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Is Faith An Unreliable Epistemology?

Posted on Jan 2, 2014 by Tom Gilson

Though he has yet to respond to mine, which came first in the sequence of our discussions, I’m going to devote some time now to James Lindsay’s “central question, ” which is whether the epistemology of faith is unreliable. The answer is no, because the question is wrong in its premises.

I’ll have to apologize for the length of this post. It takes time to answer a question, when the first step is to explain how the question is built on wrong premises to start with.

He has asked the question more than once, but I think this is the cleanest version to work from:

… I have done so. In fact, that is my central point–the methods of faith are unreliable and so faith is an unreliable way to know.

Now, I suppose Lindsay might expect me to rush immediately to contradict the word “unreliable.” That, however, would be making the mistake of accepting the premise of his question. Right answers do not flow from wrong questions. So while I’m going to answer his question, I’m going to take a different tack than he might have expected, and start with words he would probably not expect me to begin with.

Is An…

I’m going to center my initial response around the shortest two words in Lindsay’s question: “Is a(n).” He says “faith is an unreliable methodology;” that “putting more confidence in a belief than it is worth is exactly the way the word ‘faith; is used:” that “the word faith is used to mean, I don’t have enough evidence etc.”

I don’t have a problem with using a variation of “to be” in those phrases. The problem is in the implication that faith is this and not anything else. For Boghossian, all of faith can be summed up in this, or its variant forms of “belief without evidence” or “pretending to know what one cannot know.” That’s all there is to faith, in his view, and I think also in Lindsay’s view.

This not the first time I have encountered the tendency among atheists to reduce interestingly real multi-dimensional matters down to rhetorically convenient but unrealistic simplicities. It still surprises me when I see it.

It’s as if they were of the opinion that faith is the same thing, and operates the same way, for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, tribal religionists, and Oprah Winfrey. It’s as if they don’t recognize that faith has been an extremely powerful motivating for a large proportion of Western art, music, literature, architecture, morality, and yes, science as well; or if they do recognize it, they think that one univocal understanding of faith covers that, too, along with the faith of all the religions. And it’s also as if they can’t read; for I have explained my analytical response for James repeatedly, and though he hasn’t countered my objections to his view, he still puts it forth as if it were the received wisdom.

Those are some general reflections. More analytically, the idea that “faith is a failed epistemology, etc.” may fit some contexts. Maybe some Christians get it wrong that way. Maybe it’s even normative in some other religion. I have never denied that examples of such could be found. The error is in considering it to be that and nothing else.

… Epistemology

The second point of error in the premises of his question is in calling faith an epistemology.

I do not disagree that faith is sometimes treated as an epistemology. For example: “I know it’s true because I have faith!” This is fideism in its rawest form, and if Lindsay and Boghossian want to complain that it’s a poor way to think about life and reality, they’ll have loads of company from within the ranks of thoughtful Christians. Let’s just stipulate, then, that we agree that this happens. But let’s not suppose that fideism comprises all that can be said of faith!

Catholic Views (Such  As I Know Them)

There is language in some Catholic doctrine that speaks of faith as a way of knowing. I’m not a Roman Catholic, and while I have seen the statements I have not studied them, so I don’t know what they mean in context. I do know this much, however: these statements are traceable to Thomas Aquinas (and I suppose to his predecessors, though as I say I haven’t studied it). Thomas was anything but a fideist. If he said that faith was a way of knowing, he certainly never intended to say that it was the sole way of knowing any of the truths of what we call “the faith.” As I understand it, for him the other side of the coin from reason; and the two together functioned to lead one to some fullness of knowledge of the faith.

So for Roman Catholicism, God is known through other methods than faith, and conversely, faith means much more than a methodology for knowing God. But I will deal no longer with Catholicism, for that’s not who I am nor does their understanding of faith define mine.

One Facet of Faith From a Protestant Perspective

From a Protestant perspective, faith may also be a way of knowing, but far more often it’s an epistemic attitude regarding what is known.

I’ll explain by way of illustration, bringing into the conversation some things that I know as a Christian. James  will want to know how I know these things; in fact, I’m sure he’ll deny that I could know these things. What I want to show with this illustration is that that’s a good question, but  it’s a rather ordinary question of knowledge, not of some mystical “faith” epistemology.

I know these things to be true:

I know that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. I know that he traveled the region as a teacher and a healer, gaining a remarkable reputation for himself until finally he was crucified outside Jerusalem. I know that after his crucifixion his followers had experiences of him that they interpreted as his having been bodily resurrected, and that they held to that belief to the very end, most of them dying for it. I know that the early Jesus movement was opposed by one Saul who converted to Christianity because, on his own account, he too had had an experience with the resurrected Jesus.

I’ll pause a moment now and point out that the prior paragraph contains information that virtually every person with an interest in the topic could and should know, because there is historical consensus on these matters. Both skeptical and believing experts broadly agree with that list.

But I know more than that. I know that the sacrifice Christ made of his life on the cross was a fulfillment of prophecy, and it was at the same time the ultimate expression of self-sacrificial love. I know that through Christ and through other events in Scripture, God proved himself to be a keeper of his word. I know that in his resurrection Jesus Christ showed that death need not be forever. I know that he promised eternal life to those who enter into his living Kingdom through faith.

An Epistemic Attitude of Trust, Not a Methodology

All of those are knowledge claims. The term “faith” entered in to that list very late. When it does come in, faith is about an attitude of trust in the knowable character of God, as revealed in history.

Now, all those claims are testable. They could be true or they could be false; they could be supported evidentially or they could be unsupported by evidences. I have my opinion on that, and James has a different opinion, but the salient fact is that they are claims in the realm of history and of ordinary knowledge.

So then how does faith enter in where it does? Remember, it’s not one-dimensional, so I need to dwell on it a while longer.

One way it enters in is this: knowing that (in history) God has been shown to be a keeper of his word, that death is not necessarily forever, and that he has promised eternal life to those who acknowledge the reality of his promise-keeping character and his power, I have faith that he will grant me eternal life. Faith, here, is an epistemic attitude of (a) recognizing the reality of what is known,  (b) drawing rational conclusions from there regarding the not-yet-knowable, and (c) trusting in God to do according to what he has promised.

Success, Failure: Where’s the Locus?

That’s from my perspective. From James’ perspective, it’s more like this: I have falsely concluded that God is, that he has overpowered death, and that he has made reliable promises that I can experience the benefits of his victory over death. Therefore the faith conclusion that I draw is unfounded.

Now, suppose James is right. What failed, epistemically? It wasn’t “faith.” My faith-conclusion  is an entirely sensible one, given the premises I accept. If anything failed there it was the premises upon which I’ve based my faith. The locus of the failure is not in “faith.” It’s an ordinary-knowledge failure. In fact faith as an epistemology hardly enters in here; it’s an attitude of trust, not a method of gaining knowledge. The vast majority of the epistemic work is done in the realm of ordinary knowledge. Faith comes in only as a conclusion drawn out of the result of that kind of epistemic work.

And frankly I can’t imagine anyone denying the quality of the conclusion, given the premises; for if it could be known to be true that God is a trustworthy promise keeper, that he has promised eternal life to those who believe in him, and he has demonstrated the power to carry out that promise, the faith-conclusion that I can trust him to give me eternal life makes perfectly good rational sense.

In this sense, faith can be defined as drawing rational conclusions about the unknown based on the known. This is why in other contexts I have said that faith goes beyond provable knowledge. It does so, certainly; but it does not do so irrationally.

Some atheists, following in Boghossian’s trail, deny that faith and trust are synonymous, or even nearly so. They say it is just is an epistemology. They are just wrong. As a description of my own religious experience shows, faith is a matter of trusting in the conclusions I draw, starting from ordinary-knowledge premises.

There’s more to faith than that, of course; it’s only one facet of this multidimensional term faith. This view isn’t the least bit unusual or uncommon among thoughtful Christians. It’s part of the word’s definitional package, and it has been ever since “Jesus showed himself alive by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3); or, if you prefer, since the first time someone took it to be true that he said that. It’s part of the  package either way: whether Jesus actually did those things, or someone merely was convinced that he did, still the multi-varied definition of faith includes drawing rational conclusions about the unknown based on the known.

Now, what if no one ever in the history of the world  had any good reason to believe that God is a trustworthy promise-keeper, that Christ appeared alive again bodily after death, or that God made death-defeating promises to us? I’ve already answered that from one angle. The error in that case would be in the realm of ordinary knowledge, not in the faith-conclusion-drawing that follows upon those mistaken beliefs.

But let’s treat this as seriously as we can. If that were the case, then in the illustration I’ve been working from, faith could be described as drawing rational conclusions based on erroneous premises. In that case there would be a failed epistemology, for sure, but it would not be in the faith locus but in the ordinary-knowledge locus.

It’s Time To Give Up One-Dimensional Definitions—Especially Tendentious Ones

There are other facets to faith as well, but let me place a stake in the ground here. This one facet is sufficient to prove that Boghossian’s and Lindsay’s univocal, unidimensional definition fails by way of being falsely circumscribed. Not only that, because they drew their circle around the least rational and defensible variant of “faith,” this suggests that they chose that circle for purposes of rhetorical convenience, not for purposes of promoting or participating in any serious discussion on faith.

It’s false, it’s tendentious, and it’s intellectually irresponsible.

But Are There Evidences For Faith?

To James Lindsay: I suspect you will still want me to answer whether there could ever be evidences for faith, James. I hope you can understand why I had to deal with the premise of the question before I answered the question.

I hope you will also recognize that I’m concentrating on this for a reason. You see, I consider this whole series to be primarily a response to Boghossian, not (pardon me) to you. Boghossian advises in his Manual to avoid facts and to focus on faith as an epistemology.* Following his cue, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

If I were to take a turn toward actually providing specific evidences for faith, I would have to do it in one of two ways. Either I would have to give it a very thorough and comprehensive treatment, which would amount to changing the subject altogether; or I would have to give it a superficial treatment, which would necessarily be weak for its superficiality. It would be attacked, and then defended, and that, too would change the subject.

But realize this: it’s not because of any paucity in the evidences. If you want to know whether there are evidences for faith, there are libraries full of material on it. It’s also not because I have any personal reluctance to discuss evidences. I have a 4500-word  article on the topic, in queue for print publication soon. When that’s the topic I’m writing about, I’m glad to write about it.

But Boghossian didn’t bring any evidences against Christianity, other than his discovery that many Christians don’t know the evidences they can draw upon to support their faith (which of course isn’t evidence against the faith anyway). To answer him by bringing evidences against his non-evidences would be not to answer him at all. It would be changing the subject. So I have chosen so far to remain on the topic of what faith is.

“Why Won’t Tom Gilson Answer My Questions?” Reprised

I think I’ve answered your question in part, but probably not in whole. You’re welcome to ask me follow-on questions, for I am not unwilling to answer you at all—unless your question is, “but what evidence do you have to show for your faith?” If you want to know why I’m not answering that question, please re-read the previous section.

*That may come as a surprise to those who haven’t read the book. That is indeed his recommendation. It is why in other contexts I have said that I think his methods are likely to be effective among people who don’t understand their faith as well as they could.

214 Responses to “ Is Faith An Unreliable Epistemology? ”

  1. BillT says:

    Is this the great demolition of the great demolition of Christian faith. (I see no reason why we shouldn’t keep pace with Boghossian’s hyperbole along with everything else we offer.)

  2. Nic says:

    You say that you ‘know’ that a god has shown itself to fulfill its word, that there is life after death and that this same god has promised you eternal life, and that because of this ‘knowledge’, you can have faith that you have eternal life.

    But, how do you ‘know’ that ‘knowledge’ that you claim there?

    The truth is that you do not, and cannot ‘know’ those things because there is insufficient evidence to prove them either on the balance of probabilities, or beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, you are pretending to know these things. You are believing they are true without proving they are true. I.e. You have faith that they are true. This is a great example of pretending to know what you do not.

  3. Tom,

    You claim that “faith” isn’t an epistemology, but your own bible has Jesus, who you consider to be a deity, directly state that people who believe without good evidence are to be “blessed” in his eyes.

    This one instance renders your argument that “faith” as defined by Christianity doesn’t entail Boghossian’s definition of “belief without good evidence”. By the scriptures you hold to be true your deity commends belief without evidence.

    John 20:24-29

    24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

    But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

    26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

    28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

    29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Apparently, Nic, you misunderstood the whole second-to-last section of this blog post.

    I’m quite convinced that Christian theism stands up very well on the balance of probabilities. You disagree. I understand that.

    You seem to think, however, that, “You are believing they are true without proving they are true,” is equivalent to, “You have faith that they are true,” which is further equivalent to “pretending to know what you do not.”

    Let me ask you this then. Can you prove that “You are pretending to know what you do not” is equivalent to, or follows necessarily from, or is otherwise justified by the premise “You are believing they are true without proving they are true” ?

    The floor is yours. The burden of proof is, too.

    Until then, you stand accused of pretending to know what you do not.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter-apologist, you, too, missed an entire section of the OP. It’s the part headed by, “Is An … ”

  6. Tom,

    No, I didn’t miss it. That section is immaterial to the point I’m making and I’ll explain why.

    Regardless of how you attempt to define faith, we can both agree that Boghossian is attacking the act of “believing something without good evidence” or to use the more specific definition you were discussing: “faith gives a higher confidence value to certain articles of religious belief than are warranted by the evidence”.

    FWIW, that is what I should have written above, so as to avoid a rather pedantic “has no evidence” where just a simple claim to something by anyone, no matter how extravagant the claim can count as evidence.

    My point is that your religion, the person you think is a deity, explicitly states that people who believe in this way are “blessed”.

    You say that this isn’t all faith is, but if that is a definition of faith, and that specific action itself is commended by your deity – then I’m not seeing much of your defense.

    Christianity does commend belief without good evidence, it says so right in John 20:24-29

  7. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    From James’ perspective, it’s more like this: I have falsely concluded that God is, that he has overpowered death, and that he has made reliable promises that I can experience the benefits of his victory over death. Therefore the faith conclusion that I draw is unfounded.

    You say “falsely concluded” but I don’t think that’s the argument of either Lindsay or Boghossian. Not ‘falsely’ but ‘over-confidently,’ perhaps, or ‘prematurely.’

    One might conclude that God is, and one might do so because so-and-so seems like a righteous dude, but this is a conclusion based on emotional attachment to so-and-so rather than an epistemic experience. Besides, there needs to be more than just one person ‘knowing’ that God is. Shouldn’t people be able to access God via faith (in the multi-dimensional way you mean faith) and get to roughly the same conclusions about what God is and is not? All sorts of people with gobs of sophisticated faith and philosophy cannot agree on God, on gods, on God’s wives, rivals, children, enemies, avatars, and so forth. Even within Christianity–even within this very blog–ask about what God is and wants, and we’ll get very different answers. Almost as if each individual were projecting their own values and desires into a God-idea.

    In any case, I don’t think anyone is accusing a person of faith of being false or deceptive, and it’s important to remember this because it unnecessarily creates a sense of conflict in a place there isn’t one. Ultimately, the question is one of what we can claim to know, and know with complete or near certainty, and what we claim to know but really don’t.

    Based on the OP, there’s nothing solid to bolster a claim of knowing God is, whether through faith, philosophy, or desire.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter-apologist, do you concede that Boghossian is wrong to claim that his definitions of faith are the only accurate ones? It sounds to me like you might be saying that. Let’s tackle that, and then we can move on.

  9. Crude says:

    Counter,

    My point is that your religion, the person you think is a deity, explicitly states that people who believe in this way are “blessed”.

    You say that this isn’t all faith is, but if that is a definition of faith, and that specific action itself is commended by your deity – then I’m not seeing much of your defense.

    This doesn’t work, Counter. For one thing, Thomas had evidence – he had testimony, from multiple sources that were trustworthy. He would have known the works and miracles of Christ from the past.

    So right out of the gates, there’s no endorsement in belief without evidence even in the example you cite. Evidence is had.

    Christianity does commend belief without good evidence, it says so right in John 20:24-29

    No, it doesn’t. You’re interpreting it to believe as much because you don’t believe the evidence Thomas had was ‘good evidence’, but that’s not an easy position to hold in context. What’s more, what you’d need here to support your claim is evidence showing that *Christ* thought that the evidence Thomas had was ‘bad’ but that he should have believed anyway. If Christ thought – even incorrectly, though I don’t think it’s incorrect – that the evidence Thomas had was good, then your move still fails.

