access the fourth dimension ourselves, we could already do all of these things and we certainly aren’t magical beings.

Now atheists still might not like God.  They might even say that just because it’s possible that there could be a being in fourth-dimensional space doesn’t mean there actually is one.  But that “rebuttal” misses the point.  Atheists are claiming that Christians are irrational for holding to beliefs that are perfectly rational even on purely materialistic grounds.

What does that say about how rational atheism is?

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

I'd like to use another example to illustrate my argument in this post:

In consequentialism, given a choice between saving five lives and saving ten lives, you sacrifice five lives to save ten lives. And all things being equal, that's a reasonable, if tragic choice.

But it's not just about raw numbers. Suppose it's a choice between saving five kids or ten psychos. In that case we should save the kids rather than the psychos. Indeed, it isn't clear that we even have a duty to save the psychos. On the one hand we didn't put them in that life-threatening situation. On the other hand, they're a danger to society. 

So this is an example of how consequentialism has simplistic appeal. It's true that sometimes numbers matter, but not because consequentialism is correct. That calculus is only valid when there are no other moral considerations in play. 

Does God only heal certain types of disorders?

Atheists object that only certain kinds of healing miracles are reported. 

i) In my experience, atheists are rarely conversant with the best literature documenting miracles, so most of them are too uninformed to generalize about the types of healing miracles. 

ii) In addition, case-studies barely scratch the surface. Miracles are vastly underreported. The sample is infinitesimal. 

iii) However, for discussion purposes, let's stipulate that God rarely if ever performs certain kinds of miracles. Is there an explanation for that? Let's consider two related hypothetical examples. 

From what I've read, language acquisition is crucial to cognitive development and social formation. And there's a narrow window of opportunity for that to occur. If a child fails to acquire a language by a certain age, he will suffer severe cognitive impairment. 

And I've read that prior to the development of sign language, people born deaf were liable to cognitive impairment for that very reason. They had a normal brain. But without a linguistic stimulus, their cognitive development was stunted. That's an irreversible and unrepeatable phase in developmental psychology. If you miss out, it can't be fixed.

Suppose God healed a teenager born deaf. A teenager from the 17C. Assuming that his lack of language acquisition left him mentally impaired, restoring his hearing wouldn't restore his mind. 

To take another example, from what I've read, the brain of autistic kids fails to develop certain neural pathways. Suppose God heals the brain of a 17-year-old-autistic. Even though he now has the brain of a normal 17-year-old boy, does that mean he now has the personality of a normal 17-year-old boy? Or did his defective brain fail to process information correctly, so that he's psychologically stunted? Did he miss key steps in his cognitive development?  

If so, do we know what kind of person would pop out at the end of the miraculous healing? If he didn't develop the proper socialization, might he have a personality disorder? Might he turn out to be a psychopath or sociopath? Just restoring his brain doesn't automatically compensate for other deficits. And at that stage, the defective brain might suppress sociopathic behavior. Did the deficient brain structures that filtered out crucial information processing now filter out socially dangerous impulses? If you suddenly remove the screen, what emerges? 

I'm not stating this for a fact. I don't claim to be an expert. My immediate point is that these are considerations which critics of miraculous healing overlook. Physical restoration doesn't entail psychological restoration. Psychological restoration may await heaven. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sometimes ignorance is bliss

Apostates are a funny breed. So many people who deconvert from Christianity have the same zeal as converts to Christianity, even though apostates have nothing to offer up but the maggoty corpse of atheism. Yet they are spoiling for a fight. They start picking fights with Christian relatives. They surf the net to pick fights with Christian bloggers. Yet all they have to offer up is the maggoty corpse of atheism.

Apostates think they've discovered the truth, and they act as if enlightenment is necessarily better than ignorance. But that's a thoughtless perspective. Consider the ethical dilemma of predictive genetic testing. Some people are ticking time bombs. They suffer from a genetic defect that will eventuate in a catastrophic, incurable illness. 

The dilemma is that they may have many good years ahead of them before the disease begins to manifest itself. They may be healthy and asymptotic for many years. 

But if they receive the diagnosis ahead of time, that ruins the good years. Unlike animals, humans are future-oriented. If they receive that dire diagnosis and prognosis, then that casts a shadow of dread over the healthy years. 

If they waited until symptoms appeared before seeking a diagnosis, that would still be devastating, but at a later stage of life. They'd still have had the full benefit of the good years. 

