Sunday, January 01, 2006

The confutation of atheism-4

“Second, will you accept my own testimony that miracles can't happen, or will you insist that evaluation of my claim calls for looking at more evidence than simply my personal testimony?”

These are hardly symmetrical claims. The fact that folks living along the equator have never seen snow doesn’t prove that snow can’t happen. And it doesn’t cancel out the experience of those living in snowy regions of the globe. The local absence of evidence for x does not negate the positive evidence for x elsewhere.

“THird, I think it's extremely stupid for modern medical science to assume that they know everything about the natural possibilities of the human body. How about you? As such, I am NOT prepared to rule out a natural cause merely because current medical science cannot figure out how the human body healed itself. Now, do you have evidence that modern medical science has plumbed the absolute limitations of the body's natural ability to heal itself? Or does there exist the possibility that the human body can do things naturally that modern medical science cannot currently explain?”

Many things are possible. But bare possibility is a very poor rule of evidence. In the nature of the case, there is no evidence for an unknown ability, while there is evidence of the existence of a prayer-answering God.

“I hoped to find a $20 bill on the ground one day last year when i was without work and hungry. Lo and behold....I found a $20 bill that very same day in the parking lot of the labor union downtown.

Do you conclude that the atheist mind has the ability to create material objects via sheer wishful thinking? Or are you slow to discount the possibility of conicidence?”

It might be a coincidence. It might also be an instance of what we call God’s uncovenanted mercies.

“My proof that your #2 miracle was only coincidence then, would be to ask you how many times you prayed for something and DIDN'T get it.”

Once again, these are hardly symmetrical claims. Some answers to prayer are so counterintutive that they demand a supernatural explanation. If I’m in a poker game, and every hand my opponent plays is a royal flush, I infer that the deck is stacked. The fact that in most games the sequence is random in no way cancels out my well-founded suspicion that, in this case, the player is in collusion with the casino. Indeed, it is precisely because a royal flush is so rare that I attribute such an extraordinary run of luck to the illicit dexterity of the dealer. And if God deals me a miraculous hand, that evidence is not diluted by however many cases of unanswered prayer.

“Yeah, i'd like to see you argue against it being a conicidence. Surely you agree that life is full of coincidences which have no deeper significance that statistical certainty?”

As a Calvinist, I don’t believe that anything is merely coincidental.

“Maybe because no self-respecting investigator will accept anecdotal evidence as successfuly refuting his personal world-view?”

This is a self-defeating statement from someone who believes in the possibility of reconstructing history. Most of our historical knowledge is anecdotal.

“Whether I ‘like’ the evidence or not, is irrelevant. Unless you are willing to say that you too reject evidence that you don't ‘like’? If so, then your response is pointless, EVERYBODY rejects evidence that they don't ‘like, in the sense that you will admit you do.”

Whether you like it or not is quite relevant when you stake your claim on a specious consequentialist argument.

“You yourself, in your hasty rejection of my "talking-crayon" analogy, contradict your above response, since by denying the possibility of talking crayons, you have denied all possibility of them ever being proved to you at any time, and this means you think historical causation is too uniform to allow the possibility of such things. Are you therefore subjecting yourself now to the very criticism of being "self-serving" which you throw at me? As a skeptic, I doubt it.”

One doesn’t have to be a signatory to the principle of uniformity to disbelieve in the existence of something. Lack of evidence for the existence of something is sufficient reason to disbelieve in its existence.

“I committ no special pleading, I depend primarily on my own personal experience of life to decide whether some report of an event is more probably true or more likely false.”

To extrapolate from your provincial experience to categorical claims about the uniformity of cause and effect throughout time and space would be an embarrassment to any self-respecting empiricist.

I’d had that if you spent more time around more Christians, your experience might be quite different.

“Silly? Artificial? Sure sounds like you only label my pink elephant analogy with those words because you are relying on the uniform absence of such monsters from your personal past experience of life. If not, then how exactly did you come to know that such things as flying elephants are indeed safely presumed to be ‘silly’ and ‘artificial’?”

To begin with, you are using them because you yourself regard them as silly, and you then try to tar the Biblical miracles with the same brush ofguilt by association.