    But there’s another problem here. My understanding – perhaps I am wrong – is that Boghossian claims that faith is belief without evidence. That’s not supported whatsoever by the biblical quote you’ve provided. Arguing ‘Well I think that evidence is bad’ doesn’t help out Boghossian here – he’s defining faith as belief without evidence.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Right. I’m still awaiting CA’s answer to whether he agrees that Boghossian’s claim is wrong, but since Crude picked up the ball I’ll carry it a bit further.

    Let’s look at what happened in John 20:24. Thomas insisted on a particular kind of evidence, and rejected another: the message of friends he had walked with for years, whose testimony he chose not to trust. This in spite of that which Crude has already mentioned: Jesus’ proven ability to do miraculous works.

    So what exactly is Jesus blessing when he says “blessed are those who have not seen but believe”? He’s blessing every Christian except for the first few hundred who saw him. He’s not blessing Christians who have believed on the basis of zero evidence, but Christians who believe on the basis of some other evidence. In the case of the second generation of believers, that evidence would be the testimony of those who actually saw. It would be the evidence of their changed lives, their courage, their consistent character, their care for the widows and the poor, their love for others not even of their own party, their testimony of the risen Christ, and so on. This is not lack of evidence.

    And for believers today, the exact same evidences are available, except that the first generational testimony is written rather than delivered face-to-face, and it requires some further evidence to support the idea that it contains first-generation testimony. This, too, is not evidence-free belief: but it is exactly what Jesus blessed there.

    Anyway, Counter-Apologist, apart from that, do you agree that Boghossian is wrong to limit his definition the way he does?

  11. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    In the case of the second generation of believers, that evidence would be the testimony of those who actually saw. It would be the evidence of their changed lives, their courage, their consistent character, their care for the widows and the poor, their love for others not even of their own party, their testimony of the risen Christ, and so on. This is not lack of evidence.

    No, this is not lack of evidence, but is it all or even most of the evidence?

    What about contradictory testimony?

    What about those who changed lives, but then backslid? What about those whose lives were changed by experiences that were not godly or religious? What about those who changed lives but not within a Christian paradigm?

    What about the courage, consistent character, and human caring of those who are non-religious Christians, or of other religions, or even atheists?

    How do these all factor in?

  12. Crude says:

    Sorry if I screwed up the approach you were going for, Tom! Just jumping in as things seem relevant.

    It’s also worth noting what John was asking for here. He didn’t want mere ‘good evidence’. He was making what comes across as an almost mocking request to be able to put his fingers in the wounds of Christ to satisfy his standard. (Evidence, by the way, that PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, and apparently Richard Dawkins would still reject – on their own terms.)

    The desire for evidence isn’t what’s being criticized.

  13. Crude says:

    No, this is not lack of evidence, but is it all or even most of the evidence?

    Sure it is.

    What about contradictory testimony?

    What about it? Contradiction doesn’t make evidence ‘not evidence’.

    What about those who changed lives, but then backslid? What about those whose lives were changed by experiences that were not godly or religious? What about those who changed lives but not within a Christian paradigm?

    It’d depend on the context.

    Were you expecting this to be easy?

  14. Larry Tanner says:

    Were you expecting this to be easy?

    Expecting what to be easy? I think saying (agreeing, even) that there’s lots of evidence and then asking how it all gets factored together makes for an interesting discussion.

    Do you have a different point?

  15. Crude says:

    Expecting what to be easy? I think saying (agreeing, even) that there’s lots of evidence and then asking how it all gets factored together makes for an interesting discussion.

    It does. Simply a different one.

    And one Bog needs to remove his (apparently, intentionally placed) blinders to have a chance at having.

  16. Tom,

    To answer your question correctly, no. I have quibbles with his rhetoric in terms of “Pretending to know what you don’t know”, though I see what he means by it, but in the context of religion, he is correct that faith is believing something without good evidence. As I pointed out in my post on the subject your attempts at interpreting your way out of problematic passages in Hebrews 11 don’t work. However, what you’ve written there will be problematic for the way you’re attempting to interpret your way out of John 20:24-29 (I’ll get to it in a minute).

    Tom/Crude,

    The testimony of even a friend claiming that someone has rose from the dead is not good evidence. Especially not in the case where you all just experienced a traumatic event where your trusted teacher is the person who was just tortured to death publicly.

    You can try to appeal to Jesus’s miracles, but that doesn’t work because Jesus was dead in Thomas’s view. Thomas’s prior experience and his experience in his scriptures, dead people stay dead and don’t work any miracles, even if they did in life.

    However, your past writings on faith undermine your attempt to skirt away from John 20:24-29 illustrating your god commending belief without good evidence.

    Elsewhere you wrote about the “faith” being based on good evidence – you specifically reference contemporary miracles and signs as this good evidence.

    So when Thomas asks for the actual evidence you would have to admit is good evidence, it’s in fact the best kind of evidence we can ever get – direct empirical observation.

    So even if Thomas had the (poor) evidence of testimony, even from his friends, then John 20:24-29 is necessarily lowering the bar of evidence required for belief. And here we’re going from the best kind of evidence to what is regarded as some of the worst, especially in terms of extraordinary claims.

    I can get testimony from otherwise nice, decent people, groups of them, about UFO’s. There are still people alive in India who claim to have witnessed the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba. There are multiple independent attestations to the miracles of Joseph Smith. I don’t think you believe in any of those claims – because testimony isn’t good evidence to validate extraordinary claims. Our society knows this, which is why Boghossians book has bite.

    Further, why would any deity who supposedly desires a relationship with us not provide us with the best kind of evidence possible to show that it exists? I don’t know about how you’d answer that question, but the answer I’ve gotten, time and time again from other believers, is that god wants us to have “faith”.

    I’ve written elsewhere that miracles can be as well established empirically as anything else we can establish empirically. Once I get that kind of evidence, I don’t need “faith” anymore, I’d have evidence.

    Mea Culpa: I EDITED for some extra clarity.

  17. Nic says:

    Tom,

    If you believe that you ‘know’ something, but that something has not met it’s burden of proof – then you cannot ‘know’ this thing to be true, you can only believe it to be so. This is a leap of faith – when your confidence that something is true goes beyond the warrant of the evidence.

    If you state then, as you do, to know something which has not been proven to be true on reliable evidence, you are mistaken, or pretending to know.

    Then the discussion turns to ‘what is reliable evidence’, and what is ‘proof’. Your view of what constitutes reliable evidence will then dictate whether you decide that something has been proven. This is a separate discussion so I won’t address it here, except to say that we must be acutely aware of our biases in subjective evaluations of what evidence us reliable and whether there is sufficient of it to constitute proof. Some objective way to analyze these is needed to prevent our biases from affecting the exercise. Are your ‘proofs’ of Christianity, based on reliable evidence and free from bias? How can you be sure? What objective methods have you used, to rule out bias? Did you seek to disprove your pre-existing beliefs also? If you do, as you say, have conclusive proof that a god exsits, there is life after death and so on, this ‘proof’ will be the first and YOU, yes you, will be the first person ever to prove it. Bon chance.

  18. jwds says:

    A miscellany:
    1. Testimony is as basic to epistemology as obervation. See, e.g., Coady’s philosophical work on testimony, or just think of a list of basic facts and see how many are based on testimony (date of birth, how your parents met, the existence of any place or people you”ve never traveled to, all the events of history, the results of all the scientific experiences you haven’t personally conducted…)
    2. In Jn. 20, the Thomas passage leads directly into vv. 30-31, which puts forth the author’s purposes in the book. Notice that v. 31 says that “these things have been written so that you may believe…” Clearly, this is talking about believing based on Jesus’ actions as recorded. Thus, Jesus’ final words to Thomas help to set this up, so that John’s readers see that they participate in the new life in Christ, through what they know in the Gospel (see also the opening of 1 Jn. for similar emphasis).
    3. Further, “blessed (are) those who X” does not “praiseworthy are those who do X because they do X.” Compare Matt. 5:3-11, and read TDNT on what makarios means.
    4. The point of Heb. 11 is forward looking–note 10:36-39, esp. 39 where faith is contrasted not with sight or reason, but with shrinking or turning back, and 12:1-2, where the emphasis is on the readers also forging ahead in the face of difficulty. Also, notice that what is by faith is almost always an action, often a very difficult and demanding one. Thus, the emphasis is on the strength of the conviction, as demonstrated by the heroic actions of those inspired by faith. So, the point here is ethical, not epistemological, about the strength of faith and what actions it leads to, not where faith comes from or is based in, and doesn’t actually focus on the issue folks are trying to make it answer to. (11:3 may be an exception, and it parallels the visible evidence to unseen reality–here the historical event of the beginning of the universe–found in Rom. 1:19-20, so it’s still not evidence-free).

  19. Crude says:

    Counter,

    The testimony of even a friend claiming that someone has rose from the dead is not good evidence. Especially not in the case where you all just experienced a traumatic event where your trusted teacher is the person who was just tortured to death publicly.

    I’m sorry, but are you really evaluating the situation Thomas was in based not only on a naturalistic worldview, but also a modern theory of psychology AND some kind of imported, bizarre epistemology?

    Do I really have to explain how radically your response here fails, considering your initial focus here was arguing what is taught by the Bible itself, and God directly via said Bible?

    You can try to appeal to Jesus’s miracles, but that doesn’t work because Jesus was dead in Thomas’s view. Thomas’s prior experience and his experience in his scriptures, dead people stay dead and don’t work any miracles, even if they did in life.

    Not really, considering Lazarus. Likewise Jesus was not even ‘just another human’ even by Thomas’ understanding – and even if you want to put Jesus’ status into the questionable column, there’s still another agent (started with a capital G, there’s a hint) available to work a miracle in this situation.

    So when Thomas asks for the actual evidence you would have to admit is good evidence, it’s in fact the best kind of evidence we can ever get – direct empirical observation.

    And this is where you give away the game. The problem with Thomas was he was making an unreasonable request for evidence – it was not necessary evidence for him to justifiably believe. Now, you can argue that Thomas did not have adequate evidence to believe Christ was resurrected, but considering you’re arguing from a Biblical point of view (which means granting God’s existence, granting Christ’s miracles, granting the raising of Lazarus, etc), all that means is that – contra Boghossian – you’re conceding that evidence was available for the belief. You are now falling back to arguing that the evidence is inadequate… and frankly, considering how much you’re granting right from the start (Necessarily, remember, because the entire thrust of your argument on this point) you’re not going to be able to pull off what you need to.

    So even if Thomas had the (poor) evidence of testimony, even from his friends, then John 20:24-29 is necessarily lowering the bar of evidence required for belief.

    Sure is. And it’s irrelevant, because for any given hypothetical piece of evidence, it’s entirely possible to raise the bar higher. John could have responded to Jesus’ appearance and letting him put his fingers in his wounds with ‘Okay, now perform some miracles! Prove you’re really Jesus!’ It never ends. The fact that some evidence is accepted which falls short of another hypothetical bit of evidence does not make lowering the bar condemnable in and of itself.

    I don’t think you believe in any of those claims – because testimony isn’t good evidence to validate extraordinary claims. Our society knows this, which is why Boghossians book has bite.

    First, Boghossian defines faith as ‘belief with no evidence’. That’s, frankly, flat out dishonest in his presentation of faith – he is, put simply, a liar if he is saying this, and I believe he is. And in that case, Boghossian’s book doesn’t have any bite. You believe that your formulation, which runs *counter* to Boghossian’s claims, has bite. That’s not much of a defense of Boghossian.

    Second, as has been stated, Thomas – in the context of the Bible – had more than testimony available. He had knowledge and experience of Christ, which if we grant what you’re granting, includes direct knowledge of miracles, acts of God, etc. So your entire criticism dies on the vine here – Thomas had more evidence available to him than simply testimony right from the start, and the disciples clearly believed they had *good* evidence – in light of what they had experienced and seen, among other things, to believe in the risen Christ. Which means your initial claim that the Bible itself teaches, expressly, to ‘believe on poor evidence’ fails, because that would require them to believe that THEY were believing with bad evidence. But they did not.

    Further, why would any deity who supposedly desires a relationship with us not provide us with the best kind of evidence possible to show that it exists?

    First because your ‘best kind of evidence’ is question begging – it’s not ‘the best kind’, nor have you demonstrated that it is. You’ve simply provided evidence that you personally would prefer. That’s not saying much.

    Second, because it’s not necessary, either in the sense of intellectual willfulness, or – historically – in the sense of actually establishing a relationship. That’s beyond dispute.

    Third, because even ‘the best kind of evidence’ still wouldn’t be good enough for many. Hence you have Peter Boghossian, when asked what evidence would convince him that God exists, names absurd and extreme miracles – and even then simply concludes that they would be ‘suggestive’ but that naturalistic explanations would be possible. Hence Richard Dawkins, when asked what evidence would convince him of God’s existence (after a career talking about inadequate evidence, implying strongly he’d just believe if there were good evidence), finally concedes that he can’t think of evidence that would convince him. In front of Boghossian! Whose entire bit is not having ‘certainty’ and being open to being convinced! And Bog lets it slide with a smile! Hence PZ Myers and Michael Shermer explaining away any evidence in principle *in advance*.

    I want to stress a few things here.

    * I’d like you to concede that you’re misrepresenting Boghossian, or show me where he changed his mind. Last I saw, he defined faith is belief without evidence. No talk of ‘adequate’. His position on faith is that it’s belief without evidence.

    * I’d like you to concede that Dawkins, Myers and Shermer have all either said that no evidence could convince them, or that they couldn’t think of any evidence that would convince them of God’s existence. I think, in light of what you’re saying about God and evidence, if you truly believe that then you must necessarily conclude that PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and quite possibly Peter Boghossian themselves have irrational positions, by your own terms regarding belief in God and evidence.

    Edit: You say,

    Once I get that kind of evidence, I don’t need “faith” anymore, I’d have evidence.

    But in your own comments section, you concede that you’d require faith. You simply think you’d ‘need less’ of it. That’s problematic itself, but I just wanted to point that out.

  20. Billy Squibs says:

    This one instance renders your argument that “faith” as defined by Christianity doesn’t entail Boghossian’s definition of “belief without good evidence”. By the scriptures you hold to be true your deity commends belief without evidence.

    John 20:24-29

    Our friend Dirkvg had the same understanding of this passage. (I wish I could remember in which post we discussed it.) In a (charitable) sense it’s understandable that the sceptic would read it in a negative light. After all, “faith” is bunk, right? However, I believe that such a reading is incorrect; it’s myopic and it totally ignores the back-story. (I’ve not had a chance to read the responses to CA’s understanding of this passage yet so perhaps I’m jumping the gun.)

    I think that the following are uncontested given John’s account.

    1) Thomas had privileged access to Jesus for several years
    2) and in that time had seen him do may miracles
    3) he had been present when Jesus spoke (perhaps cryptically) of his own death and resurrection
    4) he had heard the testimony of his friends and compatriots that Jesus was no longer dead
    5) he finally stated that he would only believe under a particular condition

    I think that the meaning of John 20 is clear. Jesus is admonishing Thomas for not believing despite all the unique evidence he had access to. He is saying, “For shame, Thomas! You knew me and saw all the incredible things I did. Well, there will be others who wont know me in the same way you do and they wont have seen the same things you have. Yet they will still believe. And you know what, Thomas? More power to them. Now do you still want to stick your fingers in my wounds?”

    Even if one rejects this back-story and instead favours reading only the standalone verse of John 20:29 – the verse that is apparently so damning in the eyes of the sceptic – the more incredible I think it is that it can be understood as a command to believe without evidence. Are people suggesting that the only evidence is for Jesus is seeing Jesus?

  21. Crude says:

    By the way. This may have been brought up before, but I just wanted to make a point about Boghossian’s dishonesty about ‘faith’.

    Boghossian, first off, dishonestly presents ‘faith’ as ‘belief without evidence, or when contradicted by evidence’, or feigning knowledge. Well, there’s ample evidence that Boghossian’s definition of faith is incorrect, and he provides very little evidence – in fact, possibly no evidence – that his definition is what is meant by Christians. He certainly pretends to know that his is the correct and best definition.