So there are situations in which ignorance is bliss. Situations where ignorance is better than enlightenment. Some people commit suicide after they are diagnosed with a degenerative condition because they can't face that hideous prospect. It will go from bad to worse. Not coincidentally, Christians have emotional resources to cope with a dire prognosis which unbelievers lack. 

A dire prognosis is fatalistic–like an oracle of doom. Suppose the oracle says you will burn alive. But it doesn't say when or where that will happen, so you don't know what not to do to avoid it. If you were doomed but didn't know it, you'd only suffer the actual outcome, but if you have advance knowledge, then your life cursed with foreboding. You can't forget what awaits you. It's always hovering in the back for your mind. You suffer all the way up to the fateful day, in fearful expectation. 

If a professing Christian loses his faith, the intelligent response isn't to leave church, argue with Christian friends, bone up on atheism. The intelligent response is to stay in church, continue to pray, have others pray for you, continue to read the Bible, devotional material, and Christian apologists–because that's the only hope you've got. 

Gary, I have Figured Out Your Problem: Well, One Of Them

Gary wrote a post about his poor feels.  In the post, he attributes something I wrote to “James, conservative Christian.”  Then, he swings for the fences and says he thinks that I’m actually JP Holding.


First, what did Gary quote me as saying?  I’m glad you asked.  Gary had said: “Ask Jesus to levitate my coffee table three feet off the ground for three minutes and I will believe.”  To which I responded:
Why would something that Derren Brown can emulate be enough to convince you that Jesus is Lord?

This inadvertently exposes a fundamental problem for you. You hate God so much that you don't even know what would count as evidence. You pretend that it wouldn't take much evidence to convince you, but what you ask for is a magic trick. And not only that, but one that can be performed by dozens of people in ways you would never be able to catch. Penn & Teller could perform a levitating table trick for you right now and you wouldn't be able to tell how they did it. Does that count as evidence they are divine? Of course not.

So when you say that's what it would take for you to believe Jesus, you obviously lie. Why?

I mean that seriously. Ask yourself. Why is it you insist on giving trials that would not prove the thing you're requesting in the first place? Were you really blinded to it? If so, what would be sufficient to blind you to how obvious this is? Perhaps a sin nature at enmity with God?
Gary is upset that I pointed out that he hates God.  He even bolded and italicized that sentence when he quoted it (without saying “emphasis added” or anything like that, since I didn’t bold or italicize it myself).  Gary then said: “Good grief.  This guy knows nothing about me but decides after a very brief conversation that the reason for my deconversion was that I hate God.”

Actually, I know more about Gary than he might think, such as that he’s been going around whining on several people’s blogs since early July trying to pick fights with theists.  But whatever, that’s par for the course for atheists who have nothing better to do with their life.  Also, I stated my reasons for making the statement.  Gary gave us a very obvious lie.  Why?  What could explain that?  Well, hatred of God certainly fits the bill.  Either way, Gary still didn't give a counter reason for why he gave such an obvious lie.

In the comments on his blog, Gary accuses me of being JP Holding by saying: “After receiving a few nasty, personally demeaning responses to my comments on Triablogue, I started to recognize the handiwork of JP Holding. Isn’t he one of the owners of Triablogue? His primary strategy on every blog in which he is involved is to personally attack and demean the skeptic to shut them up. His minions follow suit in the personal attacks.”

I asked JP Holding if I was permitted to confirm he was an owner of Triablogue now that the great Gary had figured it out, and he said "Only if you call me Patrick Chan."  So, there is that.

But personally, I don’t know how it’s demeaning to ask Gary to be consistent.  Well, actually given the impossible “standards” he uses, I suppose it would be demeaning to hold someone to them. I still find it funny that Gary thinks that I’m JP Holding though.  This gives me even further reason not to take anything Gary says seriously.

But I will.  See, I’ve actually taken Gary seriously throughout.  More seriously than Gary does, as a matter of fact.

How can I say that?  Because I insist that if Gary uses a standard that he USES that standard.  The end of the very first thing I said to him in my first response was: “If you plan on going that route, you're going to have to apply it to your own view too. Unless you don't care about consistency. But if that's the case, I don't care about what you have to say.”