Second, I don’t have to believe in the principle of uniformity to say that flying elephants are artificial. I know where they come from. They are imaginary counterexamples introduced into the discussion for no other reason than to construct a ridiculous argument from analogy.

Third, my personal experience is not the same as yours. My experience includes more than one brush with the supernatural or paranormal.

Fourth, I have never made my personal experience the gold standard of what is possible or impossible.

Fifth, you continue to the absence of evidence as if that were positive evidence for the impossibility of a given phenomenon. That is a completely invalid leap of logic.

Sixth, is it possible for God to levitate an elephant? Yes, but I have no reason to believe that he has done so.

“What then have you proven I did wrong, since you agree that the gospels are promoting the cause of Jesus (i.e., propadanda)? Just because I also doubt their veracity doesn't mean I'm wrong to refer to them as promoting the cause of Jesus.”

You are treating promotion and propaganda as synonymous, which they are not. Their semantic domain may overlap, but it does not coincide.

“Propaganda” can either have a neutral meaning or, more commonly, in popular usage, a pejorative meaning. You are deliberately trading on this ambiguity to insinuate that the Gospels are propaganda in the pejorative sense, which doesn’t follow from the mere fact that they promote the cause of Christ.

“How does my question ask you to generalize? You surely think the NT miracle reports are reliable, do you thus think that the question "do you accept miracle reports in the New Testament as reliable" thus is asking you to generalize?”

Now you’re quoting me out of context. If you ask me about the NT, you are posing a specific question. If you ask me about unspecified “extra-biblical reports,” I have no comment since your question is too vague to be answerable. Moreover, there’s no burden on me to comment on extra-biblical reports” since their truth or falsity is independent of the Bible’s veracity.

I’m under no obligation to go down a rabbit trail just because you order me to play fetch the ball. I have my own priorities.

“Again, you call flying pigs "ridiculous". Is this because of your prior committment to the uniformity of historical causation, which you are keeping secret from us? Or do you deny the existence of flying pigs only because you've never seen evidence of them? If because you never saw evidence of them, and you think you are thus justified to disbelieve on the basis of a lack of evidence, then you are hypocritical IF you say atheists are not justified to disbelieve in God merely via lack of evidence. You disbelieve all sorts of claims because of a lack of evidence, therefore don't expect from us more than you expect of yourself.”

I don’t say that atheists are not justified to disbelieve in God for lack of evidence. Rather, they are not justified because they disbelieve despite the evidence.

“Gee Steve, judging by your slanted rules of evidence without giving us evidence for your rules is not a rational way for you to make a case for your own position or to oppose mine,now is it?”

My rules of evidence are very straightforward. Our methodology should be adapted to the object of knowledge. If you want to design an effective fishnet, it’s a good idea to study a few fish before you string the net.

“For the same reason you'd expect atheist to guess that YOU would agree that the cogency of a historical rule is independent of it's theistic ramifications.”

No, I don’t agree that historiography is a value-free discipline, sealed away from the nature of the world—be it theistic or atheistic.

The existence or nonexistence of God makes a world of difference regarding what, if anything, is possible. And apart from divine providence, there’s no good reason to believe that the past will resemble the present.

“What evidence would you accept that history is indeed uniform, so that I will know what exactly will convince you?”

In the nature of the case, the only evidence for uniformity is uniform evidence. Hence, uniformity will always be, at best, underdetermined by the evidence. There can be no evidence for uniformity short of observing uniformity throughout time and space, of which our infinitesimal sampling on planet earth amounts to the tenth part of nothing.

By contrast, you only need one well-established exception to disprove uniformity.

“I fail to see how my failure to distinguish personal causation from impersonal causation, somehow refutes my general observation of seeing the same result over and over. I don't care if a tree falls off a mountain because the wind blew it off (cyclical process of nature, impersonal causation) or because you cut it off (personal causation), the distinction between personal causation and impersonal causation doesn't threaten my reliance upon the uniformity of the applicable natural law (i.e., gravity still exerts a force on the tree after it, for whatever reason, detaches from the mountain.”

