Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The association fallacy

The first comes from Mark Shea (trying to defend Cardinal Pell), who tries to associate a literal understanding of Scripture with Atheistic and Fundamentalist advocates (and them with each other).  The second comes from my dear friend Steve Hays (trying to respond to something I wrote) who tries to associate a particular argument with naturalism in the form of the non-overlapping magisteria of Stephen Jay Gould and philosophical naturalism with the example of Bart Ehrman. Ultimately, both posts serve a similar rhetorical purpose.  "You say X, but that sounds just like the bad guys."
The exceptionally bright reader has already noticed that this post does the same thing, by associating Steve Hays with Mark Shea (or vice versa, if you are in a mirror universe where Mark Shea is a good guy).  Of course, I'm employing that device while calling attention to it, for the deliberate purpose of making the point that this sort of rhetoric is really a fallacious appeal.

i) I didn’t commit the association fallacy. To commit the association fallacy, I’d have to argue that TFan’s position is wrong because it’s a position he shares with guys like Bart Ehrman and Stephen Jay Gould. But I didn’t say or suggest that his position is wrong because Gould and Ehrman take the same position.

In fact, I didn’t even say if his position was wrong, much less that it was wrong becomes it’s something he shares in common with unbelievers like Ehrman and Gould.

Rather, I asked if he had the same basic position as they do, and then quoted them to illustrate what I mean.

The position isn’t problematic because they hold it. The position is problematic on its own grounds.

Of course, unbelievers hold problematic positions. That’s what makes then unbelievers. So the two naturally go together.

ii) Finally, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with invidious comparisons. For instance, Michael Patton and Daniel Wallace recently raised objections to Protestantism which are similar to stock objections raised by Roman Catholics. It’s not fallacious to point out the similarity.

The point of that comparison is to draw attention to a potential inconsistency. Given that Wallace and Patton are Protestant, it’s inconsistent for them to raise typically Catholic arguments against Protestantism.

Likewise, it seems inconsistent for TFan to take the same basic approach to miracles as Ehrman or Gould.

Again, that doesn’t mean he is, in fact, taking the same approach. I was asking a question, and I quoted Gould and Ehrman to explain or define what I meant.

It's surprising that Steve does not know what I mean by what I wrote (in this earlier post).  I mean just what I said.  I didn't say that by definition supernatural events cannot be historically or scientifically confirmed.  I said that "The shroud could be the artifact of a supernatural process, and there is no way that this hypothesis could be completely ruled out, because it is not as though supernatural activity would leave any tell-tale marks."

I know what he said. Indeed, I quoted what he said. And what he said gave rise to my question. For the question is how far he takes that principle.

It seems that Steve's questions are mostly about positions I haven't taken.  For example, my post does not take a position regarding whether we can ever infer supernatural agency from experience - my post does not deal with answers to prayers, or whether we can infer that God answered our prayer (whether by supernatural or natural agency).
Likewise, my post does not deal with the cosmological or teleological arguments or the argument from religious experience, or intelligent design theory, or the argument from miracles or the argument from prophecy.
In fact, my post doesn't address those things at all.  I may have opinions about all those things, but I don't express my opinion about them in the post.

It’s not unusual to consider if someone’s position on a particular issue is a special case of a more general principle. Indeed, it’s often more efficient to cut to the chase. More efficient to evaluate the underlying principle rather than a particular application of the principle. For his position on the Shroud is no better or worse than the underlying principle by which he judges any case of that sort.

But to clarify, since I should do my best to help my good friend Steve understand what I wrote, methodological naturalism has limits as to what it can establish.  Methodological naturalism, also referred to as science, can only provide or eliminate natural explanations of phenomena.  Methodological naturalism can (and did) prove that Jesus was dead, and it can (and did) prove that Jesus was alive at a later time.   It cannot explain the resurrection itself - the way Jesus got alive, because the resurrection was supernatural.  Thus, methodological naturalism could (and does) provide premises that lead one to infer a supernatural resurrection.
If the Shroud had existed in the 1st century (which it definitely didn't), if it had been used to cover Jesus' body (which it definitely wasn't), and if the resurrection had produced the image (which we can be sure it did not) it would have been hypothetically possible for an observer to use methodological naturalism to examine an ordinary shroud beforehand and a shroud with an image on it afterwards.  These premises might lead to an inference that the resurrection produced the image.  But methodological naturalism cannot explain how such an image was produced, if it was not produced naturally.
Likewise, methodological naturalism could have demonstrated that the linen of the shroud was very ancient linen (in fact, it demonstrated that it was medieval linen), but it could not have demonstrated that the image on the shroud was supernaturally produced.  Such would simply have been an inference that people might draw.
All that scientific investigation of the shroud can do is tell us what the shroud is, and how it became what it is through natural processes, if it came to be through natural processes.   Much like science could only determine that the risen Jesus was first really dead and then really alive and well, not that he was supernaturally resurrected.