And see, that still stands.  If Gary doesn’t apply his own rhetoric to his own position, then clearly what he says doesn’t have any substance.  I respect Gary too much to pretend that his non-responses are actually responses when he clearly doesn’t believe they are responses.

But let us look at what Gary has yet to actually respond to, and this is just in what I’ve presented to him.  I am persistent and have no problem pointing it out:

Gary wrote:
Just because a lot of people believe something...doesn't mean it is true.

The reality is, people had evidence for geocentrism, starting with what they observed with their own senses. They had reason to suspect the Earth was stationary because anyone could put a drop of water on the side of a top and give it a twirl and watch the water go flying off on a tangent line to the rotation of the top, so if the Earth was spinning that would mean we ought to go flying off its surface too.

The fact is, no matter what foolish theory you decide to pick throughout history, it was always believed because of the evidence, not due to the lack of the evidence. And the only reason that anyone ever changed their mind on a topic was when a paradigm-shift happened.

Newtonian physics could not explain the orbit of Mercury, and it took Einstein thinking outside the box to explain it better. Even then, we know for a fact that many of our current theories are still flawed because there are fundamental contradictions between relativity and quantum mechanics. In a decade, people could view something like string theory in the same way we currently view phlogiston.

So what you're really trying to say is "Just because a lot of people have evidence for something...doesn't mean it is true." Because what you're attacking is not the belief, but instead the evidence provided for the belief.

If you plan on going that route, you're going to have to apply it to your own view too. Unless you don't care about consistency. But if that's the case, I don't care about what you have to say.

Gary wrote:
As mammals we are "herd animals" and herds operate best (and are more likely to pass on their genetic material) when the herd establishes rules for the herd that are also beneficial to the individuals in the herd.

Except clearly our view of morality do NOT operate in such a manner; they operate in opposition to this. We have compassion on the weak and sick--which not only is not Darwinian, but it actually undermines Darwinism by increasing the ability of non-ideal genetics to get passed on.

But if you really hold to Darwinism, I think you're facing a bigger problem. Atheists are a very, very small subset of people who exist. Something like 4% worldwide, according to Dawkins. I'll be generous and say 10% of the population is atheist. That means that 90% of people hold to some kind of deity.

According to Darwinistic reasoning, the only way to get to this level of disparity is if atheism harms evolution. There is some survivability advantage to believing in a God (of whatever kind) that doesn't attain for atheists.

But I'm quite sure you believe it is a *FACT* that there is no God, so you're left with a dilemma. Darwinism is selecting for something that is false. That which is NOT TRUE provides a better survivability rate than the truth does. Which is problematic on the face of it, but gets worse when you realize that EVERYTHING you think and reason about is the result of evolution, in your view, and if evolution does not select for truth then you have no basis to trust any of your beliefs whatsoever.

"If two billion people always pray to Jesus when they are ill, then statistics tells us that there are going to be millions of instances in which the person recovers from that illness shortly after praying to Jesus. It's just basic math, folks."

And how are you going to establish what the baseline "random" recoveries should be? What if the reason the common cold isn't fatal more frequently is because Christians pray? Does this even enter into your mind to think on? Of course not, because you have a drum to pound and you're going to pound it.

You've mentioned several times that the rate of miraculous healing between atheists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. is all the same, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that Christians do not pray ONLY for Christians, but also for non-Christians. Indeed, sometimes we pray more for non-believers than we do for believers, because we know that if a believer dies he or she is going to heaven whereas the non-believer will go to hell. It is far more important to pray for the non-believer's recovery than the believer's. But again, it doesn't even enter into your mind to think about that aspect.

Expand your horizons. The box you inhabit is far too small.

"If the overwhelming majority of experts on an issue find out they are wrong and change their position then we non-experts should follow suit."

Except, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, scientists don't change their position even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They just die while the new generation doesn't believe what the old one did.

That's how scientific consensus changes through time.

Since you brought up the fact that we should listen to experts, Gary, how are you an expert in anything you're talking about. This includes the "consensus of NT scholarship"--are you an expert in NT scholarship? Note, I'm not asking if you're an expert in the NT (that comes later) but if you are an expert in what constitutes genuine NT scholarship. What is your degree in? Prove your credentials.

This isn't my standard, it's yours. Until you live by your own standard, kindly shut up.

And only after all of this was ignored did I finally say:
Oh so now you're an expert in defining the "scientific community" too, eh? What are your credentials, Garebear? A PhD in Google-Fu? What fields are you an expert in? Who did you study under? What makes your words of whizzdumb so important that anyone should listen to you?