The flaw in your comparison is that both the tree and the lumberjack are subject to gravity. God, however, is not subject to gravity. His personal agency can suspend gravity or any other “natural law.”

“By the way, since I can never tell the universe what to do, and it is in fact an open system (according to you), and thus not guaranteed to work the same way as it has in the past, what are the chances that you will stand under that brick while I let it go, in order to show everybody on the street how utterly fallacious the atheist version of the principle of uniformity really is?

Naw, you are just as confident in the uniformity of natural law as any atheist, at least when it comes to standing under bricks that people are releasing above your head. You live by that principle everyday and only choose to controvert it in philosophical discourse because it actually can be used to threaten the very book and faith you have staked you whole life and entire reputation on.”

You seem to suffer from a mental block when it comes to thinking outside your own conceptual box. To be an effective critic you need to cultivate critical detachment—the ability to appreciate the implications of the opposing position.

All other things being equal, I believe that God’s ordinary providence obtains. Absent a reason to the contrary, I assume that if I release a brick it will fall to the ground.

That is not based on belief in some ironclad system of natural law. Rather, that is based on belief in the ordinary providence of God.

But all other things are not always equal. In Scripture, God tells certain men that he’s going to perform a miracle, and he does so. If you had good reason to believe that ordinary providence was not in place, then you’d have good reason to depart from standard operating procedure.

“...your distinction between prescriptive and descriptive is necessarily false, since it would be logically impossible to have a natural law that is only descriptive and not prescriptive. For example, how can the natural law "gravity affects al material objects on the face of the earth" be ONLY descripive, without such description logically necessitating a PREscription (i.e., it always works that way, or, no material object is an exception)?”

There are a number of things wrong with this claim. You reify natural laws as if a natural law were making things happen. A natural law is simply a relation. No one has ever seen gravity. Gravity is an unobservable. All we perceive is a certain effect. We then postulate a hidden mechanism to account for the correlation.

Newton had one theory. Einstein had another. But then there’s the problem of quantum gravity.

You are also confounding different types of necessity, as if natural necessity (assuming there is such a thing) is interchangeable with logical necessity.

More to the point, this is irrelevant to the case for miracles. Natural laws are only binding on the creature, not the Creator. They are no barrier to God’s field of action.

“Does your use of my exact same reasoning then suggest that you don't really think that the excuse 'there's no evidence' is really that fallacious after all? Or did you screw up royally just now?”

My reasoning is not the same as yours. There is evidence for miracles. There is no evidence for talking crayons.

“You are talking to an atheist, who is absolutely against miracles as you know from our previous exchanges, and you don't understand how I can equate Jesus' resurrection with something that is "silly"?

Since you obviously know that I would claim the resurrection of Jesus is silly AND befect of all evidence, you are obviously talking more to the Christian readers than you are to the person whose presuppositions you should be able to anticipate.”

This is another example of your incapacity for critical detachment. Even if you don’t believe in the Resurrection, yet considered as a hypothetical proposition, it is a purposeful event in a way that a talking crayon is not.

“Well gee, is just a mouseclick away, so why should I re-invent the wheel with you? Do you ever show up on atheist message forums?”

As a matter of fact, I knew Jeff Lowder long before he founded the Secular Web.

“It is not our duty to do a believer’s reading and research for him. If a believer can study conservative attacks on the non-inerrancy of Scripture, he can just as well study the many essays, articles, commentaries, and monographs which rebut the non-inerrancy attacks on Scripture.”

As a rule, believers read unbelievers, but unbelievers never read believers. Just compare the author index of a liberal and conservative introduction to the Bible.

1 comment:

  1. Steve said:

    "As a rule, believers read unbelievers, but unbelievers never read believers. Just compare the author index of a liberal and conservative introduction to the Bible."

    That isn't just Steve's opinion. Similar observations have been made by some Biblical scholars. Craig Keener, in his recent commentary on John, writes:

    "Whereas the conservative introductions often arrive at predictably conservative conclusions, they interact with less conservative scholars, whereas some of the traditional critical introductions completely ignore the contributions of conservative scholarship." (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], n. 145 on p. 98)