    Which puts Bog in the position of engaging in faith on his views about faith.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    CA,

    I’m sorry, but your critique of my treatment of Hebrews 11:1 avoids the great majority of the relevant context. The best way I can show that is through a direct quote:

    What the Bible Says

    The primary piece of scripture that an atheist appeals to which defines faith as “belief without evidence” is Hebrews 11:1…

    You represent your critique as being based on “what the Bible says,” but you quote only Hebrews 11:1, 2, and 6, and John 20:24-29. You briefly mention the rest of Hebrews 11 and Psalm 106.

    That, my friend, is not enough to know “what the Bible says.”

    In your treatment of Hebrews 11 you cherry-picked your examples, not including Moses who was given abundant evidences (see Exodus chapters 3 and 4, and chapter 7 through about 20 or so–evidences continue throughout, though later in the book there’s considerable exposition of law as well.

    You skipped Joshua (ref. vs. 30), who had seen ample demonstrations of God’s power. Rahab had heard of it as well, as had all the inhabitants of Canaan at the time. Well, actually you didn’t skip Joshua; you just skipped everything that he had experienced prior to the conquest: for his faith was active before the conquest, based on what he had already seen. You got that part wrong. Same with Moses, in spades.

    You skipped Gideon, who was given direct evidence of God’s reality.

    edited: see below

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    Nic @#17, I’m sorry, but that was no proof.

    The floor is still yours, and the burden of proof still is, too. Do you recall the question?

    Let me ask you this then. Can you prove that “You are pretending to know what you do not” is equivalent to, or follows necessarily from, or is otherwise justified by the premise “You are believing they are true without proving they are true” ?

  24. Billy Squibs says:

    … yet somehow you managed to find a couple places where it could be interpreted otherwise, and you try to tell us that’s the only way it’s presented in the Bible.

    Well said. Though I don’t imagine that even the mere possibility that you are correct will be given much consideration.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    I had a very long section in my comment to CA on the sensus divinitatus. I just realized there’s a much easier way to say it, so I deleted that section. I’ll post the revised version in a moment. It will still include the quote that Billy Squibs just used.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Revised ending to my last comment for Counter Apologist

    Concerning the sensus divinitatus you falsely conclude that it must be the same sort of thing Abraham and others experienced in the Bible. That’s not the case, because whereas they were receiving new, specific, propositional information, in my case and most other Christians’, it’s a sense of the presence of God and the rightness of his existing propositional revelation.

    You might still consider that problematical, I’m sure. Voices in the head are unreliable, and Mormons report the same experience. But your reference to this question was in the context of your critique of Hebrews 11. Let’s go back to Abraham. He apparently heard a voice in his head — or more likely, see Genesis 12:7, a direct encounter, an appearance, possibly in the form of “the Angel of the Lord” — telling him he would be a father to many nations, and that his offspring would last for thousands of generations.

    Was he wrong?

    No.

    Was it wrong for him to trust that voice in his head? Obviously not, as ensuing events showed.

    That is, he wasn’t wrong unless there’s a general principle, “voices in the head ought never be trusted, since they’re not reliable.” And a very good general principle that is, except it leaves out something.

    Suppose God wanted to impress himself upon your mind in such a way that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he had done so. Could he do that? Is that within his powers? If you say no, then you’re begging the question against the possibility of a God who created not only humans but also human minds, human communication, and human understandings of truth. You are saying there exists no God whose self-expressive skills are strong enough to override your prior beliefs on this matter.

    Would God do that to you? I doubt he would unless you would welcome it, for he is not that sort of intruder. But to deny that he could do it is to beg the question. And it follows from that, that to deny that he did it in Abraham is also to beg the question. Your argument there has no standing.

    *****

    And now, having navigated through all of that, we come around to a conclusion. You have not shown that Boghossian is correct in believing that faith is always belief without evidence. Your attempts to do so are based on biblical passages that are cherry-picked and/or misread, based in their context. Evidence-based belief is encouraged on page after page after page of the Bible, yet somehow you managed to find a couple places where it could be interpreted otherwise, and you try to tell us that’s the only way it’s presented in the Bible.

    Amazing.

  27. Nic says:

    Hi Tom,

    You are dismissing my comments as incorrect without giving any justification. In your terminology “the floor is still yours” , unless ignoring evidence and arguments which contradict your current beliefs is your M.O. – a textbook demo of Cognitive Bias .

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m sorry, Nic, but your “proof” wasn’t a proof. It didn’t even really address the question I had asked you. If it had I could work with it, examine its strengths and weaknesses, and so on. But it didn’t come close enough even to do that. All it was, really, was a restatement of your previous statement. And I didn’t say your statements were incorrect. I said they weren’t a proof.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s manifestly and multiply obvious that it’s not my M.O. to ignore evidence and arguments that contradict my beliefs. Who started this discussion on this blog about Boghossian, after all?

  30. JAD says:

    Counter-apologist,

    Regardless of how you attempt to define faith, we can both agree that Boghossian is attacking the act of “believing something without good evidence” or to use the more specific definition you were discussing: “faith gives a higher confidence value to certain articles of religious belief than are warranted by the evidence”.

    Aren’t the advocates of SETI pretending to know what they don’t know? I mean, what evidence do we presently have that life of any kind, let alone intelligent life, exists anywhere else in the universe?

    The same question could be asked of those who believe that other universes exist– the so called “multiverse theory.” What evidence do they have?

    At present we have NO evidence that life, or intelligent life, exists else where in the universe and we have NO evidence that other universes exist.

    What does Boghossian have to say about about these kind of beliefs? (anyone?) What do you have to say about these kind of beliefs? Or, do they get a pass because of the pretension that they are “quasi-scientific”?

    Isn’t that a double standard?

  31. Crude,

    I’m sorry, but are you really evaluating the situation Thomas was in based not only on a naturalistic worldview, but also a modern theory of psychology AND some kind of imported, bizarre epistemology?

    I am emphatically not evaluating Thomas’s situation in a naturalistic worldview and not in light of modern psychology. Are you telling me that in ancient times they weren’t aware that some people who were distressed would make ridiculous claims?

    I don’t even need the part where they were in distress to make my point (though in light of modern understanding, their testimony is even more suspect). Testimony is not enough to justify claims that wildly violate our background knowledge (prior probability in Bayesian terms). If I told you I just got back from shoveling out our walkway and cars you’d probably think that was a reasonable claim if I also told you I live in the Northeast US. If I told you I just got back from a vacation on the planet Mars, you’d doubt that claim.

    In terms of Thomas’s understanding as a first century Jew, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and in the context of his beliefs, the Messiah wasn’t supposed to be killed by the oppressive authorities who were ruling over the Jews. Especially not in such a publicly humiliating way, being convicted of blasphemy by the Jewish religious leaders.

    Further, there’s quite a big difference in witnessing signs and wonders, even Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and then having Jesus bring himself back to life after Jesus himself was dead. I’m not denying that Thomas would believe it possible that Yahweh would raise Jesus from the dead, but he and the other disciples most certainly weren’t expecting it. I’m still working well within “internal critique” mode.

    The self-resurrection is something extraordinarily different than the prior works that he (supposedly) witnessed, and so wanting what is unequivocally good evidence to believe it is certainly warranted in his situation. Note that I’m still granting the other stuff per my internal critique. Note that per Thomas’s scriptures, believers in other deities were able to perform their own signs and wonders (Pharaoh’s advisors and sorcerer’s confronting Moses turning a staff into a snake, etc.).

    So in light of the fact that false prophets could also perform miracles, and that contrary to all of Thomas’s prior assumptions the Messiah was humiliatingly executed as a criminal – my critique most certainly does not die on the vine.

    In addition I’ve pointed out other claims (that I’ll address in my later reply to Tom) that the bible absolutely does teach this – Noah, Abraham, etc.

    I would also like to point out right here exactly how you’re making my own case for me, even if I granted your argument regarding the Doubting Thomas story. Notice how you necessarily appeal beyond their testimony, to Thomas’s witness of miracles. That’s exactly what Tom does in other areas when discussing faith as well.
    Even if I granted your arguments (and I don’t), then the faith you have (or at least that you’re claiming other people should have) is most certainly not the same kind of faith that they had in that context. We don’t have any direct evidential access to miracles. All we have is testimony, and if we’re going to go on testimony then we’ve got evidence for all sorts of gods and supernatural agents, not to mention aliens, bigfoot, and a host of other paranormal phenomenon.

    First, Boghossian defines faith as ‘belief with no evidence’. That’s, frankly, flat out dishonest in his presentation of faith – he is, put simply, a liar if he is saying this, and I believe he is. And in that case, Boghossian’s book doesn’t have any bite. You believe that your formulation, which runs *counter* to Boghossian’s claims, has bite. That’s not much of a defense of Boghossian.

    Boghossian certainly uses the rhetoric of “faith is belief with no evidence”, but he absolutely goes on at length to his point being that faith is “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”. He explains what his argument is to get around the most pedantic of objections that “well this testimony (that violates all of my background knowledge) counts as evidence” in a trivial sense.

    First because your ‘best kind of evidence’ is question begging – it’s not ‘the best kind’, nor have you demonstrated that it is. You’ve simply provided evidence that you personally would prefer. That’s not saying much.

    Direct empirical evidence isn’t the best kind of evidence? You really need me to justify that epistemically speaking science is the best thing we’ve got going for us? The entire history of science, the very equipment we’re using to communicate right now, testify to the fact that science, which is based entirely around direct empirical evidence, is the best thing we’ve got going. In the history of science, the only thing that’s ever disproved science is more science. The record speaks for itself, it provides mountains of evidence on the success of science to help us correctly understand reality and use it to our advantage.

    Second, because it’s not necessary, either in the sense of intellectual willfulness, or – historically – in the sense of actually establishing a relationship. That’s beyond dispute.

    Beyond dispute? It’s most certainly necessary in terms of intellectual willfulness. Testimonial evidence is cheap and wildly available for an amazing number of religious/paranormal claims. The story absolutely confirms that it is required for some people: “Because you have seen me, you have believed”. Thomas needed that to believe, and he was given it. If Yahweh desires for people to believe, and there most certainly are people who would believe like Thomas if they saw direct evidence of miracles, then Yahweh can provide the same courtesy to the rest of us.

    Further, I’ll reiterate my point that every time you or Tom reference faith in terms of evidence it’s in terms of the direct empirical evidence of miracles. This sort of direct evidence of a miracle is required to make Tom’s entire point about “faith” having “good evidence”.

    Third, because even ‘the best kind of evidence’ still wouldn’t be good enough for many

    I’ve written that it most certainly would be good enough for me, and I’d wager there are many more like me than there are like other atheists who claim there is no evidence that could convince them.

    For the record I would repudiate any atheist who says they’d withhold belief given the criteria I’ve laid out in my blog post. That said, I certainly can’t call their positions irrational, since in most of my dealings with Christian apologists the only evidence they’d accept against their beliefs (ala Plantinga) is if an internal contradiction was shown in their axiomatic acceptance of god’s existence. If that holds, then axiomatic acceptance of naturalism is similarly rational. I don’t agree with axiomatic acceptance of theism or naturalism at all, but I also find arguing “rationality of theism (or naturalism)” to be almost pointless given longstanding problems in epistemology and the moves apologists make in this area, but that’s its own conversation. (I edited here for clarity).

    However, since you’re requesting we repudiate “big names” that represent our respective positions, will you now repudiate say William Lane Craig who also says there’s no evidence that could ever be presented that would change his mind that Christianity is true? So far as to say that if he had a time machine and witnessed Jesus’s death and saw no resurrection after waiting outside the tomb, he’d still believe Christianity was true. You can’t appeal to things like the Sensus Divinatatus or an “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” without pretending to know things you don’t’ know since other religions claim the same kind of revelation of certainty, and the presence of good evidence that humans of all kinds have over-active agency detection which can account for the contradictory notions of “personal revelation” that almost all religions claim to have.

    I’ve already addressed how you’ve misrepresented Boghossian’s point.

    But in your own comments section, you concede that you’d require faith. You simply think you’d ‘need less’ of it. That’s problematic itself, but I just wanted to point that out.

    This was explicitly in reference to our own good Tom Gilson’s posts that define faith as some way to evaluate evidence and come to an inductive conclusion. I disagree with that framing of “faith” as well, but my statement there is that is its own kind of internal critique. I explicitly said that:

    “if that was what “faith” is, then it would still take faith to believe in light of these miracles, though obviously far far less than it takes to believe in the historical account of miracles that we have to evaluate today in a universe where it appears no miracles seem to happen.”

    This is why even if Yahweh provided miraculous evidence, one isn’t “forced” into believing as a violation of free will.

    It’s a response that is particularly effective against the Frank Turek style apologetics in “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” In that case, faith is used in a way that having less faith is the better epistemic position. BTW, will you now repudiate Frank Turek given how he uses faith in his apologetics?

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter Apologist:

    However, since you’re requesting we repudiate “big names” that represent our respective positions, will you now repudiate say William Lane Craig who also says there’s no evidence that could ever be presented that would change his mind that Christianity is true? So far as to say that if he had a time machine and witnessed Jesus’s death and saw no resurrection after waiting outside the tomb, he’d still believe Christianity was true. You can’t appeal to things like the Sensus Divinatatus or an “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” without pretending to know things you don’t’ know since other religions claim the same kind of revelation of certainty, and the presence of good evidence that humans of all kinds have over-active agency detection which can account for the contradictory notions of “personal revelation” that almost all religions claim to have.

    Source and context, please?

    Also, please note that I’ve shown a certain circularity in your argument against the sensus divinitatus. I don’t think you can use your argument at all unless and until you resolve that circularity.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    You say,

    Testimony is not enough to justify claims that wildly violate our background knowledge (prior probability in Bayesian terms). If I told you I just got back from shoveling out our walkway and cars you’d probably think that was a reasonable claim if I also told you I live in the Northeast US. If I told you I just got back from a vacation on the planet Mars, you’d doubt that claim.

    If a couple dozen of my best friends told me they had seen my mom back from the dead, that would wildly violate my background knowledge. If I had been Thomas and a couple dozen of my best friends told me they had seen Jesus alive again, that would not be such a wild violation of my background knowledge at all, for I would have experienced the great power, love, moral perfection, wisdom, miracle-producing abilities, fulfillment of Scripture, and general affirmation from the God of the universe. He was quite tangibly a true prophet.

    Your problem, you see, is that you’re not recognizing all the relevant background knowledge that Thomas would have been working from. You mention Jesus’ raising others from the dead, and pass it off as if it were less than relevant. That seems strange.

    Direct empirical evidence isn’t the best kind of evidence? You really need me to justify that epistemically speaking science is the best thing we’ve got going for us?

    Science is good for what science is good for. No one doubts that. Science isn’t good for every epistemic purpose. No sane person doubts that.

    This was explicitly in reference to our own good Tom Gilson’s posts that define faith as some way to evaluate evidence and come to an inductive conclusion.

    Huh?

    Did I say that?

    I’m going to have to learn to be a better writer.

    What I thought I said was faith (one of its facets, that is) was an epistemic attitude toward that which we learn through evaluating evidence in ordinary-knowledge ways. I don’t think I ever said that faith was a way to evaluate evidence! If I did, I repent in deep humility and rescind it totally now.

    Turek’s “faith” in, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” is used ironically, not literally. If you tried to force on him a full literal equivalence between that “faith” and true faith, he’d repudiate it himself.

  34. Billy Squibs says:

    We don’t have any direct evidential access to miracles.

    Depends what you mean by direct.
    http://randalrauser.com/2013/12/craig-keener-on-miracles/

    And these lead on somewhat tangentially from the previous link:
    http://randalrauser.com/2013/12/miracles-and-the-old-testimony-is-unreliable-so-we-can-ignore-miracle-claims-chestnut/
    http://randalrauser.com/2013/12/rd-miksa-on-the-evidentiary-value-of-eye-witness-testimony/ (I particularly enjoyed this post)

    I also want to point out that Frank Turek has been criticised by some Christians for his book title. For example, the title has previously been criticised on this blog and also by the likes of Greg Koukl. In short, while it’s an initially cute and catchy wordplay (and I suspect that this is all it was intended to be) it’s also self-defeating from a Christian context. I’d happily repudiate the title of Frank Turek’s book if I thought it was meant as a sober assessment of faith. But I don’t think this is what it is. Are you happy?

