## Thursday, May 16, 2013

### Explaining away miracles

This is a sequel to an earlier post:

steve said...

Brian Barrington said...

“Steve, apologies for delay in getting back. Regarding the coin in the fish - one possibility is that it did not happen.”

You’re repeating the same mistake you made before, which I already corrected you on. My argument wasn’t predicated on it actually happening. Rather, I used this as an example of a type of miracle that doesn’t conform to your artificial definition.

I think it happened, by that wasn’t the point of the argument.

Is there same reason you mechanically repeat the same formulaic responses rather than adapting to the actual state of the argument?

“A second possibility is that it (or something like it) happened and that it was an entirely natural event - most likely some sort of magic trick, or else a natural coincidence… Second most likely (but considerably less likely) is that it or something like it happened and it was a completely natural event (e.g. a magic trick).”

Have you made a serious effort to consider what that would entail?

a) A fish swallows a coin.
b) The fish swallowed the coin no later than when Peter went fishing.
c) The fish swallowing the coin no earlier than the lifespan of the fish.
d) Within the same narrow timeframe, Peter was talking with Jesus about the temple tax.
e) The coin inside the fish was the exact amount required to pay the tax for two persons: Jesus and   Peter.
d) Jesus predicted that if Peter went fishing, he would catch the fish with the coin.
e) Peter went fishing at the exact time the fish was swimming by.
f) Peter went fishing at the exact place the fish was swimming by.
g) Peter successfully caught the fish.

Now, considered hypothetically, what are the odds that all those independent variables would converge? Why do you think that’s more likely than a supernatural explanation?

In what sense would it be a magic trick? Are you suggesting Jesus caught a fish, put a coin in the fish, then told Peter to go fishing, while Jesus trained the fish to swim by at just the right time and place for Peter to catch it?

“Another possibility is that it was a miracle due to supernatural intervention or supernatural planning. Looking at the evidence (a couple of sentences in a single book) and judging what is most likely based on the testimonial evidence or anecdotal evidence, by far the most likely thing is that it didn't happen… Way, way, way behind either of these possibilities is the possibility that it happened and was a miracle.”

i) To begin with, that’s a false dichotomy. To say testimonial evidence is the source of our information hardly counts as an alternative explanation to the miraculous explanation. You’re confusing a miracle with how we know about a miracle.

ii) And, once again, you’re just repeating your claim about the alleged improbability of miracles, in the teeth of my counterargument. Why is that? If you raise an objection, and I present a counterargument, it’s incumbent on you to take the counterargument into account and either improve on your objection or withdraw your objection.

steve said...

“Having said that, if it makes some people happier to think that it happened and that it was a miracle, then I don't necessarily object to them thinking that - whatever gets you through the day!”

“When you say ‘Some events are too coincidental to be purely coincidental’ it means that the alleged event is so improbable based on what we know concerning physical evidence and the regularities of nature that the event requires supernatural planning or intervention. That is the basis on which the event is deemed to be virtually impossible based on natural causes alone - without that, you have no basis for claiming that the specific event is improbable/impossible without supernatural planning or intervention.”

Once more, you’re just repeating yourself. That’s intellectually lazy. As I already pointed out to you, your framework is simplistic. Some events are too coincidental to be purely coincidental because they are the result of personal agency. Take a card sharp. You constantly fail to distinguish between inanimate agencies and personal agency.

If an event can’t be plausibly accounted for by inanimate agencies, then we turn to personal agents.

The next question is the kind of personal agent required to account for the event. If it exceeds human abilities, then it’s superhuman.

“Crossing rivers is a natural event that occurs frequently and requires no supernatural explanation.”

I said nothing about crossing rivers, so how is that responsive to my argument?

“Turning water instantly into wine would (absent some new technological discovery) seem to require a supernatural explanation. That is why the first is not a miracle, but the second would plausibly be regarded as miracle if it occurred.”

Once again, you’ve come back full circle to your original paradigm, having failed to acquire a more sophisticated grasp of the issues, despite my examples and explanations.

I don’t know what your problem is. Are you just frivolous? Do you lack the mental concentration to keep track of the argument?

You need to put your flash cards down and start to actually think through the issues.

steve said...

Brian Barrington said...