You're a gasbag of randomly arranged atomic particles that somehow has self-awareness but which will pass into nothing the instant you die. This isn't what I believe--it's what you believe.

So why should anyone care about one word you've said? C'mon. Put up your dukes or hightail it out of here like the inconsistent coward you are.

At this point, Gary said (to another atheist responding): “Hi Lehman. My interest in this conversation is waning. If you feel like it, take over, my non-supernaturalist brother! You are more than capable of dealing with this set of supernaturalists.”

To which, I said: “I suspect it's pretty hard to stay interested when people keep pointing out how you're not following your own standards.  Gary still hasn't given his credentials either, so I'm assuming he has none.”

Now Gary, you can retreat to your own blog and misidentify me and whine and complain all you want, but really all your screeching is doing is demonstrating that you don’t have a leg to stand on.  You ignored everything of substance brought against your position, shifted the goalposts, pretended that we haven’t already presented counter arguments to your own position, and lied repeatedly throughout our interaction.  You got mad at me because I saw through it and refused to play along with you and insisted you use your own standards.

You made the rules, Gary.  I’m enforcing your own standards against you.

If you don’t like it, perhaps you should get better standards.


I was asked to comment on a video by YouTube atheist "Ozymandias Ramses II" (or "Ozy" for short). I'm not going to watch hours of his videos. I think the popularity of podcasts and YouTube videos is intellectually lazy. A cumbersome way to expound and analyze complex issues. 

However, in response to commenters, Ozy sometimes provides lengthy explanations in writing. I will therefore assess some of his written statements. 

From what I can tell, his primary target is Sye Ten Bruggencate and his minions. Another target is Bible Thumping Wingnut (which I never view).  Secondary targets may include objectivism (Ayn Rand) and Scripturalism (Gordon Clark and his would-be disciples). Let's begin with some background information:

I live in Canada.  I studied psychology, Western intellectual history, and then  philosophy in Montreal (McGill and Concordia), and pursued (never completing) a doctorate in philosophy at UWO in London, Ontario. 

With respect to your question about foundationalism and Quine/Neurath, I'm in the latter camp.  In fact in some of the shows/hangouts I've challenged the foundationalist/edifice metaphor that informs presuppositionalism in favour of Quine's web of belief and Neurath's raft metaphors with respect to knowledge.  In fact, the approach to epistemology I find most promising is Quine's project of naturalized epistemology.  I did grad work in that area, specifically on the psychology of belief-acquisition and the enabling assumptions (aka properly basic beliefs) that constitute the main timbers within one's raft of belief (or the most well-integrated strands within one's web of beliefs).

I reject the Justified, true belief (JTB) definition of knowledge for a variety of reasons, but my principle objection is that I don't think justification is properly part of the definition of knowledge.

Justification is necessary in life and serves pragmatic purposes, being important for persuasion and for satisfying the conditions of public assertability, but it's not an ingredient in what makes a belief into knowledge. I embrace an externalist account of epistemic justification and repudiate the internalist account of justification as being a pre-theoretical intuition that doesn't stand up to scrutiny and which leads unavoidably to the problem of justificatory regress.   Instead of JTB, I define knowledge as 'reliably-produced true belief' which is how some philosophers define it who are working towards Quine's project of naturalized epistemology.  

So that's where he's coming from. He's an atheist. I've been told he's an ex-Jehoveh's Witness. Unfortunately, many former cult members are suspicious of religion generally. 

It is condition of reasonableness and rationality that one's confidence in one's belief in any proposition should scale with or be commensurate with the quantity and quality of evidence in support of that proposition.  Belief isn't all or none; it admits of degrees of confidence. 

True, although we frequently have more evidence for a given belief than we are conscious of. 

Certainty may be a psychological desideratum, but it's not a necessitatum.  Some  presuppositionalists (of the Sye-Clone variety) seem to make a fetish of the idea of certainty, but contra their intuitions and desires on the matter, certainty is not a requirement for knowledge. And if they think certainty is a requirement on knowledge, well....that needs to be argued for.  It's a tough argument to make.

Depends on what we mean by certainty:

i) Certainty in the psychological sense of certitude isn't equivalent to knowledge

ii) Knowledge isn't equivalent to proof. 