    Oh, and please provide the WLC time travel link. If he did say such a thing then it seems bizarre and flat out wrong. But then again the Devil is often found in the details, no?

  35. SteveK says:

    This discussion reminds me of the one I recently had with Ray.

    If the evidence fits the reported testimonies, without any relevant defeaters, then you are justified in thinking the reports are actually true. This is how we all live our lives.

  36. SteveK says:

    We don’t have any direct evidential access to miracles.

    None of us here have any direct evidential access to the moon landings. So what?

    All we have is testimony, and if we’re going to go on testimony then we’ve got evidence for all sorts of gods and supernatural agents, not to mention aliens, bigfoot, and a host of other paranormal phenomenon.

    This was Ray’s illegitimate approach too. Seems to be common among skeptics.

    How do 21st century reports of aliens and bigfoot undermine 1st century reports of miracles by God? What is the *necessary* connection such that if you show one to be false, the other is necessarily false too? Please explain that.

    Instead of doing that let me suggest you look into how the events are different. It’s the differences that explain why one is believable and one is not. You have to look past the surface – past the testimonies in isolation.

  37. Note I see this thread has moved a bit, I’m delayed somewhat in replying since I’ve got a 13 month old whose playtime takes priority over writing counter apologetics online – no offense intended. :)

    Tom,

    In my critique, all I need is an example of the bible using faith in the way Boghossian, Lindsay, and myself are defining it: “belief without good evidence” or more accurately stated “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”.

    With unequivocal examples of this kind of usage (Noah & Abraham, which are referenced in Hebrews 11), it also can be read that way in regards to the other passages that you’re attempting to use it.

    Still, even if it didn’t fit those other contexts – having those examples in the bible of believing on bad evidence and then being rewarded for it is enough to show that Christianity endorses the kind of faith that Boghossian is arguing against.

    The entire point of bringing up Doubting Thomas is to illustrate this is what the bible is saying and commending.

    The Sensus Divinitatus

    Concerning the sensus divinitatus you falsely conclude that it must be the same sort of thing Abraham and others experienced in the Bible.

    No, I most emphatically did not. Full stop. I explicitly stated the opposite.

    I invite you to please re-read the relevant section of my post which I’ll quote here:

    To get back to my main point, unless Tom is going to admit that his “Sensus Divinitatus” works like it did for the figures in the bible, where he is having actual conversations with god or angels, then his situation isn’t analogous to the one where “faith” in the biblical context is referenced.

    I had two main points in my post about the Sensus Divinitatus, and that was one of them. However, you’re completely ignoring the more prominent point I did make about the Sensus Divinitatus: that unless you pretend to know something you don’t know, you have to admit the Sensus Divinitatus is unreliable.

    I don’t reject that you’ve had some kind of subjective experience. I’m simply evaluating all relevant evidence regarding a Sensus Divinitatus and rejecting it based on that evidence. I’ll reiterate the problem with any appeal to the Sensus Divinitatus:

    1. I know I (the atheist) does not have any experiences of the divine, even if I desire such an experience and pray for it.

    2. Psychology does demonstrate that human beings do have an over-active agency detection system, leading us to falsely attribute agency to experiences where there is none.

    3. Other people from other religions also claim to have similar experiences of the divine, which leads to completely contradictory accounts of “divine revelation”.

    These are relevant pieces of evidence regarding the Sensus Divinitatus, and you can’t deny that evidence without doing what you condemn Boghossian for supposedly doing: “Pretending to know what you don’t know”.

    Given the problems with divine revelation for atheists that don’t experience it (and want to) and other religions that make the exact same kinds of claims of divine revelation but with contradictory revelation, you, as someone who claims to have divine revelation have to admit that a Sensus Divinitatus is at best an unreliable way of knowing.

    On the Reliability of Voices in the Head

    Notice first of all that when Abraham showed the faith referenced in Hebrews 11, it was when Yahweh told him to move, which in reference to Genesis 12:1, makes no reference to an appearance like verse 7 like you quote.

    Given that it’s stated in Genesis 12:7 and not 12:1 implies that it was indeed a voice in the head style revelation.

    Let’s me be straight here: I do not deny that a deity could impress itself upon any human mind in respect to voices in the head. That’s physically impossible at least, but it’s not logically impossible, and I trust you define your deity to be able to do anything logically possible.

    I will argue with any ability for this kind of revelation to “know beyond a shadow of a doubt”, but that’s entirely a separate conversation (Descartes seems to be poking his head in here).
    So to answer your question: I’m not denying that someone can hear voices in their head, or that those voices could possibly come from some deity.

    But that’s not what is at issue with Abraham. The question is whether or not the voices in Abraham (or Noah’s) head constitutes “good evidence”, since that’s what they had in the context of “faith” referenced in Hebrews 11.

    I’d most emphatically argue that it doesn’t constitute good evidence.

    We have tons of examples of people who hear voices in their head that tell them to do things, and many times they believe this to be the voice of a god telling them to do things, or giving them specific interactive revelation and direction. Some think aliens are communicating with them.

    Do you believe them? Is that to be considered “good evidence?” The prophet Mohammed claims to have had this kind of experience, and the Quaran talks about how Allah whisked him away to heaven on a winged horse.

    Remember, I as an atheist can accept that all these people have experienced something. The question is based on all available evidence whether or not any such sense should be trusted. In fact, the only explanation that is compatible with all the evidence without begging the question regarding divine revelation via Sensus Divinitatus is the naturalist explanation.

  38. BillT says:

    Testimony is not enough to justify claims that wildly violate our background knowledge….

    Do miracles really “wildly violate our background knowledge.” If there is a God capable of creating the universe ex nihilo who intendeds to perform a miracle within his capabilities then there would be no violation of background knowledge. This is one of the necessary contexts that seems to be regularly ignored and is part of our background knowledge. The context of the discussion of miracles necessarily includes the existence of such a God. Without it we’d be the first to agree that miracles are impossible.

  39. BillT says:

    …or more accurately stated “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”.

    Is it just me or is this a significant moving the goalposts? The question of the adequacy of evidences is a completely different question than the definition of faith. Boghossian claimed faith was pretending to know what you don’t know not failing to have sufficient evidence. The thrust of his argument was faith as a failed epistemology not faith as belief in inadequate evidence.

  40. I’ll try and reply to a few things at once now that nap-time has come around again. :)

    Tom,

    If I had been Thomas and a couple dozen of my best friends told me they had seen Jesus alive again, that would not be such a wild violation of my background knowledge at all, for I would have experienced the great power, love, moral perfection, wisdom, miracle-producing abilities, fulfillment of Scripture, and general affirmation from the God of the universe. He was quite tangibly a true prophet.

    Your problem, you see, is that you’re not recognizing all the relevant background knowledge that Thomas would have been working from. You mention Jesus’ raising others from the dead, and pass it off as if it were less than relevant. That seems strange.

    I’m not recognizing all the background knowledge? Given Thomas’s expectations as a first century Jew, if he thought Jesus was actually the Messiah then Jesus’s humiliating execution would have violated all of his background knowledge of what he understood the Messiah to be. You can argue that his understanding of that was wrong, but you can’t argue that wasn’t in his background knowledge.

    The passage about Lazarus is different because even if Jesus could raise the dead as a prophet (prophets, even of other gods could do miracles per Thomas’s background knowledge), that’s quite different from doing a miracle while you were dead. There’s quite a difference of scale involved there.

    Further, it’s quite clear from the resurrection stories, that the disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to come back from the dead. It was quite a bit of a shock. When they took him away, while he was crucified, the disciples weren’t sitting around going “don’t worry guys, he’s totally got this”.

    If testimony was good enough to prove the resurrection, why did he show up at all? He could have left it with his appearances to Mary and the other women. Based on what you’re saying, that would have been good enough. Why did he bother to come back and “save” Thomas, who would have doubted having not seen, if he had good enough epistemic reasons to believe without it.

    Science is good for what science is good for. No one doubts that. Science isn’t good for every epistemic purpose. No sane person doubts that.

    And the point of my referenced post is that the existence of a deity and the truth claims of Christianity could be as well established empirically as anything else can be. Yet they’re not, and the justification for this (that I’ve heard so far), despite it being entirely possible for god to do, is that the deity wants us to have “faith”. Thomas asked for this unequivocal type of good evidence, and he believed when he got it. I’d similarly believe if I got it.

    Your historical miracle claims would be one thing in a world where our background knowledge included instances of Christians (and only Christians) doing miracles like drinking poison, healing the sick miraculously, and handling poisonous snakes without being harmed, ala Mark 16:17-18. Note that for this example the reliability of that passage actually being part of Mark is immaterial to what I’m saying.

    I’m merely using it as an example of something, if we had it, would make the miracle claims in the bible far more believable. Those miracles could be well established empirically, so other claims of miracles in Christian texts would then be far more believable – instead of being dismissed like we dismiss other ancient and contemporary miracle claims (Islam, Mormanism, Hinduism, Sathyia Sai Baba, etc).

    Source and context, please? (reference to William Lane Craig and evidence)

    This comes from Luke Muehlhauser’s old site, which references the story from Mark Smith.

    The question was:

    Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let’s pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.

    Craig’s supposed response was that he’d still believe, because of the witness of the Holy Spirit and he would assume it was some kind of trick being played on him.

    You can of course dispute this story, as it is merely based on testimonial evidence. However, since Craig is still alive, I would absolutely love to ask him if this event took place, and if he would stand by that statement. I would imagine he would respond to a question from you much more than he’d respond to a question by me, since all I have to contact him is his website’s Q&A submission.

    But of course, this isn’t at all against Craig’s talks and writings on the matter. You can watch the video linked at Luke Muehlhauser’s old site, or you could watch Craig’s discussion about faith and doubt in the face of being in a situation where he is confronted with contradictory evidence.

    To quote Craig from Reasonable Faith (pg 36):

    I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel…. Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.

    …We’ve already said that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.

    (Emphasis mine)

    That said, let’s try to end on a high note:

    Did I say that?

    I’m going to have to learn to be a better writer.

    What I thought I said was faith (one of its facets, that is) was an epistemic attitude toward that which we learn through evaluating evidence in ordinary-knowledge ways. I don’t think I ever said that faith was a way to evaluate evidence! If I did, I repent in deep humility and rescind it totally now.

    FWIW, I’m not above admitting that I could be in the wrong. My point in quoting it was in response to Crude specifically implying that I admitted I’d have faith. I explicitly stated that “if this is what faith is, then I’d have faith…”.

    What I want to come to is an understanding of what you mean by faith. I really do intend to interact honestly and politely (if forcefully) with you all here and I hope that’s conveyed. My own poor writing may be getting in the way.

    What I thought you meant, and looking at what you wrote here, about an epistemic attitude, it would appear that you’re using faith in some way that’s analogous to induction ala Hume.

    I don’t “know” the sun is rising in the east tomorrow, but based on past evidence, I can reasonably conclude the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. I take it you’d say that I necessarily must have “faith” that the sun will rise in the east, based on the evidence I have. If that’s not the sense you mean faith by, then please let me know.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    No, Counter Apologist. If the Bible [it's a proper noun, and I want you to read the comment guidelines before you post again] has some instances of God commending evidence-free faith, it does not mean Boghossian is right to say that all faith is evidence free.

    Further, I don’t think that Jesus was commending evidence-free faith as such. He was commending faith for those who have not seen as such. I dealt with that. Others dealt with that. You didn’t respond to those responses. You ignored them.

    You answered certain other parts of our responses, to be sure, but this is what grieves me: you miss the point so badly in so many ways.

    The passage about Lazarus is different because even if Jesus could raise the dead as a prophet (prophets, even of other gods could do miracles per Thomas’s background knowledge), that’s quite different from doing a miracle while you were dead. There’s quite a difference of scale involved there.

    Actually, Jesus in the Gospels does his works of power through the power of the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who did not die on the Cross. His ministry began with his anointing by the Spirit (Mark 4:1, John 1:32). He is led by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1). He preaches by the Spirit (Matthew 12:18, Luke 4:18). He casts out demons by the Spirit (Matthew 12:28).

    Ultimately the Father and the Spirit were in his resurrection: Romans 1:1-4.

    Did the disciples understand all this? Probably not very completely. But they saw Jesus frequently praying to the Father. They knew that when Jesus died on the cross, it was not the death of God. So your objection here is weak at best.

    But here’s the really grievous misunderstanding.

    If testimony was good enough to prove the resurrection, why did he show up at all? He could have left it with his appearances to Mary and the other women. Based on what you’re saying, that would have been good enough. Why did he bother to come back and “save” Thomas, who would have doubted having not seen, if he had good enough epistemic reasons to believe without it.

    The point of his resurrection appearances was not only to prove that it happened. It was to be with the people that he loved, to encourage them, to hearten them, to celebrate with them, to have fellowship with them, to teach them further, to love them. If there weren’t a better way yet (John 16:5-7) he’d still be doing it, I’m convinced.

    Frankly it makes me sad that you wouldn’t realize that Jesus came to be with them because he loved them. Proving his resurrection was just one part of the way he loved them.

    And the point of my referenced post is that the existence of a deity and the truth claims of Christianity could be as well established empirically as anything else can be. Yet they’re not, and the justification for this (that I’ve heard so far), despite it being entirely possible for god [sic--read the comment guidelines. It has something to do with being a guest here, and treating your host with due respect.] to do, is that the deity wants us to have “faith”. Thomas asked for this unequivocal type of good evidence, and he believed when he got it. I’d similarly believe if I got it.

    I would hope that you would similarly believe. That would be great. But be cautious about concluding that the only reason God does what he does is because he wants us to have faith. He never put it in scare quotes. It’s probably a good thing you did, because it indicates you’re using the word in some special sense. The faith that God wants us to have is not “faith” as you understand it. It is multifaceted. It is cognitive, affective, volitional, relational, and more. It is aligning oneself with reality in every aspect of our being. The cognitive aspect is foremost: it leads the way. But it is not compartmentalized as you think it is, if you think it is nothing but an epistemology.

    As for the sensus divinitatus (which somehow you know how to capitalize, even though it’s not a proper noun, while you don’t know how to capitalize God or Bible!), I would absolutely admit that voices in the head are unreliable as such. That said, there’s no reason to assume that Abraham’s experience of God in Gen. 12:1-3 and elsewhere was false, nor is there reason to assume it was unreliable. I’ve already explained why. But you still ask,

    But that’s not what is at issue with Abraham. The question is whether or not the voices in Abraham (or Noah’s) head constitutes “good evidence”, since that’s what they had in the context of “faith” referenced in Hebrews 11.

    When one knows by direct experience that one is hearing from God, then to act on that is the right thing to do. Abraham knew by direct experience. Your critique (and your oblique reference to Descartes) imply that Abraham heard a voice in his head, hypothesized that it was God, and somehow concluded that it must have been. Or maybe less severely, Abraham heard a voice in his head that certainly seemed to be God, reflected on it, and then decided it must be God.

    That’s not what I’m proposing happens at all. Abraham heard God and just knew it was God. God appeared to him, so to speak, as certainly as whiteness appears to my eyes as I look out at our snowy yard. I don’t ask, “is this whiteness?” I don’t hypothesize anything like that.

    Whiteness is only an incomplete analogy, of course, for it is a property, not a substance. It’s passive, whereas God is active. I’m saying, though, that God could have and probably did make himself known to Abraham at least as powerfully as whiteness does to my eyes, and that he has the ability to do that.

    So in that case it’s not faith based on insufficient evidence. It’s faith based on a direct experience, wherein evidence as it’s normally conceived is just irrelevant.

    You ask about Muhammed and aliens, and whether I think those voices in the head are reliable. No, I don’t. But to draw the conclusion that you think follows from that is still just as question-begging as it was when I said it the first time.

    And still the main point is this: Suppose the Bible has some examples of faith that cannot be tied to evidences. It has many, many more where faith is tied to evidences. Read it and see the quantitative difference! Therefore Boghossian’s one-dimensional definition is wrong, as also is his pronouncement that faith “is a[n] … epistemology.”

