Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Seeing is believing

John W. Loftus said:

“My views are not based upon a hasty generalization. My views are based upon every waking moment of my life. I have never seen God's working or his miracles, so I am every bit rational to conclude he didn't work in the past.”

So if Loftus has never seen ball lightning, then it’s rational for him to dismiss the testimony of others to the existence of ball lightening.

“The problem is that I won't live that long, nor have I lived in the past. I can only judge things by what I have experienced in the present. And in the present times miracles do not occur. So I have every right to think they did not occur in the past either, and that claims of them cannot be substantiated with evidence.”

i) Nothing could be more irrational than to make one’s personal experience the yardstick of what’s possible or real.

ii) The only reason Loftus takes such an extreme position is that by excluding all testimony, he can thereby exclude religious testimony.

iii) To claim that miracles don’t happen at present is a bare assertion which disregards a great deal of contemporary testimony to the contrary.

“So tell me, how many events have YOU experienced that require a supernatural explanation?”

This is an arbitrary standard of evidence. A rational rule of evidence is the best available explanation of a given event, not the only explanation or necessary explanation.

Once again, Loftus must resort to special pleading to preempt any evidence that would undercut his atheism.

First he limits probative evidence to his personal experience.

Then he limits probative evidence to only what is absolutely required to account for a given event.

“It's just interesting to me that Christians must argue that ancient people were not as superstitious as they really were, and then they have to downplay our knowledge today, arguing that science isn't solid enough. Do you use a computer?”

i) Of course, Jason never contended that ancient people were not as superstitious as they really were.

ii) Rather, Jason has argued that Loftus exaggerates the gullibility of the ancients.

People are no different today than they were in the past. You have credulous people today, just as in the past.

You have sceptical people today, just as you had in the past.

iii) Why is Loftus appealing to science? Science makes many claims about the past, present, and the future which fall outside the scope of Loftus’ personal experience.

iv) How is computer science relevant to his claim?

There’s a difference between technology and scientific theorizing.

Is science a window onto reality? Hard to say. Science deals with appearances.

It may deal with appearances at the microscopic and macroscopic level, as well as naked-eye observation; it may artificially enhance our sensory perception, but it is still limited to appearances.

It works at the level of appearances. Of phenomenal relations. Of how things appear to the observer.

But that tells us nothing of the degree to which appearance and reality correspond.

“And I can't think of a properly interpreted OT prophecy that unequivicably pointed to the nature or mission of Jesus that wasn't misapplied to him, or that wasn't based upon a nebulous hope of theirs. The so-called messianic psalms, if interpreted correctly by the grammatical-historical method, and not through midrash or pesher, were merely psalms of hope and anguish from the writer's perspective alone.”

This is another blanket claim, shorn of any supporting argument.

“And as far as the superstitious people in the Bible goes, I have done a unique analysis of the Bible in my book (my longest chapter) and found superstitions everywhere. That is, taking the Bible at face value, as you might do, I document the various superstitions among those people. I will post something on our blog from my book today to show you the kind of superstitiousness there is in the people of the Bible. Just ask yourself, is there anything like that in today's world? I'll share only one incident...there are many many many more of these. Here goes....”

Why is Loftus making claims about the past? He has told us on numerous occasions that it is rational for him to disbelieve anything that falls outside the scope of his personal experience.

By definition, events from the distant past fall beyond the purview of his own experience.

Why does he dismiss past (as well as present) testimony to the occurrence of the miraculous while he appeals to past testimony regarding the extent of superstition in the ancient world?

For Loftus, past testimony is reliable if it happens to agree with him, but unreliable if it happens to disagree with him.


  1. I'd like to hear whether or not Loftus believes in life on other planets (my hunch is that he does). If so, let's use his criteria once again:
    1. Has he personally seen it?
    2. Does he have any experience on other planets?

    If not, wouldn't it be rational of him to disbelieve in life on other planets? And wouldn't a belief in life on other planets be irrational?

  2. You guys don't merely see things differently than I do, you really fail to understand what I'm saying. You can misconstrue my thoughts all you want to if it makes you feel good, but you're not dealing with what I believe.

    So if Loftus has never seen ball lightning, then it’s rational for him to dismiss the testimony of others to the existence of ball lightening.

    What I'm saying is that I have never seen an event in my expereience which requires a supernatural explanation--that is, something which science cannot explain based upon the laws of nature.

    i) Nothing could be more irrational than to make one’s personal experience the yardstick of what’s possible or real.

    You don't realize it but you are doing the exact same thing that I am doing. You claim to have personally experienced God, answered prayer, and maybe an astounding event (or even miracle), and so you conclude that since such a thing happened to you that it could happen in the past also. If I'm being irrational (which is a very large claim...the larger the claim the harder it is to defend it) then so are you!

    Maybe Christian theologian I. Howard Marshall is irrational then?

    I. Howard Marshall argued that our particular framework (worldview, or set of presuppositions) and the historical evidence “stand in a dialectical relationship to one another.” “We interpret evidence in light of our presuppositions, and we also form our presuppositions in the light of the evidence. It is only through a ‘dialogue’ between presuppositions and evidence that we gain both sound presuppositions and a correct interpretation of the evidence. The process is circular and unending. It demands openness on the part of the investigator. He must be prepared to revise his ideas in the light of the evidence, for ultimately it is the evidence which is decisive.”

    Okay so far?