So, can we be certain of anything? In my view, yes, but that's a heavily qualified 'yes'.  To say that some proposition is a certitude is merely to say that within the scope of a set of  assumptions, some claims can be put forth as certainties.  But that's not the absolute, unconditional certainty that a presuppositionalist lusts after.  That kind of certainty is  what I call 'hysterical certainty'. It's illusory.

Apparently, that makes Ozy is a global skeptic. But global skepticism is self-refuting (see below). 

Regarding Bahnsen, I'm not sure what point you were making by mentioning his saying that his opponents lose just by showing up. Of course he thinks that. He's a presuppositionalist: He thinks that anyone who uses reason at all is borrowing from his worldview and so has tacitly admitted defeat by showing up for a debate.  That's part of their apologetic.  Did you think that the more sophisticated presuppers didn't apply presuppositionalism?  Did you think they were going to provide evidence to support their belief in god? That'd make them evidentialists, not presuppers.  Their proof (so-called) proceeds by transcendental argument - an alleged demonstration of the impossibilty (due to incoherence) of all other worldviews.

The problem with this entire argument is that you utilized your reasoning in the very act of defending the reliability of your reasoning. This is a manifestly circular argument.  If your brain wasn't functioning properly, if your memory was compromised in the very act of evaluating the premises in your argument, if logic was not valid, then you'd have no reason to trust your conclusions.  So, you're exactly where you started; you're assuming the very thing you were asked to defend and prove to be the case - namely that your cognitive capacities and the inferential processes you relied upon are reliable.   There is no way out of this problem.

The presuppositionalist is simply requiring the impossible: He or she is demanding that you defend rationality, but will only accept a rational argument.  Well, one can't have one's reason and eat it too.  That's what needs to be pointed out - that one is being asked to do the impossible. The mistake people are making here is to set out on the fool's errand of trying to use one's cognitive capacities and inferential practices (eg: deductive reasoning)  to show that those cognitive capacities and inferential practices are reliable.  One is simply being challenged to do the impossible.  One should never waste one's time trying to do the impossible. One should instead point out that the challenge betrays a confusion on the part of the challenger.  Tell them to show you how they do it. Ask them to put up or shut up. And the moment the presuppositionalist starts with his presuppositional argument and invokes his god as the guarantor of his own inferential practices and cognitive capacities, just point out that he seems to have used his cognitive capacities and inferential processes to reach his conclusion that he can trust his inferential capacities and inferential processes and thus, has argued in a circle and thus has assumed their reliability in the very act of trying to establish their reliability...and so has failed at the challenge they have set out for us.

And the same problem holds for inferential reasoning and for the reliability of our perceptual capacities.  These properly basic beliefs are the enabling assumptions that make possible the testing of all our other beliefs about reality, but their reliability cannot be confirmed because we have to utilize them in the very act of evaluating the outcomes which result from acting upon them.  They are, in that sense, pre-rational beliefs we are all naturally disposed to believe and by means of which we can formulate and develop ever-improving models of reality. 

1) When using the primacy or existence argument - or any argument at all - one is implicitly assuming that inferential process one is using is reliable and can be trusted to yield true conclusions when the very conclusion one is supposed to be demonstrating is that one's inferential processes being used are reliable and can be trusted to yield true conclusions.  Why, after all, would you use an inferential process to prove anything unless you assumed its proper application yields true conclusions?

2) When using the primacy or existence argument - or any argument at all - one is implicitly assuming that one's own cognitive capacities, in that very act of cognition, are reliable and not malfunctioninng and so can be trusted to yield true conclusions when the very conclusion one is supposed to be demonstrating is that one's cognitive capacities are reliable and properly functioning. Why, after all, would you employ or rely upon a cognitive faculty process to prove anything unless you assumed it was reliable and properly functioning when you were relying it?

Hence that argument, and any such argument, is circular.  The reason it feels like a trick is because we don't have any other way of arriving at reasonable conclusions and we're so accustomed to the use of inferential processes and our cognitive faculties that we assume that any conclusion can be supported by such means - but the rationality and reliability of reason and our cognitive faculties is one conclusion which we cannot support in this way, except on pain of circular argumentation.

All circular arguments are junk. There are no virtuous circular arguments. 