  42. SteveK says:

    Is it just me or is this a significant moving the goalposts? The question of the adequacy of evidences is a completely different question than the definition of faith. Boghossian claimed faith was pretending to know what you don’t know not failing to have sufficient evidence.

    I think you are right, BillT. The detractors have changed the topic.

  43. Crude says:

    Counter,

    I am emphatically not evaluating Thomas’s situation in a naturalistic worldview and not in light of modern psychology. Are you telling me that in ancient times they weren’t aware that some people who were distressed would make ridiculous claims?

    Nowhere in the text does Thomas indicate that he’s evaluating the claims of the disciples on the grounds of the theory of mass hallucinations brought about by distress, nor is Thomas in the position that you insist he’s in.

    Testimony is not enough to justify claims that wildly violate our background knowledge (prior probability in Bayesian terms). If I told you I just got back from shoveling out our walkway and cars you’d probably think that was a reasonable claim if I also told you I live in the Northeast US. If I told you I just got back from a vacation on the planet Mars, you’d doubt that claim.

    Thomas’ ‘background knowledge’ included the existence of dead people being brought back to life and miracles being worked on a regular basis. Note, by the way, that this ‘background knowledge’ doesn’t even require the direct observation of such things – justified belief in them is available via other routes. (And you damn well better hope it is, if you want most of your ‘scientific’ beliefs to be valid.)

    Further, there’s quite a big difference in witnessing signs and wonders, even Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and then having Jesus bring himself back to life after Jesus himself was dead. I’m not denying that Thomas would believe it possible that Yahweh would raise Jesus from the dead, but he and the other disciples most certainly weren’t expecting it. I’m still working well within “internal critique” mode.

    You don’t need to expect something to, given relevant past knowledge and the inclusion of testimony, be warranted in believing it. Given the knowledge and understanding Thomas had at the time, testimony – especially from sources he otherwise judged to be reliable – could have reasonably sufficed for him, accent on the reasonably. On the flipside, the evidence he was asking for was A) unreasonable and B) wouldn’t have eliminated the possibility of being wrong.

    And, as I said before – Thomas could have always asked for *more* evidence. That much is certain. So you yourself are in favor of ‘lowering the bar of evidence’, precisely because certain demands for evidence can in fact be unreasonable.

    The self-resurrection is something extraordinarily different than the prior works that he (supposedly) witnessed, and so wanting what is unequivocally good evidence to believe it is certainly warranted in his situation. Note that I’m still granting the other stuff per my internal critique. Note that per Thomas’s scriptures, believers in other deities were able to perform their own signs and wonders (Pharaoh’s advisors and sorcerer’s confronting Moses turning a staff into a snake, etc.).

    Irrelevant, because Thomas in that passage isn’t being told of a self-resurrection. He’s being told of a resurrection. He already *had* good evidence, and the evidence he was asking for was *absurd*, even insulting.

    Even if I granted your arguments (and I don’t), then the faith you have (or at least that you’re claiming other people should have) is most certainly not the same kind of faith that they had in that context. We don’t have any direct evidential access to miracles. All we have is testimony, and if we’re going to go on testimony then we’ve got evidence for all sorts of gods and supernatural agents, not to mention aliens, bigfoot, and a host of other paranormal phenomenon.

    I have been arguing specifically in the context of Thomas, that particular bible quote, and the message you claimed was being communicated by it. You’re wrong. Jesus doesn’t say ‘It’s a good thing to believe something with no evidence!’ or even ‘It’s a good thing to believe something with inadequate evidence!’ It was ‘it’s a good thing to believe and not demand ridiculous evidence’. And given what you’ve said so far, at least in principle, you yourself would agree with this.

    Once you move the conversation outside of the specific context of that Bible quote, ‘believing with adequate evidence’ is still in force. The particular evidence available may change, but that doesn’t at all mean that the evidence available is inadequate.

    Boghossian certainly uses the rhetoric of “faith is belief with no evidence”, but he absolutely goes on at length to his point being that faith is “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”. He explains what his argument is to get around the most pedantic of objections that “well this testimony (that violates all of my background knowledge) counts as evidence” in a trivial sense.

    You don’t get to write off Bog’s dishonesty by claiming ‘oh well that’s rhetoric’. He claims that faith is belief with no evidence, and further strongly suggests that this is what *Christians* believe, even as a rule. That’s a lie. Why not just own up to it? Do you really need to defend Boghossian here? He’s that essential?

    Direct empirical evidence isn’t the best kind of evidence? You really need me to justify that epistemically speaking science is the best thing we’ve got going for us? The entire history of science, the very equipment we’re using to communicate right now, testify to the fact that science, which is based entirely around direct empirical evidence, is the best thing we’ve got going. In the history of science, the only thing that’s ever disproved science is more science. The record speaks for itself, it provides mountains of evidence on the success of science to help us correctly understand reality and use it to our advantage.

    You’ve made multiple mistakes here, some of them grave.

    1) ‘Empirical evidence’ != ‘Scientific evidence’. I watched Rick and Morty on youtube recently. That was empirical evidence. It certainly wasn’t *science*.

    2) It’s ridiculous to talk about ‘the best kind of evidence’ bar none. Other kinds of evidence are the best kinds of evidence for particular claims. Mathematical reasoning, logical reasoning, etc.

    3) Technology isn’t science. Science is great, and has its domain – outside of that domain, it’s pretty useless. And guess what? When it comes to philosophy and metaphysics and mathematics and the like, science’s use drops. Science *presupposes* some of those very things!

    Beyond dispute? It’s most certainly necessary in terms of intellectual willfulness. Testimonial evidence is cheap and wildly available for an amazing number of religious/paranormal claims. The story absolutely confirms that it is required for some people: “Because you have seen me, you have believed”. Thomas needed that to believe, and he was given it. If Yahweh desires for people to believe, and there most certainly are people who would believe like Thomas if they saw direct evidence of miracles, then Yahweh can provide the same courtesy to the rest of us.

    Yes, it is beyond dispute. You made the claim that if Yahweh really wanted people to believe then Yahweh would have provided (such and such evidence you don’t think is on offer.) Yet throughout history, a tremendous number of people – including to this day – believe *without* the evidence you’re asking for. The intellectual willfulness was there.

    Likewise, far more than testimonial evidence is available for the claims in question – and not all testimonial evidence is made equal.

    I’ve written that it most certainly would be good enough for me, and I’d wager there are many more like me than there are like other atheists who claim there is no evidence that could convince them.

    Wonderful. What’s your evidence for this claim? I recall that was important. Or did you just tell me it’s acceptable to believe something based on inadequate evidence?

    For the record I would repudiate any atheist who says they’d withhold belief given the criteria I’ve laid out in my blog post. That said, I certainly can’t call their positions irrational, since in most of my dealings with Christian apologists the only evidence they’d accept against their beliefs (ala Plantinga) is if an internal contradiction was shown in their axiomatic acceptance of god’s existence.

    Okay, let’s put this in perspective.

    A) So you repudiate Dawkins, Myers, Shermer, and quite possibly Boghossian himself on this front.

    B) But you can’t call them ‘irrational’ because… you believe theists hold to an equally solid stance.

    Are you telling me that ‘irrationality’ is determined by popular vote, or better yet, a tactical consideration? And do you realize that if you stick to your guns on this one and argue that it’s rational to be certain in a belief, such that no evidence could sway you away from that belief, that you have completely sacrificed a major thrust of Boghossian’s book? He purports – I think dishonestly, but nevertheless – to be fighting against people having beliefs that are immune to changing on encountering evidence. But you apparently think it’s entirely rational to have such beliefs!

    However, since you’re requesting we repudiate “big names” that represent our respective positions, will you now repudiate say William Lane Craig who also says there’s no evidence that could ever be presented that would change his mind that Christianity is true?

    Why do you want me to repudiate him? You just told me you can’t call thinking like that ‘irrational’. In fact, you just ended up running defense for that very position – after all, you think Dawkins, Myers, etc are rational. In fact how in the world can you repudiate them for their beliefs while at the same time NOT call them irrational? What the heck is the point of repudiation in that case?

    This was explicitly in reference to our own good Tom Gilson’s posts that define faith as some way to evaluate evidence and come to an inductive conclusion. I disagree with that framing of “faith” as well,

    On what grounds do you disagree?

    It’s a response that is particularly effective against the Frank Turek style apologetics in “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” In that case, faith is used in a way that having less faith is the better epistemic position. BTW, will you now repudiate Frank Turek given how he uses faith in his apologetics?

    It certainly doesn’t follow that ‘having less faith’ is a better epistemic position. And the only thing I know about Frank Turek is he’s a Christian who was unjustly fired from his job at some point. Apparently a motivational speaker too? And again, you’re asking for ‘repudiation’ but detach it from claims of the irrational. So what’s the point? More ‘rhetoric’?

  44. Tom,

    No, Counter Apologist. If the Bible has some instances of God commending evidence-free faith, it does not mean Boghossian is right to say that all faith is evidence free.

    Let me address your last question up front. If the Bible has even one instance of your God commending evidence-free (or rather belief backed by bad evidence) faith, then it means your God and Bible are endorsing faith as an epistemology, and is endorsing faith as “belief without good evidence”.

    What I (and others) would say to the other instances, where it talks about faith that is backed by direct evidence of miracles is a misapplication of the term. That’s induction, not faith. If you want to say faith can be both belief without good evidence and the inductive kind of faith – then you’re necessarily putting yourself in Turek’s shoes where less faith is the better epistemic position.
    If that’s not what you mean, then what do you call simply evaluating evidence? I very much did ask for clarification on faith as some form of using induction, but that’s the way I’m reading your usage of the word faith based on what you’ve written.

    Equating faith in terms of trust doesn’t work in a religious context unless one has direct experience of God, and while you can argue that in terms of the Bible’s stories that’s most certainly not the case of faith as is referenced today – which is why Boghossian’s point there stands.

    Further, I don’t think that Jesus was commending evidence-free faith as such. He was commending faith for those who have not seen as such. I dealt with that. Others dealt with that. You didn’t respond to those responses. You ignored them.

    To be fair, I had no idea what you were referencing at first. I tried responding to a number of points at intermittent times of the day. There was a lot throwing around (and I threw a lot back). I looked back through the thread now, and the only bit I can think of where I didn’t directly address it is post #10, the relevant bit being this (correct me if I’m wrong, and please point me to what you think I’m avoiding):

    So what exactly is Jesus blessing when he says “blessed are those who have not seen but believe”? He’s blessing every Christian except for the first few hundred who saw him. He’s not blessing Christians who have believed on the basis of zero evidence, but Christians who believe on the basis of some other evidence. In the case of the second generation of believers, that evidence would be the testimony of those who actually saw. It would be the evidence of their changed lives, their courage, their consistent character, their care for the widows and the poor, their love for others not even of their own party, their testimony of the risen Christ, and so on. This is not lack of evidence.

    And for believers today, the exact same evidences are available, except that the first generational testimony is written rather than delivered face-to-face, and it requires some further evidence to support the idea that it contains first-generation testimony. This, too, is not evidence-free belief: but it is exactly what Jesus blessed there.

    That’s not “evidence-free” but that’s certainly not at all “good evidence”. It’s demonstrably not good evidence because that same standard can be used to support belief in a wide variety of religions, Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. That those are just the contemporary ones. A standard of evidence that leads to contradictory outcomes is an extremely poor standard of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is a perfect case where religion tries to lower the epistemic bar.

    Further to address claims by SteveK and BillT – Tom will you acknowledge that Boghossian in his book describes faith as “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”.

    That said, there’s no reason to assume that Abraham’s experience of God in Gen. 12:1-3 and elsewhere was false, nor is there reason to assume it was unreliable.

    Where did I just assume it was false? I’m granting he had an experience of a voice in his head that could have come from God. I’m taking the neutral stance. God talking to you isn’t something you experience every day; it’s a wildly different experience to anything we’d see in normal life.

    I most certainly am assuming the latter scenario you describe: “Abraham heard a voice in his head that certainly seemed to be God, reflected on it, and then decided it must be God.” You provide reasons against this, but allow me to retort:

    That’s not what I’m proposing happens at all. Abraham heard God and just knew it was God. God appeared to him, so to speak, as certainly as whiteness appears to my eyes as I look out at our snowy yard. I don’t ask, “is this whiteness?” I don’t hypothesize anything like that.
    Whiteness is only an incomplete analogy, of course, for it is a property, not a substance. It’s passive, whereas God is active. I’m saying, though, that God could have and probably did make himself known to Abraham at least as powerfully as whiteness does to my eyes, and that he has the ability to do that.

    (Emphasis mine)

    A person’s mind is active and schizophrenia can make the voices in someone’s head seem as real as whiteness is to your eyes. It can also convince people that the voices in their head are coming from God as plainly as whiteness is to your eyes. Note I’m not saying that it necessarily was schizophrenia; I’m again taking the neutral position.
    There are other problems with the whiteness example, since we’re talking about the first time you’re experiencing something completely foreign and new. Any other sense of “plainness to the senses” works just as well for schizophrenia.

    I find it shocking you’re still accusing me of begging the question, when adopting the neutral position and evaluating all relevant evidence is the exact opposite of begging the question.

    You have continually avoided addressing my question of how you can appeal to the sensus divinitatus when such a move is done by almost all other religions, and all of them claim that their God (or gods) can reveal themselves as plainly as you claim your God does to people. This, compounded with the fact that we have naturalistic explanations that can account for these experiences, and finally the fact that atheists don’t have these experiences, even when they actively seek them out and pray/wish/ask for them.
    I have asked and prayed. I got no signs, and as you so like to point out you can’t tell me I didn’t want it or wouldn’t believe in spite of it – because then you’d be pretending to know what you don’t know. In fact you would necessarily falsify your claim to me since I know what my state was at the time.

    You beg the question by insisting that your sensus divinitatus is correct, but the ones from other religions are false?

    So again, I ask you directly – How can you claim the sensus divinitatus is reliable in light of all the relevant facts I’ve repeatedly presented?

    Finally let’s get on with the “evidence” Thomas had:

    Actually, Jesus in the Gospels does his works of power through the power of the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who did not die on the Cross. His ministry began with his anointing by the Spirit (Mark 4:1, John 1:32). He is led by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1). He preaches by the Spirit (Matthew 12:18, Luke 4:18). He casts out demons by the Spirit (Matthew 12:28).

    Ultimately the Father and the Spirit were in his resurrection: Romans 1:1-4.
    6
    Did the disciples understand all this? Probably not very completely. But they saw Jesus frequently praying to the Father. They knew that when Jesus died on the cross, it was not the death of God. So your objection here is weak at best.

    The doctrine you’re referring to is the Trinity, which isn’t found in the Bible. To say they had any understanding of this, especially right after Jesus was executed as a heretic is laughable. They saw Jesus do miracles, which they also think could be done by false prophets. They may have believed, before he was executed, that he was the Son of God or more accurately the Messiah – but when he was executed that belief appeared to them to be falsified. I would dispute whether they thought he was the same person as God in the incredibly odd understanding of what Christians refer to as the Trinity (I’m assuming that needs to be capitalized).

    Again, I’m not saying Thomas became an atheist after Jesus was crucified. I’m also not saying they thought God died. Thomas very likely still believed in God/Yahweh of Judaism, and wouldn’t deny that God could raise someone from the dead.

    What I am saying is that Thomas would no longer believe that Jesus was God or the Messiah. Again, I point to the fact that the disciples were not at all expecting his resurrection, and as first century Jews, they were not at all expecting the Messiah to be crucified by unclean Gentiles! That last part right there is completely contrary to a first century Jewish understanding of what the Messiah was supposed to do. This is all of his background knowledge going into hearing that Jesus was back from the dead and in light of it he has every epistemic right to be skeptical.

    Considering all relevant evidence and background knowledge does not make for a weak objection.

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter Apologist,

    I don’t know how to respond. I’m feeling two things at once. One is that you’ve descended into silliness. The other is that it’s disrespectful to say that to another human being. But it’s also not very respectful to gloss over it, either.

    Let me address your last question up front. If the Bible has even one instance of your God commending evidence-free (or rather belief backed by bad evidence) faith, then it means your God and Bible are endorsing faith as an epistemology, and is endorsing faith as “belief without good evidence”.