i) I’m afraid that’s still unclear. If methodological naturalism can rule in or rule out natural explanations (“can only provide or eliminate natural explanations of phenomena”), then, by process of elimination, once natural explanations are excluded, that leaves a supernatural explanation as the only remaining explanation. So in principle, methodological naturalism (as defined by TFan) could prove that Jesus was supernaturally resurrected.

ii) I’m also not clear on TFan’s apparent distinction between drawing inferences and proving, determining, or demonstrating something.

a) For one thing, inductive or deductive inferences are the way we normally prove, determinate, or demonstrate something. TFan says methodological naturalism can supply the premises for an argument. Well, as long as the premises are true, and the conclusion validly follows from the major and minor premises, then that’s a sound argument.

b) Is Tfan using “inference” in a weaker sense than “demonstration,” where drawing inferences is probabilistic whereas a demonstration rises to the level of apodictic proof?

But even if that’s what he had in mind, probable explanations are preferable to improbable explanations.

iii) Finally, Tfan seems to distinguish between inferring that something happened or what happened in contrast to how it happened.

Perhaps he’s alluding to his further distinction between different sources of supernatural agency. For instance, he’s suggested that even if the Shroud was supernaturally produced, that doesn’t entail divine production–for it might be demonic production. 

However, I assume he doesn’t want to lay down as a general proposition that we can never tell whether or not a miracle was the result of divine or demonic causation. After all, didn’t the Jews accuse Jesus of being a sorcerer–not only in the Gospels, but the Talmud?

Likewise, what if someone said the miracles of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Peter, and Paul were demonic? How would TFan distinguish his answer to that question from his position on the Shroud?

As I recall, TFan deploys the argument from miracles to disqualify religious claimants who lack miraculous attestation for their message. So he must have some criterion independent of the message itself.   

1 comment:

  1. With all the rattling going on, none of it bad mind you but possibly mine own, I believe science has proved Christ's existence as a Jew born in Palestine to a virgin during the reign of that ruler of it, from Rome. What science cannot prove, once you have sufficient belief working within you that Jesus Christ was a person who historically lived back then, is He rose from the dead. To have belief grow to that level of spiritual maturity is a gift of God; and not all men have been granted or given that gift. Some, it seems by the Holy Scripture, once had that belief and for whatever the mysterious reason, got their place that belief placed them put wiped away.

    Some things cannot be proved only believed. The Resurrection of My Christ that I believe happened that saves me happened whether or not I happen to believe it happened. I know for sure I did not believe some things happened after reading about them happening when reading about them happening in the Book of Exodus. Now I believe those things happened, what I did not believe before.

    Is the shroud something that exists? Yes. I believe it exists even though having never physically seen it or physically touched it where it is right now by a belief which is believing in its existence by the science method one uses to believe some things exist. On the other hand believing it exists is basis the same way I believe Christ rose from the dead having never seen Him physically or physically touched Him.

    I have never seen physically or touched physically the shroud and I believe it exists. I have never seen physically or touched physically Jesus Christ and I believe He exists.

    Why I don't believe the image on the shroud captured is the image of the Son of God is basis the same way I believe it exists plus one other thing. That other thing is the testimony of Scripture about believing God exists in a unique way (before Christ lived physically which was proved by the science method and after He ascended to His place in Glory He descended from) which is that supernatural way of believing He is, believing He is with Faith.

    Jesus, after His resurrection when revealing Himself physically to Thomas made mention of his confidence in believing He rose from the dead by making the distinction between his way (Thomas) of believing it, the science method, which is a different way of believing He exists than the way the rest of us believe He exists, that supernatural way which is the only way we can come to know God exists these days; that way is by His gift of Faith that we have been given to believe that He is and that He rose from the dead.

    Jesus said this to Thomas:

    Joh 20:28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
    Joh 20:29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

    I am more blessed than Thomas!

    As TFan has distinguished, if the image captured on the shroud was by divine or demonic supernatural means, it would require believing it by Faith which nullifies believing it by proving its existence by the science method. Science cannot prove supernatural phenomena.

    I believe Science has proved that this shroud exists and is circa the 13th or 14th century so it cannot be what some want it to be, that is, the image of the Son of God that was left on the linen after His rising from the dead through the process of coming alive again after death when still being enshrouded with it and before it was removed from His physical body.