Saturday, May 13, 2006

Beckthrick in his little box


My attention is often piqued when a Christian apologist insinuates that a proposal under consideration is deemed "unlikely."

Of course, we should not expect any New Testament writer to have come forward to correct the record if in fact any of these alleged eyewitnesses did discover that they were mistaken. But there is an even larger concern here. While we are told that coincidental mass hallucination "seems unlikely," this is stated in the context of a defense of a belief system which tells us that "all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26), that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that dead people rose from their graves (cf. Mt. 27:52-53), that serpents and donkeys and burning bushes speak in human languages, that water was turned into wine by a wish, etc. To assess the likelihood of some event or occurrence under consideration, a thinker, whether he realizes it or not, is making reference to fundamental premises that he holds about the world in general. As some apologists might say, he is "invoking his worldview presuppositions." Greg Bahnsen explains:
presuppositions have the greatest authority in one's thinking, being treated as your least negotiable belief and being granted the highest immunity to revision.(5)

What 'seems likely' to me is that the apologist is not mindfully conscious of his own worldview's basic premises and their implications as they concern the issues on which he makes such pronouncements. He is torn between the premises of the position he wants to defend, and premises he employs in that position's defense: on the one hand, the Christian's position affirms a fanciful, cartoon-like view of the universe where anything the ruling consciousness wishes is not only possible, but the very standard of reality as such; while on the other hand he seeks to dismiss alternatives to his paradigm on the basis that certain elements of those alternatives "seem unlikely." There's a fundamental inconsistency here, one that usually runs along undetected by the believer as he insists on a fantasy while illicitly borrowing from a reality-based worldview. On the basis of my worldview's fundamentals, I can consistently suppose that it is "highly unlikely" that a group of individuals will have the same hallucination, complete with shared uniform details, and for reasons not unlike those which Jason himself has mentioned. For instance, an hallucination is not only an individual and private experience, its distortion of what one perceives is most likely to be influenced by such an enormous number of imperceptible factors that it would be essentially unrepeatable. But if I held to the view that the universe is run by a magic spirit who choreographs all events in human history according to a divine "plan," on what grounds could I confidently say that uniform hallucinatory experiences shared by even enormous numbers of human beings is either "unlikely" or impossible? Blank out.


Although this comment is directed at Jason, it’s also given a general application.

But Dawson’s objection is a cute rather than acute argument.

i) He is confounding psychological probability with metaphysical probability. Whether miracles are likely are not is a metaphysical question.

To draw inferences from metaphysical probability to psychological probability is a category mistake.

Whether inanimate water can turn into inanimate wine is irrelevant to whether the Apostles would die for a lie.

Whether an angel can speak from a burning bush is irrelevant to the implausibility of mass hallucination.

Indeed, to elaborate on that very illustration, which Bethrick brought up, Moses reacts to the burning bush with a very “natural” curiosity.

And his reluctant reaction to the summons of God is amusing to readers precisely because it’s so recognizably realistic, as he flails about for any excuse to escape his calling.

In his initial amazement and subsequence evasiveness we can all see ourselves.

ii) It is also utterly sophistical to accept, for the sake of argument, the God of the Bible, only to turn such a God against his own designs by proposing that he would deceive his own people.

If he would deceive his own people, then we couldn’t trust the depiction of God on which Dawson’s hypothetical is predicated.

The fundamental inconsistency belongs to Dawson, when he cynically floats the trustworthy self-revelation of an untrustworthy God.

If God is untrustworthy, then his self-revelation is untrustworthy, in which case the depiction of a God who can do anything, on which Bethrick bases his hypothetical, is untrustworthy as well. For such a God would be devious in what he says as well as what he does.

So Dawson’s attempt at a clever refutation proves to be self-refuting.

iii) Dawson’s appeal to a “reality-based” worldview is question-begging. What is real? How do we know what is real? There are only two or three ways: by intuition, or observation, or revelation.

Rupert Sheldrake has made a career of investigating natural phenomena which the scientific establishment studiously ignores because such ordinary phenomena are far too extraordinary to slip through its preconceived filter of reality.

Although the parapsychological literature contains a fair amount of fraud, there also remain a fair number of case studies involving hauntings, healings, possession, precognition and the like which are quite resistant to naturalistic analysis.

This sort of thing is routinely ignored or round-filed, not for lack of evidence, but because it cannot be squeezed into the naturalistic little box of secular scientism.

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