    What I (and others) would say to the other instances, where it talks about faith that is backed by direct evidence of miracles is a misapplication of the term. That’s induction, not faith. If you want to say faith can be both belief without good evidence and the inductive kind of faith – then you’re necessarily putting yourself in Turek’s shoes where less faith is the better epistemic position.

    This is the silliness: you say that if the Bible has even one instance of endorsing faith on one epistemic basis, then every other instance is a misapplication of the term.

    The problem with that is not only one of proportion. It’s also one of where definitions come from. The English-language understanding of faith comes predominantly from the Bible, so if you want to know the meaning of the word, that’s where you go first to find out.

    Further, you set up a false dichotomy between induction and faith.

    And you do it all because you think the one use of faith is the only canonical one, which gets you into the strangely simple atheism I’ve commented on more than once. And it’s also clearly cherry-picking it according to what favors your position. It’s plain as day.

    Equating faith in terms of trust doesn’t work in a religious context unless one has direct experience of God, and while you can argue that in terms of the Bible’s stories that’s most certainly not the case of faith as is referenced today – which is why Boghossian’s point there stands.

    That’s not “evidence-free” but that’s certainly not at all “good evidence”. It’s demonstrably not good evidence because that same standard can be used to support belief in a wide variety of religions, Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

    This is not so much silly as it is ignorant. No other religion has the record of care for the widows and the poor that Christianity has–none, except those that have the same prophetic heritage (Judaism, though not to anywhere near the same extent) and Mormonism (which is derivative of Christianity). No other religion cares as much for others who are not of the same group, the way Christianity has for centuries on end. No other religion (other than Mormonism, which is derivative) has the testimony of the risen Christ. No other religion has testimony of anything whatsoever in history that is testable in history the way the resurrection is. For that reason alone, it’s impossible that any other religion be subject to the same standard supporting belief!!

    Tom will you acknowledge that Boghossian in his book describes faith as “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway”.

    I’d have to look and see if it was in the book–but the book is inaccessible to me right now, in my office. I’m snowed in with a cast on my foot. You’ll have to ask again later.

    I’ll come back to the sensus divinitatis later.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter, you say,

    You have continually avoided addressing my question of how you can appeal to the sensus divinitatus when such a move is done by almost all other religions, and all of them claim that their God (or gods) can reveal themselves as plainly as you claim your God does to people. This, compounded with the fact that we have naturalistic explanations that can account for these experiences, and finally the fact that atheists don’t have these experiences, even when they actively seek them out and pray/wish/ask for them.

    How have I avoided it? I’ve acknowledged the unreliability of voices in the head. I’ve argued for one reason that Abraham et al. in the Bible could have had veridical, reliable experiences anyway. But your objection is still circular.

    1. Voices in the head are epistemically unreliable, and always potentially explainable by natural conditions that cause people falsely to believe they are hearing something that isn’t there.
    2. Abraham reportedly experienced God by way of a voice in the head.
    3. Abraham’s experience was epistemically unreliable.
    4. Therefore Abraham did not experience God, but experienced some natural condition caused him to falsely believe he was hearing something that wasn’t there.

    The question-begging comes in at the point where 4 circles back on 1. You cannot assume that voices in the head are always naturally explainable unless you assume that God did not speak to Abraham.

    Going on:

    5. Persons who hear voices in their head are often incorrigibly confident in the veridicality of what they “hear.”
    6. Abraham had an incorrigible sense of confidence in the reality of God’s speaking to him in his head.
    7. There are natural explanations not only for what they heard but also for their incorrigible sense of confidence.
    8. Therefore there is a natural explanation for Abraham’s incorrigible confidence.

    This begs the question in precisely the same manner. Your dismissal of Abraham’s experience is question-begging.

    Now let’s take this a further step for clarification.

    9. Person X hears a voice in his head, which he is confident is a word from God.
    10. Therefore … which of the following, and how would we know?
    11a. Person X truly heard from God.
    11b. Person X absolutely did not hear from God.
    11c. Person X might or might not have heard from God.

    Given no further information, 11a is dangerous to suppose, because the great majority of such instances are non-veridical. 11b has greater probabilities to support it, but to state it that absolutely is to assume something more than great improbability, it is to assume impossibility, which we’ve already shown to be question-begging. 11c seems to be the best choice, with a very strong probabilistic leaning toward non-veridicality.

    That’s with no further information.

    But if there’s further information provided, such as the life of Abraham after he heard from God, the fulfillment of all God’s promises in him and in the nation he fathered, the probability tilts a long way away from non-veridicality toward veridicality.

    But we still have one remaining analysis. 9 through 11a-c were about how you and I could evaluate Person X’s claim. What about Person X?

    12. Person X hears a voice in his head. Is it from God? There are again several options.
    13a. Person X performs a probabilistic analysis and concludes that it’s vanishingly unlikely that the voice was from God.
    13b. Person X is deranged and believes the voice was from God, even though it wasn’t.
    13c. Person X is not deranged, is not incorrect, and needs no probabilistic analysis because Person X knows by reason of God’s own ability to communicate true knowledge that he has been truly communicated with, by God.

    Now the question for you is what you think of my analysis of Abraham in light of 9 through 11a-c: is it possible for us to plausibly conclude that he heard from God?

    And I’d like to know whether you think 13c is at least logically possible, and if not, why not.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, further,

    The doctrine you’re referring to is the Trinity, which isn’t found in the Bible. To say they had any understanding of this, especially right after Jesus was executed as a heretic is laughable.

    You’re missing the point. My point was that when they saw Jesus die on the cross, they didn’t see it as the death of miracles—for the very reason you just reiterated.

    That last part right there is completely contrary to a first century Jewish understanding of what the Messiah was supposed to do. This is all of his background knowledge going into hearing that Jesus was back from the dead and in light of it he has every epistemic right to be skeptical.

    No, you are quite wrong about that. That was all of his background knowledge before he met Jesus Christ, walked with him, discovered his absolutely unique love, his authoritative and new teaching, his unique relationship with the Father, his miracle-working power, his own predictions of his death and resurrection, and much more.

  48. Tom,

    The by your other post on the subject, and my statements, I thought we completely agreed that the sensus divinitatus is not at all what Abraham experienced. You chastised me when you thought that was my position, and it wasn’t ever my position. This is clearly different from the Abrahamic argument because supposedly the sensus divinitatus is available to me if I honestly seek it (on your view).

    The part of the argument against sensus divinitatus that’s similar to Abraham is the pluralism problem, but in the context of the sensus divinitatus it is impossible for you to get out of without pretending to know what you don’t know.

    My argument against Abraham is similar but slightly different, but you’re forgetting the actual argument that came up in.

    Remember it’s about how Abraham had faith when told to move. He had faith in a voice in his head. I’m already allowing for the possibility of it being from God, I’ve said that multiple times. On the view that it is possible, we can conclude that he had faith in light of what is in general a very bad/unreliable form of evidence. What I deny is that God could provide any a level of certainty to Abraham via revelation that could not also be achieved via schizophrenia.

    Appeals to what happened after are inconsequential in light of the fact that other miracle fulfillment claims in other religions which also make the same kind of claim regarding authentic divine revelation.

  49. BillT says:

    If Boghossian’s definition of faith really is “failing to have sufficient evidence to believe and act upon a hypothesis and yet believing and acting upon it anyway” then his definition that faith is “pretending to know what you don’t know” is a rhetorical red herring. If all Boghossian is saying is that Christians don’t have enough evidence for their faith then he’s saying nothing of any interest whatsoever or at least nothing that dozens of others haven’t repeatedly said.

    The entire focus of these discussions has been that the thrust of Boghossian’s argument is to claim that very definition of faith is the above described pretense. There is certainly no doubt that Boghossian has made the definition of faith his main point. Are we now to understand that he’s hedges that by further defining pretending to know what you don’t know as a lack of sufficient evidence. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me that he’s copped out of really defending the former by hedging with the latter.

  50. Crude says:

    Just a quick comment for now.

    You have continually avoided addressing my question of how you can appeal to the sensus divinitatus when such a move is done by almost all other religions, and all of them claim that their God (or gods) can reveal themselves as plainly as you claim your God does to people. This, compounded with the fact that we have naturalistic explanations that can account for these experiences, and finally the fact that atheists don’t have these experiences, even when they actively seek them out and pray/wish/ask for them.

    1) No, there actually aren’t any ‘naturalistic explanations’ that can account for these experiences. ‘Naturalism’ has notorious problems account for experience, period – or selves, or thoughts, for that matter. There are alternate explanations, but ‘naturalistic’, they ain’t.

    2) The mere existence of alternate possible explanations goes nowhere towards showing these are, in fact, the correct explanations.

    3) Some atheists claim they do not have these experiences, even when they seek them out. What evidence do we have to support their claims? Testimony.

  51. BillT says:

    What I deny is that God could provide any a level of certainty to Abraham via revelation that could not also be achieved via schizophrenia.

    And you know this how? Seems t me if you can’t provide some reason or reasoning it’s you who are pretending to know…

  52. Crude says:

    And you know this how? Seems t me if you can’t provide some reason or reasoning it’s you who are pretending to know…

    People seem to forget that ‘schizophrenia’ or appeals to delusion or mental illness, in principle, covers just about everything. Such things can make you believe that such and such scientific evidence is valid. It can make you believe you did something altogether mundane when you didn’t.

    And it’s ridiculous to talk about how you can seek out and get better confirming evidence because you have a mental illness and your mental functions are impaired.

  53. Tom,

    This is the silliness: you say that if the Bible has even one instance of endorsing faith on one epistemic basis, then every other instance is a misapplication of the term.

    The problem with that is not only one of proportion. It’s also one of where definitions come from. The English-language understanding of faith comes predominantly from the Bible, so if you want to know the meaning of the word, that’s where you go first to find out.

    My argument is based off the idea that the two notions of faith are contradictory to each other. Further once your religion is endorsing that kind of belief without good evidence, directly from your God no less, you’re already done.

    Further in English we already have a word for induction, which left the word “faith” with the modern understanding as Boghossian defines it.

    Finally, the critical point is that the kind of faith you refer to in the Bible is not at all the situation you have. All your claims of “good evidence” for the inductive version of faith reference empirical access of miracles – something that is absolutely absent from today’s believers. That leaves your usage of the word faith for any non-first century Christians necessarily lowering the epistemic bar, centering on a terrible set of evidence that can support any religion.

    This is not so much silly as it is ignorant. No other religion has the record of care for the widows and the poor that Christianity has–none, except those that have the same prophetic heritage (Judaism, though not to anywhere near the same extent) and Mormonism (which is derivative of Christianity). No other religion cares as much for others who are not of the same group, the way Christianity has for centuries on end. No other religion (other than Mormonism, which is derivative) has the testimony of the risen Christ. No other religion has testimony of anything whatsoever in history that is testable in history the way the resurrection is. For that reason alone, it’s impossible that any other religion be subject to the same standard supporting belief!!

    Muslims care for the poor, the widow’s, and orphans. Secular Humanism does all that. Appealing to Mormons as somehow counting for you since it’s derivative is a red herring. It’s a completely different religion, with wildly different claims as to the nature of god [Edited courtesy of Tom. Read the discussion policies.], the afterlife, how one is saved, etc. In fact all the religions teach that this is to be done, and all of them attempt to carry it out.

    Christianity’s scale can be attributed to the fact that it was spread by the Roman Empire. Christianity’s history of abuse of those they’re supposedly helping is also on the highest scale (the Catholic Church says Hi).

    Your final claim is laughable. The resurrection is historically testable? The main arguments against the resurrection are that the sources it comes from are unreliable. Even biblical scholars don’t agree on the “minimal facts approach”, let alone historians in general. History itself requires we interpret things in light of what we currently know, and that’s where the miracle claims go to die since we don’t have miracles today. We could of course, I alluded to that earlier, if Christians and only Christians could do miracles today, then suddenly the case for the resurrection becomes strong. As it is you’re in no better position than any other religious or even contemporary miracle claim for which we can find living witnesses. You’re not using the actual historical method.

  54. Crude,

    1) No, there actually aren’t any ‘naturalistic explanations’ that can account for these experiences. ‘Naturalism’ has notorious problems account for experience, period – or selves, or thoughts, for that matter. There are alternate explanations, but ‘naturalistic’, they ain’t.

    I laid this out. Over active agency detection is an explanation that is compatible with naturalism and all available evidence.

    2) The mere existence of alternate possible explanations goes nowhere towards showing these are, in fact, the correct explanations.

    That’s part of my point. You and others religions make contradictory claims as revealed to you by your respective sensus divinitatus. You make contradictory claims to what atheists say they don’t experience (since you claim they should/can have one), and the claim that they would experience it if they were open to it.

    That’s a lot of relevant facts about the sensus divinitatus claims.

    3) Some atheists claim they do not have these experiences, even when they seek them out. What evidence do we have to support their claims? Testimony.

    Exactly. All we have for any of this is subjective testimony, almost all of which is contradictory. In light of contradictory claims, with only testimony to back it up, the explanation that can actually handle all relevant data in a non question begging manner is the explanation that the sensus divinitatus claims are not actually divine but rather are the product of over active agency detection in humans.

    Even if you just hold the agnostic position, you have to admit in light of all this that the sensus divinitatus style justification is weak since as an epistemic method it leads to contradictory claims.

  55. BillT says:

    Christianity’s scale can be attributed to the fact that it was spread by the Roman Empire.

    You need to do some fact checking. Christianity’s adoption by the Roman Empire was not an major factor in it’s success if it wasn’t a hindrance. You need to look further than atheist websites for your historical information.

  56. Crude says:

    Further once your religion is endorsing that kind of belief without good evidence, directly from your God no less, you’re already done.

    Which didn’t happen whatsoever, as has been pointed out repeatedly. You’re in the unenviable position of having to argue that demanding to push your fingers into the wound-holes of a resurrected body is a reasonable response to hearing from reliable, friendly sources of an event that was not unlike various other events you knew took place. It’s not working.

    Finally, the critical point is that the kind of faith you refer to in the Bible is not at all the situation you have. All your claims of “good evidence” for the inductive version of faith reference empirical access of miracles – something that is absolutely absent from today’s believers.

    We’ve been discussing a case on the very terms you agreed to discuss them on: the context of Thomas in the bible, complete with granting the veracity of the Biblical claims. You’re sitting here trying to argue internally that the Bible teaches ‘believe with no evidence’ based on that particular situation, and then when we also argue internally based on that situation, you start complaining that our defenses are based on that particular situation! It’s absurd.

    Now, direct experience of a miracle is not necessary to believe in them. But putting that aside: you keep claiming that ‘access of miracles’ is absent with today’s believers… but what do you base that on? Because guess what: it sure can’t be testimony.

    Muslims care for the poor, the widow’s, and orphans. Secular Humanism does all that.

    Uh, secular humanists pay lip service to the general idea that that’s good. Their track record isn’t so great.

    Christianity’s history of abuse of those they’re supposedly helping is also on the highest scale (the Catholic Church says Hi).

    The abuse scandals were an incident of priests and bishops behaving utterly in opposition to Christian teaching, and rather like functional atheists.

    History itself requires we interpret things in light of what we currently know, and that’s where the miracle claims go to die since we don’t have miracles today.

    About the only thing that died is your claim on this front, and ‘what we currently know’ includes metaphysics, philosophy, science and more.

    We could of course, I alluded to that earlier, if Christians and only Christians could do miracles today, then suddenly the case for the resurrection becomes strong.

    It’s strong already. You are making the typical CoG atheist mistake of mistaking ‘What I subjectively think would be great’ for ‘the best objective standard’.

    As it is you’re in no better position than any other religious or even contemporary miracle claim for which we can find living witnesses. You’re not using the actual historical method.

    One thing I’d agree with: collectively, various other theists, regardless of their religions, are in vastly better intellectual shape than atheists, and certainly atheist materialists. Which is another problem for your position: you need far more than intellectual parity of religious claims (which is itself laughable – the muslim case for historical veracity of claims is worse than the Christian’s any day of the week, to name one example). You need them collectively defeated.