There are two basic problems with Ozy's objection:

1. He fails to distinguish between a circular argument/syllogism and circular reasoning

i) In a circular argument, as I understand it, the conclusion repeats the major premise without the minor premise(s) contributing any additional reasons. Put another way, the difference between an assertion and an argument is that an argument provides reasons in support of a truth-claim. 

A circular argument is a technical fallacy of a logical syllogism. It renders the syllogism invalid. 

In a valid argument, the major and minor premises combine to yield the conclusion. There's a logical interrelationship between the premises which yield a conclusion over and above the force of each individual premise, separately considered. In that event, the conclusion isn't reducible to the major premise. Rather, the combination of premises mark an advance over the major premise, or any single premise, considered in isolation to the whole. 

ii) By contrast, circular reasoning is broader than formal syllogistic argumentation. Every argument takes some things for granted. There's a distinction between presuppositions and premises. Presuppositions are not a part of the argument proper, but underlie the argument. It's not fallacious in the formal logical sense to engage in circular reasoning, where you take certain things for granted, that fall outside the scope of the syllogism (e.g. the external world). 

If the presuppositions are in dispute, then it begs the question to take them for granted, but if they're reasonable, inevitable, or shared by both sides, it's not question-begging to take them for granted.

2. His objection is self-refuting. He contends that demonstrating rationality is impossible because the proponent must assume and utilize inferential reasoning in the very act of defending the reliability of his cognitive abilities and inferential processes. But notice that Ozy must rely on his own cognitive abilities and inferential processes to argue that you can't rely on your cognitive abilities and inferential processes to justify human reason! So he himself simultaneously depends on what he denies. He can't rely on reason show that the reliability of reason is indemonstrable, for that shoots a hole in his boat. If true, it's false; therefore it's false. 

We do not have any way - no test - by means of which we can rule out the possibility of solipsism. Think about that fact you were not taught or told there was a mind-independent reality. It's not a conclusion you reached. Rather, you have never doubted it, just as our pets assume, pre-theoretically and without any process of inference, that the world exists outside of them.  We learn what was IN the world, not that there IS a world.  Any putative test or evidence you could put forward as a potential demonstration of the veracity of this assumption is perfectly compatible with it all happening in your mind without an external reality.  So, you  have not reasoned your way to the conclusion that there's a mind-independent reality, you've just always assumed it.  And it's not an intuition either.  It's a pre-rational assumption that we make by virtue of the sorts of organism that we are.

i) One of the problems with Quine's naturalized epistemology is the status of logic. If logic is reducible to human psychology, to how humans think, then logic is descriptive rather than normative. What makes anything illogical? What makes your inference fallacious rather than mine if there's no intersubjectival standard of comparison, if there's nothing over and above how humans reason? On that view, logic is just an inductive generalization of human psychology. What makes one sample superior to another? Indeed, Quine denied logical necessity. 

According to solipsism, my disembodied mind is the only thing that exists. The "physical world" is a hallucination, a mental projection of my consciousness. 

But that means logic is just a product of my contingent mental states. In that event, we can rule out the possibility of solipsism because it nullifies logical necessity. On that view, you can't even affirm or deny solipsism because the law of identity requires logical necessity. 

ii) If the physical, empirical world is an illusion, why do I imagine a physical empirical world? Consider dreams. Dreams simulate a physical empirical world because our dream state is parasitic on our waking state. But if there was no physical world to experience, why would that be the content of our imagination? 

iii) If I'm the only mind, a disembodied mind, why don't I have a memory of an infinite past? Didn't I always exist? 

iv) Do I cease to exist when I'm unconscious (e.g. a dreamless sleep)?

As Ozy concedes:

With respect to "solipsistic dreamscapes", no one is actually a solipsist. These nightmare scenarios are thought-experiments which serve to shed light on certain concepts by presenting idealized or limiting cases. They help us map out the landscape of possibilities. They are not offered up as plausible outlooks to be embraced.

Yet he seems to deploy that thought-experiment to warrant universal fallibilism. But I think we can rule out solipsism (see above). 

You also invoke transitivity of definition at point 5, but it's worth noting that the logical property of transivitity is a basic principle in logic and can't be derived without assuming transivitity itself. Logic can't be defended using logic without arguing in a circle.

It's true that logic isn't directly justifiable. Yet he himself relies on logic to deride the possibility of absolute certainty about anything. So he keeps shooting a hole in his boat. 

