Saturday, December 31, 2005

The confutation of atheism-1

An atheist wormed his way into the the Areopagus. For the full context, as well as Jason’s ever-splendid side of the argument, go there:

I’ve strung together my side of the argument below. The atheist is in quotation marks.

"Do you have any non-controversial established cases of resurrection from the dead, so that I might stop seeing Jesus' resurrection as impossible and at least grant that it was within the realm of possibility?"

How is the absence of parallel cases relevant to the historicity of the resurrection of Christ? It is presented in Scripture as a miraculous and unprecedented event, the archetype and prototype of an eschatological resurrection of the just at the end of the church age.

It is not comparable to the cyclical processes of nature. So your denial involves a category mistake.

Again, you are confounding epistemology with metaphysics. To say that you know of no parallel event is not to say that the event in question is impossible--which is a metaphysical category.

"My first question to you to begin this phase is: What other source of ancient religious propaganda, outside the bible, do you accept as being a report of facts only and containing not the least bit of embellishment or untruth, as you view the New Testament? Your answer will tell me whether your view is based on analysis of the data, or whether you are committing the fallacy of special pleading by asking that we accord the religious propaganda of the NT gospels the special place of "facts-only-reporting" and refusing to grant this huge leap to other non-biblical ancient religious propaganda."

Why should we exclude the Bible from discussion? The NT is a 1C primary source of 1C history. Evidence doesn't get any better than that.

"To be plausible, he would have to have been resurrected, which I don't think is plausible, since historical reconstruction cannot occur unless one uses the present to interpret the past (principle of uniformity), which rule of historiography automatically excludes all allegations that would require suspensions of the known physical laws. You don't believe a report that somebody taught a pig to fly on it's own, and I don't believe a report that somebody rose from the dead, and both of us support our respective skepticism by appealing to this principle of the uniformity of the physical laws, which apologists hate."

What is there to reconstruct? When we turn to the historical record of the Gospels, we are not reconstructing a historical event, but consulting a contemporaneous account of the historical events.

You call yourself an empiricist, but empiricism is supposed to be based on observation and discovery. You, however, by appealing to uniformitarianism, are going way beyond the limits of induction.

Empirical science is supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Your appeal is prejudicial and stipulative in character. That is not empirical. That is secular dogmatism masquerading as science.

The first thing to observe is that our atheist has chosen to interact with very few of my counterarguments. You can assess the weakness of a man’s position by what he chooses to ignore.

“The absence of concretely established parallel cases is the reason you don't believe stories about flying pigs.”

You continue to invoke a silly illustration. A flying pig would be a surd event, something out of the blue.

The resurrection is not a surd event. It fits within a theological framework.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along with your illustration. Your implicit argument seems to be that I do not have good reason to believe in some extraordinary event apart from multiple instances of some extraordinary event. Of course, that demand would turn it into an ordinary event.

This is a principle which you need to justify, not merely assert.

On the face of it, the principle is obviously false. All I need to have good reason to believe in some extraordinary event is adequate evidence for that particular event.

And the evidence I need to establish the occurrence of an extraordinary event would be no different than the evidence I need to establish an ordinary event.

What evidence would we need to prove the existence of a flying pig? One flying pig would do.

If, say, Scientific American did a story on the discovery of a flying pig, in which a team of scientists had examined the pig, then that would be sufficient reason to believe in the existence of a flying pig.

“Just because something is called a miracle, doesn't automatically protect it from the rules of historiography. Calling it a miracle assumes the existence of god, that this god is the god of Christianity”

You continue to appeal to the “rules of historiography.” In so doing you assume what you need to prove.

You are using the “rules of historiography” as code language for methodological naturalism. That begs the question of what reality is like by stipulating in advance of the fact what is discoverable.

As an atheist, your atheism is not based on your historiography; rather, your historiography is based on your atheism. By definition, atheism will exclude the miraculous by its secular rules of evidence. All you've done is to beg the question in your own favor.

Once again, you’re confusing epistemology and ontology. A miracle implies the existence of God. But it doesn’t imply belief in God. If I were an atheist, and if I were to witness a miracle, then that would convince me of God’s existence. I don’t have to be a believer to come to a belief in the miraculous.

“On the contrary, the absence of any concretely established parallel event is the very reason one would say that something in a report is false/impossible...and so the opposite is true as well, namely, that the existence of many concretely established cases of X, is what gives you confidence that X is not impossible. Again, the main reason you say flying pigs are impossible is because you know of no concretely established proof that pigs have ever flown before (maybe in airplanes? ha ha ha)... which will let you consider that the story about the flying pig is at least within the realm of the possible.”

As I’ve said above, this criterion is quite illogical. The only proof I need to establish the possibility that pigs can fly is a single confirmed sighting.