    Which is why ‘differing claims of different religions’ is a red herring: the reasonableness of theism or religious belief is compatible with multiple religions making that cut, even if it was in fact made. It may be awkward and endorse a kind of intellectual pluralism, but that in and of itself does nothing to the intellectual respectability in question. What you need is atheism – the positive claim of ‘There is no God’ – to meet or exceed their intellectual respectability. And newsflash: the fact that Bog-style atheists are pathologically terrified of having their position construed as one of their making positive claims does not bode well for that.

  57. BillT says:

    Not to mention that the discussion has devolved from it’s original focus on faith as an unreliable epistemology to just what CA wanted it to devolve into. A discussion of the adequacy of the evidences for Christianity. And CA has all the standard atheist points and counterpoints that have been answered and answered successfully here and in many other places.

  58. Crude/BillT

    And you know this how? Seems t me if you can’t provide some reason or reasoning it’s you who are pretending to know…

    People seem to forget that ‘schizophrenia’ or appeals to delusion or mental illness, in principle, covers just about everything. Such things can make you believe that such and such scientific evidence is valid. It can make you believe you did something altogether mundane when you didn’t.

    First of all, I know this from Epistemology. Revelation necessarily involves trusting the source of that revelation. There’s nothing a god could impart via certainty that isn’t also similarly provided epistemically via schizophrenia. This is bedrock epistemology.

    Now Crude does bring up a point that this accounts for a lot of things and shouldn’t be appealed to lightly.

    But I am bringing this up in terms of our overall experience with people who hear voices in their head, especially voices in their head that they are absolutely convinced came from God (or multiple gods). In almost every case we’ve found, it’s schizophrenia.

    And it’s ridiculous to talk about how you can seek out and get better confirming evidence because you have a mental illness and your mental functions are impaired.

    It would be ridiculous if I claimed that you could do that while having a mental illness. Except I never made such a claim.

    The entire topic of “voices in your head” came up in the context of whether or not Abraham had “good evidence” for the faith Hebrews 11 commends him for. I’m saying that in general, voices in your head are not good evidence.

  59. Crude says:

    Counter,

    I laid this out. Over active agency detection is an explanation that is compatible with naturalism and all available evidence.

    No, it isn’t, because ‘naturalism’ has no room for experience or intentionality, period – and that would include agency detection. Hence the arguments of Alex Rosenberg and the eliminative materialists.

    That’s part of my point. You and others religions make contradictory claims as revealed to you by your respective sensus divinitatus. You make contradictory claims to what atheists say they don’t experience (since you claim they should/can have one), and the claim that they would experience it if they were open to it.

    The only thing that could support an atheist’s claim about the sensus divinitatus is testimony, which you repeatedly have been dumping on – so you’ve already sabotaged yourself there.

    And who’s ‘we’? I haven’t said what atheists should and shouldn’t experience, and my understand of the SD is that it, at best, provides an awareness of God. I never have heard about an SD claim that supports a specific religion – I went into this when we discussed it at Randal Rauser’s.

    Exactly. All we have for any of this is subjective testimony, almost all of which is contradictory.

    Two problems.

    1) Person X experience SD would have more than subjective testimony. They’d have direct experience.

    2) No, some SD claims – and the essential issues in question – of these supposed ‘SDs’ are apparently not contradictory. Should we give more credence to SD claims that are almost unanimous in attestation – like the existence of God?

    In light of contradictory claims, with only testimony to back it up,

    Far more than testimony is available.

    the explanation that can actually handle all relevant data in a non question begging manner is the explanation that the sensus divinitatus claims are not actually divine but rather are the product of over active agency detection in humans.

    Not at all. There’s other explanations: ‘The SD is working, but people misinterpret/misreport their experiences.’ ‘The SD’s scope is more limited than has been advertised.’

    You treat conflict in SD reports as evidence against them. Then it would seem that a lack of conflict in SD reports – such as on the existence of God – should bolster the SD. And that’s going to include atheists who experience the SD but who nevertheless reason it away.

  60. Crude says:

    But I am bringing this up in terms of our overall experience with people who hear voices in their head, especially voices in their head that they are absolutely convinced came from God (or multiple gods). In almost every case we’ve found, it’s schizophrenia.

    Really? Cite the stats on that one, because I have the funny suspicion you’re pulling this out of thin air and wikipedia reading.

    The entire topic of “voices in your head” came up in the context of whether or not Abraham had “good evidence” for the faith Hebrews 11 commends him for. I’m saying that in general, voices in your head are not good evidence.

    Not good evidence for what? And if the voice in your head gives you commands that are effective, or tells you things that are correct, is that evidence that you should trust it?

    Further – everyone has ‘voices in their head’. They just attribute those voices to themselves. Are those voices trustworthy?

  61. JAD says:

    Counter-apologist,

    Over active agency detection is an explanation that is compatible with naturalism and all available evidence.

    An explanation? What kind of explanation? A proof? A rationalization or a just-so story? You haven’t proven a thing. Furthermore, why should I assume naturalism is true? Are you able to prove naturalism scientifically?

  62. BillT,

    You need to do some fact checking. Christianity’s adoption by the Roman Empire was not an major factor in it’s success if it wasn’t a hindrance. You need to look further than atheist websites for your historical information.

    The adoption of Christianity by Constantine, and the resources and suppression of other religions that he engaged in played a major part in it’s widespread expansion.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Like he said, you need to read your history. Christianity was “a substantial majority in Rome” and other major cities by 300 (before Constantine ended Christian persecution in 313), and numbered in the millions worldwide (Stark, The Triumph of Christianity). Stark supports that with multiple lines of data.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    You should also be cautious about believing the party line concerning suppression of other religions. Pagan temples continued during and after Constantine’s reign.

  65. BillT says:

    Christianity prior to its adoption was under persecution by the Roman Empire yet succeeded in imposing itself on the very empire trying to suppress it. Adoption lead to a dilution of the kind of committed Christian that persevered through the persecutions. Thus, the growth by conversion of committed Christians actually slowed.

    You’re out of your depth here you should go back to redirecting the discussion away from faith as an unreliable epistemology to a discussion of the adequacy of the evidences for Christianity. You were doing pretty well there.

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    BillT is right about this thread being hijacked. The sensus divinitatis has been worked over about enough for my needs. CA’s response to my 1 through 13c was a non-response with respect to his question begging over Abraham’s faith.

    About all I’m still interested in here is this:

    My argument is based off the idea that the two notions of faith are contradictory to each other. Further once your religion is endorsing that kind of belief without good evidence, directly from your God no less, you’re already done.

    Further in English we already have a word for induction, which left the word “faith” with the modern understanding as Boghossian defines it.

    Finally, the critical point is that the kind of faith you refer to in the Bible is not at all the situation you have. All your claims of “good evidence” for the inductive version of faith reference empirical access of miracles – something that is absolutely absent from today’s believers. That leaves your usage of the word faith for any non-first century Christians necessarily lowering the epistemic bar, centering on a terrible set of evidence that can support any religion.

    The two senses of faith are not contradictory. Both of them are cases of trusting in what what is known to be true, that it will continue to be true. That’s what faith is. What differs is now the knowns come to be known.

    You continue to insist “we’re done” if our religion endorses belief that comes as a result of God communicating directly to people to whom he wants to deliver a message (Abraham) or who believe without actually laying eyes on the risen Jesus but believe on other grounds. Or actually, you continue to insist “we’re done” because you continue, on your own continuing pain of fallacious argumentation, to insist that those are impossible interpretations of the recorded events. If on the other hand those interpretations are even possible then your writing them off that way is poor reasoning on your part.

    Your reference to “induction” in place of “faith” just signals your misconception as to where faith fits in. Faith is not induction. Induction is a means of acquiring knowledge. Faith is an epistemic attitude of continuing trust in the truth of what has already been known to be true. (I hasten to add that this is only one facet of faith, but it is the relevant facet for this discussion.)

    Until you get that straight in your head, you will continue to be confused, CA. You will continue to think that we are confused, but you will think so on fallacious terms that have been repeatedly pointed out to you.

    There’s a lot I haven’t said about faith in today’s world. That’s because I’ve been so intent on getting the word defined in its historic and conventional usage. Now is not the time to discuss whether our evidence for faith is as weak as you say it is. Now is the time to clear up the language so that when you and we talk about evidence for faith, you’re not talking about evidence for something else that you imagine to be the definition of the term under discussion.

    So for now I’m done talking about the relative strengths and weaknesses of evidence for faith. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s because when you, CA, talk about the key word “faith”in that phrase, you continue to understand it as something other than what it is. Under those circumstances the question of evidences for faith can’t even get off the ground. It’s time we recognized it.

  67. Crude,

    No, it isn’t, because ‘naturalism’ has no room for experience or intentionality, period – and that would include agency detection. Hence the arguments of Alex Rosenberg and the eliminative materialists.

    Are you kidding. There are a number of attempts at this, and getting into that specifics would be an even further derailment. Rosenberg gets repudiated by other naturalists and represents a minority viewpoint. Further, if explaining consciousness in terms of a material mind is an open issue in science and philosophy, but theism and dualism don’t add anything extra to the mix. If it’s hard to explain why consciousness comes from in terms of material, then it’s just as hard for something immaterial to explain it. This is compounded by the interactionist problems between the immaterial mind and the material brain.

    The only thing that could support an atheist’s claim about the sensus divinitatus is testimony, which you repeatedly have been dumping on – so you’ve already sabotaged yourself there.

    The only thing you’ve got supporting any sensus divinitatus claim is testimony, contradictory testimony at that. If I’m carping on testimony as evidence then it affects all of us equally.

    And who’s ‘we’? I haven’t said what atheists should and shouldn’t experience, and my understand of the SD is that it, at best, provides an awareness of God. I never have heard about an SD claim that supports a specific religion – I went into this when we discussed it at Randal Rauser’s.

    Plantinga goes into it, and the standard apologetic that says we can immediately experience god’s God’s self authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit by Craig. If you’d like to deny that for yourself, then you’re welcome to it. [Edited courtesy of Tom. Read the discussion policies. This is not your first notice.]

    Second, Craig himself claims it in all the linked references you guys asked me to provide – the self authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit provides incontrovertible proof to him in spite of any historically contingent evidence he finds against his faith that Christianity is true. The Mormon burning in the bosom that tells them the Book of Mormon is true. Similar claims from Islamic apologists.

    Not at all. There’s other explanations: ‘The SD is working, but people misinterpret/misreport their experiences.’ ‘The SD’s scope is more limited than has been advertised.’

    You treat conflict in SD reports as evidence against them. Then it would seem that a lack of conflict in SD reports – such as on the existence of God – should bolster the SD. And that’s going to include atheists who experience the SD but who nevertheless reason it away.

    Those explanations beg the question, since other SD proponents can say the exact same against your SD. Limiting the scope of SD does nothing against the claims of people who say they have no SD and want to experience it. And you can’t go against those claims without engaging in the dreaded “Pretending to know what you don’t know.”

    The same thing goes for trying to claim the commonality in SD helps its claims, since atheists who report no SD and say they want to have it or are open to having it. You can’t deny that without the “pretending to know what you don’t know” bit. The entire exercise sets itself up for this exact problem.

  68. BillT says:

    First of all, I know this from Epistemology. Revelation necessarily involves trusting the source of that revelation. There’s nothing a god could impart via certainty that isn’t also similarly provided epistemically via schizophrenia. This is bedrock epistemology.

    So the study of Epistemology has absolutely confirmed that God (mine has a capital G) couldn’t possibly provide anything to a person He is communicating with that can’t be provided by a mental illness. Wow. I’d be interested in seeing the studies of actual interactions with God that prove this. They must be quite something.

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    Counter Apologist: I’ve offered you the courtesy of correcting your capitalization of “God” in a couple places above. I think you probably did read the discussion policies, and you’ve already tried to use proper English usage, but I think your habits have gotten the better of you a couple times.

    I wonder: why do otherwise competent writers develop habits like misspelling “God” and “Bible” (in contexts where they are proper nouns) in the first place? You’d think they’d be embarrassed.

    I can only think of it as being a subtle jab, a playground poke in passing. If there’s another explanation for it, I’d be open to hearing it, but it’s the only one I’ve been able to come up with.

  70. Crude,

    I’ve had to engage in many rapid fire responses to you, and in cases it’s been where you’ve taken what I’ve said in one context of one argument (and I’ve had to put on many here) and respond to it as if it was in the context of another argument. Latest case in point:

    We’ve been discussing a case on the very terms you agreed to discuss them on: the context of Thomas in the bible, complete with granting the veracity of the Biblical claims. You’re sitting here trying to argue internally that the Bible teaches ‘believe with no evidence’ based on that particular situation, and then when we also argue internally based on that situation, you start complaining that our defenses are based on that particular situation! It’s absurd.

    The part you’re quoting from me is in reference not to the internal critique of the Doubting Thomas story, but in terms of Tom’s attempt to define faith in terms of being based on “good evidence”. We agree “good evidence” is direct access to miracles. Almost every single reference you’ve made to “good evidence” in terms of faith being used in the inductive style is in terms of direct access to miracles – something we don’t have today.

    I’m quite frankly tired of the dogpile, but if you’re going to jump into a conversation to critique something at least do it in reference to what I’m talking about.

  71. Sorry Tom, I’ve been responding quickly, I’ve made a concerted effort to try and follow your rules since you’ve pointed it out that I hope is noticed in my replies. I will endeavor to not slip up.

  72. BillT says:

    CA,

    Where I find your argument lacking is your insistence that because we don’t have direct access to miracles today that we don’t have good evidence. This simply doesn’t follow. We have good evidence for miracles because we know that the first generation of believers confirmed them and that the Christian faith was based on those beliefs and the eyewitness accounts of those first believers. That the evidence moved from eyewitness accounts to verbal accounts to written accounts doesn’t change our access to the truth of those accounts or the reliability of them given the historicity of the New Testament.

  73. BillT,

    We have good evidence for miracles because we know that the first generation of believers confirmed them and that the Christian faith was based on those beliefs and the eyewitness accounts of those first believers

    No, you have anonymous manuscripts of these miracles and stories, which our best textual dating puts decades after the event, and even then you don’t have those copies. You have copies of copies of copies, where the first fragments we have are three centuries after the fact, with the whole copies of those texts being much older than that.

    The amount of argumentation here against trying to use the gospels as historical documents is extremely wide and varied, but that’s its own topic I think we should avoid here. I think we can safely say that it is contentious.

  74. Crude says:

    Counter,

    The part you’re quoting from me is in reference not to the internal critique of the Doubting Thomas story, but in terms of Tom’s attempt to define faith in terms of being based on “good evidence”. We agree “good evidence” is direct access to miracles.

    No, we don’t. I think “good evidence” is obtained without ‘direct access to miracles’ – and I think that what ‘direct access to miracles’ is ‘good evidence’ of is very conditional.

    Almost every single reference you’ve made to “good evidence” in terms of faith being used in the inductive style is in terms of direct access to miracles – something we don’t have today.

    First, I already disputed that claim, even if it’s non-essential to my point. Did you see how many people claim to have witnessed a miracle? Who’s this ‘we’? But wait, let me guess – they didn’t really witness miracles, because we can find alternate explanations for what they saw or thought they saw, most likely. So much for the value of direct access to miracles – they can forever be questioned.

    Second, I have been making reference, specifically, to the context of the biblical passage you quoted. You’re the one who said that Jesus was telling Thomas to believe based on poor evidence, and I pointed out what evidence was available to *Thomas*, and therefore what Jesus was saying. You attempted to simply say that even if Thomas had direct access to having seen miracles in the past, complete with someone even being raised to the dead (which you apparently forgot about at first), you would *still* claim that Thomas was lacking reasonable evidence to believe testimony. I think that’s absurd.

    I’m quite frankly tired of the dogpile, but if you’re going to jump into a conversation to critique something at least do it in reference to what I’m talking about.

    No one likes a dogpile, but you can take your time and answer these questions at your leisure. You’ve also, let’s be honest – you’ve written some incredibly lengthy responses and lists of claims. I’m just being thorough in my responses to you, and pointing out problems as they come up. There’s such a thing as a one-man dogpile.

    For the record, I think ‘good evidence’ constitutes a wide range of things – reasoned testimonial from reliable or trustworthy witnesses, logical argument and/or metaphysical demonstration, and more.