So, the moral of the story here is not that we can't trust our memories and other cognitive capacities or that properly basic beliefs are "arbitrary", "intuitions", or "mystical".  Rather, it's that, at bottom, rationality is the tool we use, the ladder we climb, to reach conclusions and justify them, but rationality is composed, constituted, out of universally-shared assumptions which are indispensible and which, unfortunately, can't be used to justify themselves.  This shouldn't surprise us.  Evolution by natural selection furnished us with the sorts of minds we need to survive in the world, but it wasn't trying to make us into epistemic angels who can guarantee that our assumptive dispositions are correct.  Mother Nature gave us what will work.  She didn't supply us with any guarantees.  And that's another reason why the quest for certainty is a fool's errand.  

Notice how his argument is only as good as the truth of naturalistic evolution and evolutionary psychology. He temporarily abandons his radical skepticism to affirm naturalistic evolution, but then uses that to sabotage human reason. Once again, he shoots a hole in the bottom of his boat. 

Doubt (to crib a line from Wittgenstein) comes after certainty (the feeling of deep conviction). We presuppose a lot - a whole lot - before we can ever muster a doubt about anything. This is because we do not enter the world as blank slates who are disposed to doubt and don't adopt beliefs until we have reasons and evidence. Rather, we enter the world like other mammals, filled with behavioral and doxastic dispositions, that is, pre-rational assumptions, which are sometimes described as 'properly basic beliefs' by philosophers and cognitive scientists. Among those dispositions are ones to trust our memories, senses, inferential practices and whatever we're told by our epistemic and linguistic communities as we are growing up.

Thus, we are not born as skeptics who learn to believe. We are born credulists who learn to doubt. Doubt happens within the scope of pre-rational properly basic beliefs. And so it is only within the scope of what we already believe and take for granted that specific doubts can arise, be expressed, and explored in the hopes of confirming them or assuaging them. So, could I be wrong about any particular belief within my belief set? Yes. There is no particular belief within my belief set that's immune to the possibility of error.

To be mistaken demands a standard of comparison. False beliefs can't be the criteria for other false beliefs. So either some human beliefs are immune to the possibility of error or all of God's beliefs are immune to the possibility of error, which is what makes the contrast between truth and error coherent in the first place.  

Your objection is a highly intuitive one, but here's why it's question-begging.  When you begin with axioms and then set out to evaluate the feasibility of those axioms by means of an evaluation of the desirability or undesirability of the outcomes resulting from your actions, your evaluation of the desirability or undesirability of the outcomes will rest on a host of properly basic beliefs.  Your very ability to recognize an outcome as desirable or undesirability at all requires that you assume, in the very act of evaluating what it happening around you, that:
1) there's a a world around you in which things are actually happening.
2) You will be assuming that you exist, as an agent in that world, and you will only be able to notice what consequences arise from your decisions on the assumption that
3) your perceptual capacities are properly functioning and tracking reality. Further, your ability to reach any conclusions based upon these perceptual experiences of what's resulted from your decisions and actions will rest upon the presumed
4) reliability of your memory.  

Just ask yourself, how could you get as far as testing some hypothesis or some axiom's veracity if you couldn't even trust that you were remembering which axiom you were testing or which axiom you'd begun with when you made your decision.  Further, if you didn't trust in your
5) inferential practices such as induction and deduction,
you would have no reason at all to trust your own conclusions.  

Pragmatism is a marvelous and indispensable thing, as is hypothesis-testing of axioms, but it's only possible within the scope of certain assumption that certain facts are already in place and certain capacities we have are reliable.  Without assuming those first, we can't evaluate the efficacy of any axioms.  So, yes, one can start posit axioms and we can evaluate them, but the evaluation of the feasibility of those axioms presupposes a host of beliefs about us, the world, and the reliability of our cognitive capacities.  In short, axiomatic reasoning and evaluation rests upon properly basic beliefs.

i) That may be a legitimate objection against the backwoods Scripturalism of John Robbins and his minions. 

ii) However, the fact that certain assumptions are unavoidable in human reasoning is not an argument for skepticism. Rather, that's a launchpad for transcendental reasoning:

Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one. Transcendental arguments most commonly have been deployed against a position denying the knowability of some extra-mental proposition, such as the existence of other minds or a material world. Thus these arguments characteristically center on a claim that, for some extra-mental proposition P, the indisputable truth of some general proposition Q about our mental life requires that P.