“I accept a rule of historiography called "uniformitarianism" not to be confused with the same word that describes geological phenomena. In historiography, "uniformitarianism" is defined as "the present is the key to the past". That is, the only way we can reconstruct history with any confidence is to compare what history says, with what our present experience and knowledge in life tells us is either possible/impossible, or likely/unlikley.”

As I said before, belief in the Resurrection does not entail any historical reconstruction of events. The gospels are not like a crime scene or archeological dig in which you have to piece together a past event from mute clues.

“Now aside from the fact that uniformitarianism certainly falsifies almost all your Christian beliefs, do you have any objective reasons to reject this otherwise common-sense principle?”

You are assuming, without benefit of argument, that uniformitarianism is inconsistent with Christian faith. That, again, is illogical.

The suppressed premise of your assumption is the presumption that the present is uniformly non-miraculous. But this doesn’t follow from a principle of uniformity, per se. You are smuggling in a tendentious interpretation of your principle.

One can have a naturalistic version of uniformitarianism, but one could just as well have a supernaturalistic version of uniformitarianism.

There is, indeed, evidence that miraculous events happen throughout the course of history up to and including the present. Hence, I could grant you your premise that the past resembles the present, but draw an opposing conclusion.

In addition, I reject your principle because it is patently fallacious. What you’ve done is to mount an implicitly consequentialist argument. What you are saying is, in effect, “We cannot reconstruct the past unless the past resembles the present; ergo: the past resembles the present.”

But the inference is clearly invalid. At most, all this would prove is that “if” the past does not resemble the present, then we cannot reconstruct the past. But you’ve done nothing to prove the conditional itself.

Perhaps our ability to reconstruct the past is very limited. What makes you, as an atheist, assume that the causal order is arranged for the convenience of the historian?

“To put it even more graphically, are there any sources of ancient religious propaganda outside the bible, whose miracle-claims you accept as really having occured as described? Why not? Is your acceptance of everything the bible says, a fallacy of special pleading, because you don't accept truth claims from any other source of ancient religious propaganda outside the bible?”

To describe the Bible as religious propaganda is an invidious characterization. You are poisoning the well.

Since I believe that miraculous (supernatural, paranormal events) happen throughout the course of history, I’m open to extrabiblical reports.

Having said that, the reports are only as reliable as the reporters. It is not special pleading to abode more confidence in some reporters than others. It’s a question of evidence.

“How exactly did you get from ‘secular rules of evidence’ over to "beg the question"? You lost me there.”

You have done nothing to establish a secular worldview, which is a presupposition of your skewed historiography. Absent a compelling argument for your axiomatic assumption—and you’ve given us no argument whatsoever—you are begging the question.

“If my secular rules of evidence cause me to beg the question in my favor, then do your religious rules of evidence cause you to beg the question in your own favor? Why not?”

I would be begging the question if I, like you, appealed to the rules of evidence without ever giving any evidence for the rules.

“However, I wish you luck trying to prove that the historiographical rule "the present is the key to the past" (i.e., principle of uniformity) was originally made up by historians for no other purpose than to exclude miracles/God.”

Now you’ve committed the genetic fallacy. Whether or not the principle of uniformity was originally devised to exclude the divine is irrelevant to its cogency, or lack thereof.

“So are you going to answer my question?”

Your question is way too vague to answer as it presently stands. Sorry, but I’m not a mind-reader. The onus is not on me to go trolling through every possible example of what you privately deem to be
“ancient religious propaganda outside the Bible” and comment on each example.

What I did, instead, was to offer a general reply to a general question by explaining how I’d approach the answer in terms of my principles and procedures.

If you want a more specific answer, you’ll have to ask a more specific question.

“First, ALL discussion on separating true from false in historical reports is historical reconstruction, whether you are talking about Roman emperors in Tacitus, Constantine in Eusebius, or Jesus in the gospels.”

This assumes that the Gospels are an admixture of truth and error.

“Second, are you aware that there is NO SCHOLAR IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, that thinks the gospels are contemporary with the events they describe? You are even more conservative at dating the Gospels than Robinson!”

“Contemporary” and “contemporaneous” don’t mean that x occurred at exactly the same time as y, but that they occur within the same period, such as the commonplace distinction between a younger and older contemporary of x. According to the traditional authorship of the gospels, which has been defended by many conservative scholars, the Gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. They were alive at the time of the events they record. Depending on the author, their record was either based on eyewitness observation or eyewitness testimony.

My dating is more conservative than Robinson since 1C Jewish and Greco-Roman culture was a literate culture, such that there is no good reason to greatly delay the publication of the Gospels. For documentation, cf. A. Millard, Reading & Writing in the Time of Jesus (NYU 2000).

“However, until the Christians come up with some concretely established cases of miracles…”

There’s an extensive body of literature on this very subject.