“If the coin-in-the-mouth incident occurred and was not a miracle but a natural event, then most likely the coin was somehow slipped into the mouth of the fish by a human AFTER the fish was caught.”

i) You’re concocting a backstory for which there’s no evidence.

ii) If you think it was a magic trick, then who would be the magician? Logically, that would have to be Jesus, for Jesus is the one who made the prediction. Jesus would be the beneficiary of a successful prediction.

But according to the account, Jesus didn’t catch the fish. He wasn’t there when the fish was caught. Peter caught the fish.

Therefore, your explanation isn’t consistent with the internals of the account, even if the account were fictitious.

“But another strong possibility is that nothing of the sort occurred in the first place – that the anecdote related just didn’t happen…Well, that is not what I am saying – everyone agrees that the evidence we have for the coin-in-the-mouth story is the testimony or the anecdote. So what are the possible explanations for the existence of the testimony or anecdote? The first possibility is that the testimony is incorrect – that the events related in the anecdote did not happen.”

That’s only plausible if we grant your hyperskepticism regarding anecdotal/testimonial evidence. I don’t share your hyperskepticism.

For instance, I remember lots of things that happened when I was in junior high or high school. You may call that “anecdotal,” but so what? The fact that it’s anecdotal doesn’t make it unreliable. Do you systematically doubt your own memories?

steve said...

Brian Barrington said...

“Steve, there are probably thousands of miracle-claims made every year. Do you believe all or most of these miracles occured because it would be hypersceptical to regard the testimony as incorrect? Let's take the last 10,000 miracle-claims/supernatural claims made by humans over the last while - claims of moving statues, statues crying milk, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, visits from dead relatives, levitation, predictive feats inexplicable by natural means, mind-reading feats inexplicable by natural means etc. - unless you are prepared to say that you believe all or most of this testimony is correct then that makes you a hypersceptic with regards to human testimony. But I bet you don’t just accept that these miracles all happened just because someone says they witnessed them happening – you are sceptical about the testimony, and rightly so.”

i) That’s grossly simplistic. There are standard criteria for sifting testimonial evidence, viz. C. A. J. Coady, Testimony: A Philosophical Study.

ii) Why do you bring up Marian miracles when my first comment on this thread was to link to lengthy analysis of Fatima?

iii) Likewise, I frequently evaluate the paranormal, viz.

“Regarding the coin-in-the-fish, I'm saying that if something like the event occured (a very big “if”, admittedly) and if there is a natural explanation, then most likely someone put the coin in the fish after it was caught. This is obvious and unless you can come up with a natural explanation that is more likely, I'll take it you agree that this is the most likely natural explanation, if we assume that something like the event occured.”

Since there is zero evidence for your alternative explanation, the onus is not on me to disprove a claim for which you have no evidence. A claim, moreover, that runs counter to the available evidence.

steve said...

Brian Barrington said...

“The only reason I mention Marian miracles is because I personally know honest, intelligent, sane people who claim to have witnessed them - in some cases simultaneously, meaning there were multiple witnesses to these post-mortem appearances of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Marian appearances are so frequent and occur in so many places that I reckon one would have to be a real "hyper-sceptic" to hold that the vast array of testimony we have in relation to this matter is all incorrect.”

Since I linked to my detailed approach to Catholic miracles, your example is moot. A constant problem with our exchange is that you repeat your rote responses, which are always one step (or more) behind the actual state of the argument.

“I'm not asking you to disprove anything - I'm just saying that if something like the coin-in-fish event actually occurred (a big ‘if’) then the most likely natural explanation I can think of is that someone put the coin in the fish after it was caught. If someone draws my attention to a more likely natural explanation then I will change my views on the matter.”

I was never my ambition to change your views. That’s not my responsibility. I can’t reason with unreasonable interlocutors. But I can show how unreasonable they are.

steve said...

One more thing about Brian’s dismissive attitude towards “anecdotes.”

i) Anecdotes can be unreliable if we try to extrapolate from a few isolated anecdotes to a general claim.

ii) On the other hand, if many observers report seeing, say, ball lightning, then it would be irrational to discount their testimony merely because it was anecdotal.

iii) Finally, while it may be unreliable to extrapolate from anecdotes to a general claim, there’s nothing inherently suspect about anecdotal reports of particular events.