    He's right about this. This is the best that a human being can do. But even Marshall admits that while the Christian should be prepared to let his worldview be altered by the evidence, “his world view is part of the evidence, and cannot be simply laid aside.” And while Marshall argues that a modern day personal experience of “the risen Lord” is a “relevant factor” in assessing the historical facts regarding the resurrection of Jesus, “if a person fails to have a personal experience of the risen Lord, this may prove to him that the biblical evidence does not support belief in the resurrection of Jesus.” [I Believe in the Historical Jesus (Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 98-101.)]

  3. What I'm saying is that I have never seen an event in my expereience which requires a supernatural explanation--that is, something which science cannot explain based upon the laws of nature.
    Sure you do, you see it every day, it's called the universe, which science has no explanation for. It's called life, which science has no explanation for. If you claim they do then you obviously don't understand the proper use of the term. Unsupported foundational assumptions are philosophy, not science. Also principles of operation are not an explanation of causes.

  4. Anon, good points, because it is astounding to me that this universe exists. But to call it a miracle is prejudicial in favor of a God. How about we call the existence of this universe strange or unexplainable as of yet. Heidegger said "the fundamental philosophical question is why does something exist rather than nothing at all." That would include your God or the universe. Why does something exist? You can only call it a miracle if you can also explain why it is that an eternal uncreated God exists. but since you can't, then this universe wonderful.

  5. Well, you're either left with an uncaused effect, or a Creator who made it from nothing. Either way it's not natural; hence must be supernatural. Matter does not create itself. So one is left with the problem of the inability of natural laws to explain its existence. If left with a choice between self-generating matter and an intelligent Creator the rational one is decidedly not matter generating itself. That's a pretty big argument in favor of God. So rationally the preference would be in favor of God.

  6. Anon. You believe in an uncaused being who didn't gain his complexity the only way we know how, incrementally, but that he had all knowledge and power and presence as a three in one being. I believe in a quantum wave fluctuation which, while unexplainable, is much simpler. That's what I prefer, especially when it comes to your God who reveals himself in ways we don't understand, demands that we believe or be damned for slighting him even though there isn't enough evidence to believe, and in spite of the fact that he shows no sign of averting the many kinds of sufferings we experience, and even creating some of it (the poisonous plant, spider, snake) and blames all of this misery on us when he created us with such propensities and even knew in advance we'd follow our instincts.

  7. So what you believe is that inanimate matter generated itself, which is not only irrational, but counter intuitive. Matter cannot generate order and it cannot establish laws; universal, physical, moral, or otherwise. It cannot accomplish any of what you claim it can. It can merely exist. It cannot create, nor can it possibly overcome the odds against the random generation of the simplest thing we see. When you get 50 zeros behind a probability it's statistically zero. As in can't happen, won't happen, it's probability is zero. No amount of books claiming we "Climbed Mount Improbable" will make it a real possibility.
    Now it's true you have a preference, and that preference has absolutely nothing to do with reason, logic, or science. And when you claim it does you simply make yourself look foolish. It's because you don't want to deal with the reality of a creator. As to your claims against "my God" they boil down to this, You think that a God who could create the universe ex nihlo (from nothing) should be comprehensible to you, fit your moral view, and should "prevent suffering". Now this fails to recognize a few things, not the least of which is that what you really want is a god who looks like you. Such a desire is silly, and in fact such a god could never be God. You’re back to anthropomorphism, which is what idol worship is. You talk about the gullibility of the ancients, but you’re practicing one of the oldest superstitions, a god in the image of man.
    Then you wish to blame the state of the world on God. In reality it's our fault, or to even personalize it further it's your fault. (and of course mine, and everyone else’s). Then you imply that, “God should fix this!”, but you don't really desire that, cause then you'd be dead and in hell. The real "moral" of Noah is this, if God got rid of all the "bad" people there would be no people. What are you suggesting? That God should have made you an automaton?
    Finally you fail to appreciate the irony of what you're saying, which is essentially "God, protect me from myself". That's the ultimate in laziness and narcissism. "Hey God, how dare you expect me to be responsible for myself, You should do everything for me. How dare You demand anything of me. It's not fair..." That, at it's heart, is the atheists whine. The fact is that there’s plenty of evidence of both God’s existence and nature.
    The laws of the universe scream out “There’s a God”. Further He’s left us a written revelation unlike that of any of the competing claims. But like those who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and still refused to believe the issue is not one of evidence, and never has been. Tell the truth, you are not unique. You’re problem is not one of knowledge or evidence, it’s one of rebellion and anger. It shows with every post you make. Nobody could make the tortured arguments you do unless they are trying to willingly deceive themselves. The problem is not that we don’t understand your arguments, but that we reject them outright. Now lest you think I'm ad homming you that's not my assesment of your state, that's Gods assessment per His word. I pray you genuinely find repentance, because what you are doing, leading others into condemnation, is one of the most wicked things I can imagine. If there is a just God you have a very serious problem, and we both know there is.

  8. See here.

    And since you are praying for my repentence, do you expect God to answer your prayers?...or does it depend upon me? And if it depends upon me, then why bother with the prayers? Thank you for your concern. I only wish your God was as concerned about me as you are. Why would he die for me and then not spend the extra effort to show himself to me? Isn't that strange? You say he did. I say he has not, and I'm at least a good enough psychologist to delve into the inner parts of my brain to say that this is sincerely what I think.