“First, you are wrong to say empiricism doesn't involve prescription. Empiricism wouldn't be possible unless we made deductions and inductions at SOME point before we reach our main hypothesis. But to deduce or induce, is to prescribe. Do you seriously think someone who is a true empiricist, does nothing at all but describe stuff all day?”

There’s a fundamental difference between drawing inferences from the evidence and prescribing what counts as evidence in the first place. You are now confounding evidence with the rules of evidence.

“Second, you would have been more intellectually responsible to leave my philisophical proclivities out of the picture, and just concentrate on refuting the evidence I gave to support my denial of the inerrantist interpretation of Micah 5:2.”

Your discussion was by no means confined to Micah 5:2. Your appeal to the principle of uniformity has nothing to do with the exegesis of Micah 5:2.

You have chosen to broaden the scope of the discussion, not me. Your philosophical proclivities are directly germane to your particular version of historiography.

As to Micah 5:2, this says it all: "But Micah does not say that the Messiah will come immediately, deliver them from the Assyrians now, and set up his universal kingdom over their enemies at the present time. First there will be a time of agony and exile (4:9-10; 5:1,3a)," Gary V. Smith, Hosea/Amos/Micah. NIVAC (Zondervan 2001), 526.

“Sorry, but to me, ‘theological framework’ is just as silly as ‘resurrection’ and ‘flying pig’.”

You are welcome to your opinion, but it still destroys your argument from analogy since the objection at that juncture has now shifted from allegedly parallel examples to the underlying conceptual scheme, or absence thereof.

“Right, and what qualifies as "adequate evidence" for some event?”

Adequate evidence for a “particular” event in contrast to “parallel” instances of a king.

“Ok, so if I told you I got a flat tire on the way to work, you don't need anymore than just my word, but if I went on to say an angel of the lord miraculously healed the blow-out and now the tire has no signs of'd believe likewise upon no more basis than my word? After all, you said the amount of evidence you'd need to believe an extraordinary event (angel healing blow-out) would be no different than the evidence you'd accept for an ordinary event (tire blew out), right?

That sounds like you just believe everything you hear, not just ‘I went to the store today’, but also ‘bigfoot seen at Whitehouse’"

You’re using examples of frivolous miracles. But the miracles of Scripture aren’t frivolous miracles. So you comparison falls apart.

And it also depends on the credibility of the source.

As to your second illustration, you regard the existence of Bigfoot as an extraordinary claim, as opposed to an ordinary claim.

Very well, then, what evidence would we need to prove the existence of Bigfoot?

All we would need is to capture one specimen. We wouldn’t need any parallel cases.

In that respect, the evidence for an extraordinary claim is no different than the evidence for an ordinary claim.

It’s like the old conundrum of induction. All it takes to prove that all crows aren’t black is one albino crow.

All it takes to prove the existence of flying, fire-breathing dragons is one specimen. The reason we don’t believe in dragons is not because we lack parallel cases, but because we lack even a single case.

“How about if the evidence for that flying pig came from ancient religious propaganda? Would that qualify in your mind as "evidence" for that flying pig's reality?”

Sifting the evidence depends on both the credibility of the informant as well as the intrinsic credibility, or lack thereof, of the event. Does it fit into larger framework, or is it just a surd event?

“Did Scientific American ever do a story on Jesus, in which a team of scientists examined Jesus? Case closed.”

Does this mean that you now retract your original criterion and admit that we don’t need parallel cases to establish the occurrence of an event?

Of course, many historical events are not subject to scientific confirmation, but they are subject to other forms of confirmation.

I simply used this example to challenge your axiomatic assumption that we need multiple instances of x to justify our belief in any instance of x.

Now that you’ve evidently admitted your erroneous assumption, you need to retract your original objection to the resurrection of Christ since that was predicated on a standard of evidence which you’ve now withdrawn after you were forced to back down.

“I don't see anything wrong with that. All you are doing is saying that I interpret the world through my particular world-view, which makes me about as unique as everybody on earth.”

Except that you’ve done nothing to justify your worldview. You’ve come over to a Christian discussion board, and appealed to your secular worldview as the standard of comparison to disprove the resurrection of Christ.

Since we, as Christians, obviously don’t buy into a secular frame of reference, what’s the point? You’ve done nothing to advance the argument.

To make your case you either need to appeal to some point of common ground and then demonstrate that we are inconsistent with our own methods and assumptions, or else you need to challenge our methods and assumptions.

But as it stands, you’re like a gerbil on a wheel, moving at a furious pace without moving an inch from your starting-point.

“You yourself have rules of historiography, which you use to help you discern between what is probably true and what is probably false.”

And there’s an extensive body literature in Christian apologetics whereby we justify our historiography.

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