Friday, July 31, 2009

Jon Curry's Losing Hand

I've been having a discussion about Jesus' resurrection with some non-Christians at the Stand To Reason blog. The thread has been closed permanently, apparently, as there's now a message at the bottom of the screen saying "The comments to this entry are closed." It was a lengthy thread, consisting of more than one-hundred-fifty posts, covering a large variety of topics related to the resurrection.

Jon Curry has posted some comments about the discussion at his blog. He also takes the opportunity to criticize Steve Hays.

Keep in mind that Jon entered the thread at Stand To Reason after it was well underway. He said that he had only "skimmed" the previous posts. Yet, he decided to comment on the discussion and criticize me for my behavior while commending the person I was having the discussion with, Joe, presumably without having even read all of Joe's posts.

Both men, Jon and Joe, use Jon's latest thread to criticize me, as well as Triablogue in general, for engaging in "personal attacks". Here are some examples of my unacceptable behavior, according to Jon:

I've been having a lot of fun over at str [Stand To Reason] discussing issues related to the initial implausibility of the resurrection and how that affects the believability with Jason Engwer. He indicated at Triablogue that he was over there, so I went to have a look and noticed him insulting a skeptic named Joe in a way that was very typical of him. For instance, just look at the top of the thread here and you'll see him going after Joe personally. "Joe doesn't know much about history. Notice the deep irrationality of Joe's position" etc, etc.

And according to Joe:

I admire your extraordinary patience in dealing with Jason.

Frankly, my encounters with Triabloguers have left me feeling dirty, insulted and frustrated. I've begun to understand the rhetorical tricks that they use ("that's an assertion, not an argument"), but as someone with a science background, it can be a surreal experience to exchange views with people who think that you win arguments by manipulating words. It's also an odd thing to interact with people who take something as absolute truth, simply because it was written down by a human at some distant place and time.

Jon goes on to refer to how an administrator at the Stand To Reason blog "deleted some portions of his [Jason's] post and my portions that had to do with my discussion of him personally". Apparently, it's acceptable for Jon to personally criticize me, but I shouldn't "go after Joe personally".

And while Joe claims that we at Triablogue have left him "feeling dirty, insulted and frustrated", I would suggest that people compare that claim to his behavior in the Stand To Reason thread. Joe's credibility and his concern for representing other people accurately are reflected well in his assessment that those of us on the Triablogue staff "take something as absolute truth, simply because it was written down by a human at some distant place and time".

Here are some examples of Jon Curry's credibility and accuracy:

Jason says that if you were to consider a resurrection claim and part of your background knowledge was that the person was regarded as some sort of messiah and a miracle worker, you would not initially consider the resurrection claim to be unlikely. So, just as a hypothetical, assume Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was believed to be the Messiah and a miracle worker by some Muslims. Assume he was claimed to be risen from the dead a few decades back. Before even considering the evidence we should start with the presumption that this claim is not unlikely. My view is the opposite. It's extremely unlikely. If you agree with Jason I guess you'd be quick to believe that Jesus was likewise raised.

Anybody who has read the discussion at Stand To Reason should know that Jon's description is highly inaccurate. It's wrong on multiple points. I cited Jesus' being regarded as the Messiah, defined by His Jewish context, not just "some sort of messiah". I cited His being regarded as the Messiah and His being regarded as a miracle worker as two examples of relevant background information when judging a prior probability for the resurrection. I repeatedly explained that there was much more data involved. I explained to Jon that "a Christian would argue for far more than the two qualifiers you mention above". It's remarkably inaccurate for Jon to only mention those two factors, then claim that I argued that "you would not initially consider the resurrection claim to be unlikely" because of those two factors.

Jon then goes on to misrepresent a second dispute from the Stand To Reason thread:

Jason has used the example of earthquakes frequently. He says if you'd never heard of one, never seen one, and had no reason to expect one and if you were to stop and consider the likelihood that the ground is about to move you wouldn't initially consider it to be unlikely. I say that you would and if suddenly the ground started moving you'd be shocked. If you didn't experience it yourself but simply heard the report of it you might not believe it, and that would be rational. Jason says no.

I repeatedly explained to Jon that I was addressing whether such an earthquake would be considered extraordinarily unlikely, not just "unlikely". And Jon didn't just suggest that we "might not believe" a report of an unprecedented event like the first earthquake. Rather, he suggested that such an event would be considered extraordinarily unlikely and therefore we should expect extraordinary evidence before believing that the event occurred. (Remember, Jon is defining "extraordinarily unlikely" as something like "1 chance in billions" or the likelihood that the properties of water would change naturalistically.) Why does Jon keep misrepresenting the issues under dispute?

He goes on:

Though a single eyewitness wouldn't be good enough for a murder case, Jason doesn't understand why it wouldn't be good enough for a miracle claim, like perhaps a resurrection. To me the answer is self evident.

Jon has never justified his claim that "a single eyewitness wouldn't be good enough for a murder case", and his assertion that one witness wouldn't be enough for a miracle claim has never been justified. He refers, in the Stand To Reason thread, to murders as more common than miracles. But there's far more involved in judging the prior probability of an event than the frequency of such events in the past. For those who are interested, I address Jon's murder comparison in more depth in my last response to him in the Stand To Reason thread.

All three of Jon's assessments of the discussion in his latest article are inaccurate. Steve Hays' assessment of Jon two years ago remains accurate as a general assessment, though Jon seems to resort to Wikipedia less often than he used to:

"I didn’t expect you to be able to make good on your claims. You’re in way over your head. One of your basic problems is that you initially denied the faith, and then cast about for ex post facto arguments to justify your impetuous and precipitous apostasy. Because you had no good reason to repudiate the faith in the first place, you’re playing a breathless game of catch up to cobble together something resembling an argument....There’s an approach to ancient history based on evidence, and then there’s your approach—in which you wing it from Wikipedia articles. I’ve called your bluff, forcing you to lay your losing hand on the table, face up. Mission accomplished."

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