Sunday, April 06, 2014

Do you believe in snow?

I'm going to comment on a post by apostate atheist Hector Avalos:
Craig and other selective supernaturalists (as there are really no individuals that explain everything supernaturally)…

i) By this I take him to be insinuating that Christians are guilty of ad hoc reasoning when it comes to explaining some events by natural causes, but other events by supernatural causes.
And I think some Christians are guilty of this. In my experience, many cessationists are guilty of this. Their default explanation is naturalistic. Because Christianity commits them to belief in Biblical miracles, they make an exception to the rule when it comes to Biblical miracles, but when it comes to extrabiblical miracles, they switch to the same arguments as Hume, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Paul Kurtz, Susan Blackmore, &c. 
ii) There's an interesting parallel between some cessationists and some apostates. Many apostates are ex-charismatics. Many hardline cessationists are ex-charismatics. In both cases, their experience in the charismatic movement led them to become very skeptical about miracles. 
Hector Avaos is, himself, an ex-charismatic. A former boy-preacher and faith-healer. He's simply taken his reactionary skepticism one step further than cessationists who came out of the charismatic movement.
Of course, not all apostates are ex-charismatics, just as not all cessationists are ex-charismatics. But its frequency is striking.
iii) There is, however, nothing inherently ad hoc about a Christian explaining some events by natural causes, and other events by supernatural causes. 
a) Avalos acts as if supernaturalism entails occasionalism, where God is the only agent. If that's his position, then he needs to argue for that inference.
b) The Bible itself narrates a distinction between ordinary providence and miracles which bypass ordinary providence. God has created a world in which many things happen as a result of natural forces or natural processes. Manna from heaven doesn't obviate seedtime and harvest. 
c) Apropos (b), there's an obvious sense in which all events are ultimately the result of supernatural causation. For God created the natural agencies that make most events happen. In that respect, Christians attribute every natural event to divine agency, directly or indirectly. 
The main problem with supernaturalism is its very definition.  No one has any sound idea about what it means or how one would detect it. At least with “natural,” I can define it as whatever can be detected by the use of my five senses and/or logic. So, detection is relatively easy because I can simply ask if I can detect it with: 
A. My natural senses and/or 
B. Logic 
If the answer is YES, then it is natural. 
Supernatural, on the other hand, cannot be detected at all. Apparently, all one is saying is “supernatural = not natural or beyond the natural.” 
But how would one even detect something that cannot be detected by the natural senses and/or logic? 
If I could detect with my natural senses and/or logic, then it would be natural. 
If I cannot detect it with my natural senses and/or logic,  then it is simply undetectable or irrelevant for any explanation of an event I witness, much like undetectable Martians are irrelevant in explaining any event I witness, whether that be a murder or a resurrection.

i) To begin with, he's ruling ESP out of consideration. But that begs the question. There's abundant evidence that some people discern things apart from sensory perception.

ii) He fails to draw an elementary distinction between causes and effects. Even if the cause is imperceptible, it may be detectable or inferable from the effect. This is commonplace. 

Let's play along with his Martian hypothetical. Suppose a Martian space probe fails to detect Martians. If, however, it photographed alien technology on the surface of Mars, we'd be justified in concluding that these artifacts were invented by Martians and left there by Martians. 

iii) He assumes that logic is natural. But physicalists have difficulty grounding logic. Some resort to platonic realism, but that's a last-ditch resort. 

And to say that something is not natural, one would have to be practically omniscient because that would be tantamount to saying that we know all the natural factors that could possibly be responsible for an event, and are claiming to know that none of the factors was responsible. No one has the kind of knowledge, and so consequently no one could ever call anything non-natural.

i) Of course, the reasoning is reversible: to say that something is not supernatural, one would have to be practically omniscient because that would be tantamount to saying that we know all the supernatural factors that could possibly be responsible for an event, and are claiming to know that none of the factors was responsible. No one has the kind of knowledge, and so consequently no one could ever call anything natural.

ii) Moreover, it's not a question of eliminating every conceivable possibility, but what's the best explanation given the specific evidence, which is a case-by-case assessment.

So, even if there were a resurrection, it would not mean that it was not natural rather than due to some unknown natural cause. Unless one can demonstrate the supernatural to exist, then it is not reasonable to attribute anything to a supernatural cause.

That's quite disingenuous. Avalos doesn't believe biblical miracles happened, but explains them naturalistically. Rather, like other atheists, he doesn't believe they happened because he doesn't think events like that can or do happen. He doesn't think they're amendable to a naturalistic explanation. 

Since, the only causes we know are natural…

Begs the question.

Supernatural causes 
God’s activity 
A real resurrection 

Begs the question.

But I have never seen any god or supernatural cause produce a story of a resurrection.

That's confused. The question at issue is not what produced the account of the resurrection, but what produced the resurrection, which–in turn–gave rise to the account. 

So, why should I use a cause I’ve never seen do anything…

Why should a boy in the tropics believe a story about snow? After all, he's never seen it snow. 

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