    Finally, while I’m also looking forward to other responses, I’d particularly like to see you backing up the claim regarding schizophrenia. I think that comment was pulled out of the air, a kind of ‘everyone knows that, insofar as they repeat that’, and on inspection we’re going to find the claim falls apart.

  75. Melissa says:

    Counter,

    You have copies of copies of copies, where the first fragments we have are three centuries after the fact, with the whole copies of those texts being much older than that.

    I think you must have inadvertently made a mistake here or you’re sources are bad.

  76. Oisin says:

    Crude:

    Did you see how many people claim to have witnessed a miracle? Who’s this ‘we’? But wait, let me guess – they didn’t really witness miracles, because we can find alternate explanations for what they saw or thought they saw, most likely. So much for the value of direct access to miracles – they can forever be questioned.

    So why not apply the same scepticism to the claims of thousands of followers of Sathya Sai Baba that he can mediate and walk on water, etc.? If this is not evidence for his claims about the truth of the Hindu religion, why do we have to accept the make claims of the Bible?

  77. Andrew W says:

    Can I direct your attention to 1Cor 15:1-17?

    Key paraphrase (v14): if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.

    Notice that Paul is saying Christ’s resurrection is:
    – remarkable. It is not treated as an everyday occurrence.
    – factual. vv 5-8 are an extensive list of witnesses.
    – pivotal. The resurrection makes or breaks his message.

    Boghossian is about 2 millennia behind the times. Paul has already answered his challenge. If the resurrection didn’t happen, give up Christianity. But he will point to over 500 witnesses who will testify that it did.

    Notice also that Paul is quite clear that “faith” is intimately connected to fact. “Faith” always has two subjects: you have faith in X that Y. If X is false, then you cannot trust Y. If X doesn’t support Y, then you cannot trust Y. Paul aggressively closes off any hope of salvation apart from the resurrection – he’s not happy to put his trust in mere pretense.

    Finally, note that misplaced faith does not invalidate correctly applied faith, just as the existence of bad arguments does not invalidate the rules of logic. Faith is not “pretending”. It is choosing to place your trust in a predicted or promised outcome based on existing reliability.

  78. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Andrew. Concise, clear, and helpful.

  79. Oisin says:

    You have faith that the eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection are true.

    Why do you not have faith that the eyewitness accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s many miracles are true?

  80. Tom Gilson says:

    Rephrase that, please:

    You believe that the eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection are true.

    Why do you not believe that the eyewitness accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s many miracles are true?

    That means essentially the same thing, except it helps me to see it in a more ordinary light, without all the baggage that atheism wants to throw on faith. The question we all want to answer is, “Well, did it happen or didn’t it?” And if there’s reason to believe it happened, then the sensible thing is to believe that it happened.

    I have never studied the apologetic credibility of Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles. A friend of mine, Andre Kole, is a world-class illusionist, who has designed illusions for David Copperfield, and has one on-stage illusion that he says no one has ever figured out. A few professional magicians have come close, he says. I mention all that just to say that he’s very good at what he does.

    He has toured Asia extensively, and like James Randi in other contexts, he has challenged the supposed miracle workers in various places there to demonstrate their supernatural power. His thesis is that it’s easy to fool most people, and it’s especially easy to fool scientists, who are trained to look for truth, but it’s hard to fool a good illusionist, who is trained in trickery.

    The book he wrote on this, Miracles or Magic is in my daughter’s hands where I can’t get to it, so I can’t promise he mentions Sathya Sai Baba specifically. He did say, however, that every so-called miracle that he investigated was easily explainable in terms of stage magic.

    SSB supposedly also healed himself from serious illness. He also mis-predicted his death. Most of all, when he died, his body stayed where it was buried.

    So let’s suppose, to be generous, that he did perform some miracles. Next to Jesus Christ he would still be next to nothing (as John the Baptist also said about himself). Jesus lived the only morally perfect life. I have reasons to believe that to be more than mere story, including this. He died and rose again. He provides more than mere sensational stuff to ooh-and-aah over, for by his death and resurrection he conquered death.

    So by the power of his miracles, by the excellence of his life and teaching, and by the superb solution he provides for the deepest questions of human existence, Jesus has demonstrated that he is the One: the unique Son of the only Father.

    If SSB preached the same message as Jesus and also performed miracles, that would be intriguing. But his message was consistent with Hinduism, making him contradictory to Christ. But since Christ has shown himself to be the way, the truth and the life (from John 14:6), we know that any other way is a diversion from truth and life.

    What that comes down to is that even if SSB performed miracles, I wouldn’t care much. Jesus is enough. He’s great enough, good enough, true enough, satisfying enough, loving enough, powerful enough, consistent enough for me to choose to follow him, and to reject even the most impressive competitors, for they don’t even come close.

    Back to your question then: why do I believe the accounts of Christ but not of SSB? For one thing, I have a friend who has done competent investigation and has concluded that none of the Asian “miracle workers” is for real. For another, I believe the accounts of Christ, for all kinds of historical, philosophical, theological, and existential reasons. And since I believe that he died and rose again for me, I haven’t thought it worth the bother to investigate SSB.

  81. BillT says:

    You have copies of copies of copies, where the first fragments we have are three centuries after the fact…

    I figured I would get something like this from you. You as badly informed about this as you were about Christianity and the Roman Empire.

    The facts; The earliest fragments currently available date into the first century. Another significant number to the early second century. Complete books of the Bible date to the third century and complete manuscript copies of the NT into the early fourth century. Overall there are nearly 25,000 manuscript copies available. Further, these are not anonymous manuscripts. The authorship of the NT books is well established. Overall, the NT is the best attested ancient text in human history and is orders of magnitude better attested than any other ancient text.

    I think we can safely say that it is contentious.

    Not for anyone who has done their homework. You should do some research before you come here spouting nonsense and making yourself look foolish.

  82. JAD says:

    Why do you not have faith that the eyewitness accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s many miracles are true?

    What does that question have to do with the topic under discussion? Please clarify.

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, Andre also does a walking on water stage illusion. He says Jesus could have done it as an illusion, too–if he had traveled with a large truck full of equipment.

    Oh, and Andre doesn’t go anywhere. It’s really a standing on water illusion, not a walking on water illusion.

  84. Tom Gilson says:

    Good point, BillT, about CA’s knowledge of the manuscripts. He is (at least) nearly a century out of date on his information–at least as far back as 1920, when the John Rylands fragment was found.

    He’s utterly and embarrassingly wrong about the dating of the fragments, he’s wrong about the status of the other manuscripts, and he’s wrong if he thinks there is even the slightest doubt that we have a faithful copy of the original, except for a few disputable variants which (a) have nothing to do with any matter of doctrine, and (b) were honestly and openly marked as variants in the first Bible I ever read, as far back as the 1960s, so that readers could draw their own informed conclusions. Bibles still routinely include those variants in the marginal notes.

    Bart Ehrman published a book purporting to show that the manuscript evidence we have for the originals is inadequate. Read it carefully, though, and you’ll find he agrees with everything I just said. He makes a mountain out of a couple molehills, and he made some money selling it. Otherwise he agrees.

    So Counter Apologist, there are a few matters on which there is rom for dispute. This is not one of them.

  85. Tom Gilson says:

    JAD: what does SSB have to do with the topic? Good question. I don’t know. But it did give me a chance to write again about the greatness of Jesus Christ, so I’m glad he asked!

  86. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, Counter Apologist, do you have any idea how refreshing it could be to your soul — and to readers here — if you would say something like, “Well, I can see I was likely wrong about Constantine and the growth of Christianity, and about the fragments, too. And I suppose I had better investigate whether I need to update my opinions on the reliability of the NT documents.”

    Those kinds of admissions are good for the soul, and they advance discussion in the direction of truth.

  87. Tom,

    I’ve really wracked my head around trying to grasp what you mean by my argument against Abraham’s evidence being circular. I’m not sure how taking the neutral stance on what it means when the Bible says “God spoke to Abraham” is circular.

    Still, on my fresh reading this morning it seems you’re stating that it doesn’t matter if the Bible contains places where faith is referenced in terms of belief without good evidence or places where good evidence (in terms of direct access to miracles). Since in either case faith must mean that it is trust based on what you know to be true.

    In this sense, faith has absolutely nothing to do with evidence, since evidence relates to “what I know to be true”.

    I would ask two very simple questions:

    1.) Given how you’ve defined faith, would you then say that in order to believe in scientific conclusions one must necessarily have faith of the type you describe – To have a trust based on what I know to be true in terms of empirical evidence?

    Must I have faith (as you describe it) that the earth/universe is over 6000 years old, and that there was no world wide flood based on my trust in the scientific method and the empirical evidence we have regarding those two claims?

    2.) Are you in agreement with other Christians and apologists who such as William Lane Craig who writes about a way of knowing things are true apart from evidence and reason in Reasonable Faith (pg 36):

    Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.

    I think you would have to agree with this, since based on your definition of faith, Craig claims to know Christianity is true because the witness of the Holy Spirit reveals the fundamental truth of Christianity to him.

    I would like simple answers to these questions.

    If I have you right, and that’s what you want to mean by faith, then that’s fine. I think Boghossian’s case can certainly still go through since he is primarily attacking the epistemology of religion – the “ways of knowing things are true”.

    The conversation then shifts to how you know things are true, and whether those are reliable methods or not. Suffice it to say I think a very strong case against the ways you’re claiming enable you to have theological knowledge.

    (I had to edit this to correct a glaring error).

  88. Billy Squibs says:

    CA mentioned having “copies of copies of copies, where the first fragments we have are three centuries after the fact”. There are a few things to say on this tangent.

    Firstly, that we only have copies is an irrelevant statement unless one can show that these documents contain substantive theological differences. It is my understanding that this is not the case and that the key tenets and affirmations of the NT remain accurately transmitted from the earliest fragments throughout the second century, third century and so on.

    Secondly, the statement that the earliest fragments we have date from “three centuries after the fact” is just plain wrong and a simple Google search would provide correction on this error.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, these above objections are simply red herrings. I’ve come to realise that when Dan Wallace tentatively and seemingly prematurely revealed that a fragment of Mark dating to the 1st century had been found that it was always going to wash over sceptics like Ehrman. This is because talk of copies and copies of copies and earliest fragments dating to centuries after the fact is all subterfuge.

    Let’s say we unearth the original documents and each of these was shown to be penned by the followers and friends of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Furthermore, on close inspection the subsequent copies and copies of copies are shown to faithfully transmit the original content. Now what for the sceptic?

    These objections would be dropped and we would really be addressing objections like –

    a) eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable (I’ve posted that link before and it’s well worth reading it along with the two preceding posts mentioned in the first sentence)
    b) extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
    c) asked how Christians explain away the atheist’s favourite Guru, Sathya Sai Baba.
    d) etc…

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    Maybe, CA, you could explain how your stance on Abraham is neutral while you maintain that his belief is necessarily epistemically unjustified. I see those two as being contradictory, for reasons I’ve already stated.

    I’m starting to wonder if I’ve misread your position. If I’m wrong about that I will of course admit the error, back up, and start all over again.

  90. It appears I’m due for some corrections I did fire off entirely too much last night. I humbly and happily admit my errors:

    First – Crude: The comment about “most cases about direct revelation from God were identified as schizophrenia” was far too quick and broad and can’t be substantiated. The point I wanted to make is that we would agree most claims about the direct revelation from God (similar to the Bible’s claim about Abraham) are ones we would agree are false. Whether it’s Pat Robertson claiming God told him Romney would win the election, Mohammed and Islam, or Harold Camping and the end of the world. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.

    Second – BillT/Tom: You’re right fragments of the gospels came from somewhere in the first century, with the complete copies from the third century. I mistakenly recalled it, full on mea culpa.

    I’m not sure how well that’s going against the argument about copies of copies, and the text being written well after the events in question leaving time for legendary development. Conspiracy theories popped up about 9/11 pretty quickly after the fact and persist to this day, I’d content the claims about Christianity evolved in a similar manner to other religions.

    There are certainly other issues in the texts we can argue, but the date part isn’t one of them. However, I am not wrong about the authorship of the gospels being in question/anonymous.

    Third – It is not my contention that Christianity did not grow before Constantine, I wholeheartedly and fully admit that it did grow before that. My contention is that after Constantine, Christianity’s spread was accelerated and spread farther than otherwise – so far that the West was consumed by it in name if not belief.

    This seems to be acknowledged in BillT’s post:

    Adoption lead to a dilution of the kind of committed Christian that persevered through the persecutions. Thus, the growth by conversion of committed Christians actually slowed.

    This was in reference to the idea that “Christianity has a huge history of supporting widows and orphans”. My point here was that many societies support widows and orphans, and many do it under the banner of some religion. When Christianity was subsumed into the Empire and became part of the state, the charities there were then done under the Christian moniker because of it’s affiliation with the state. That was my attempted point anyway, not to deny that Christianity spread before Constantine. I don’t see how that helps you guys much, since very many religions spread wildly.

    Further I would argue about cases of Christianity suffering widespread official and systematic persecution, something along the lines of what Candida Moss argues in “The Myth of Christian Persecution”.

    Anyway, I absolutely do admit errors. I appreciate being called on them and corrected.

  91. Tom Gilson says:

    Regarding your “two very simple questions,”

    I’ve dealt with number one recently enough. I wouldn’t apply the term “faith” to the scientific context you describe. Some Christians do, but I don’t.

    As to the age of the universe, you have some pretty solid knowledge to go on, and I agree that the universe is as old as it appears to be. I think a regional flood is a more likely explanation of the Noah account than a global flood, based on existing scientific and biblical-hermeneutical paradigms. So both those questions are issues of ordinary knowledge.

    Remember, faith (in the context under discussion) is an epistemic attitude toward what is known to be true: it is trust that it will continue to be true, and that I can rely upon it as it relates to me personally, both now and in the future.

    Next: first, I want to make it known that any attempt to cast William Lane Craig as someone who disregards evidences is just silly.

    In context, he distinguishes between the magisterial use of reason and the ministerial use. The magisterial use places human reason and judgment over God. The ministerial use places reason in service to God. What he’s saying, in context, is that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about assurance of the reality of God. He provides (ministerial) reasons to think that.

    To assume that our understanding of evidence and argument should supersede the work of God in our lives is to turn things upside down.

    Now, let’s put this back in context. He stated a conditional: if a conflict between the Spirit’s witness and evidence/reasons should arise, then we side with the Spirit against evidence/reason.

    Let me add this to that. if a conflict between the Spirit’s witness and evidence/reasons had arisen for Craig or for me, then we would have had to side with the Spirit against evidence/reason. We would be fideists or something like that; or maybe intellectually schizophrenic.

    The thing is, I find no such conflict. Granted there is no apodictic proof of our religions, there is also no conflict between them and the relevant evidences and reasons.

    So if you want to run somewhere drawing conclusions from a contrafactual conditional, I suggest you slow down and realize that Craig is no fideist. He was stating a hypothetical that he believes to be false. It would be similar to you saying, “If I became convinced that the earth was hollow, then I would believe in Shiva.” Shall I go around telling people, “Counter Apologist believes in Shiva”? Obviously not.

    Neither should you go around saying that Craig believes in following the Spirit instead of evidences and reason, because that conclusion was drawn from a contrafactual conditional.

    It might be interesting if you explored why he said it. Since it’s a contrafactual conditional, why even bring it up? I suggest you read the pages before and after that excerpt.

  92. Billy Squibs says:

    Must I have faith (as you describe it) that the earth/universe is over 6000 years old, and that there was no world wide flood based on my trust in the scientific method and the empirical evidence we have regarding those two claims?

    Forgive the intrusion, and perhaps I’m missing the point, but it seems to me that –

    a) I’m not sure what you understand by Tom’s meaning of faith. In a broad sense I think that faith means the justified belief that something is true based on the evidence. (People may want to contest that definition or rework it but it makes sense to me.)

    b) You are quite free to disagree with the 6,000 year old interpretation, just as you are free to challenge the notion of a worldwide flood. Indeed, many Christians would be of a similar mind, and I think they are so with some solid justifications. For example, the idea that the earth or creation is 6,000 year old is not a claim found directly in the Bible. We have men like my fellow countryman Cardinal Usher and also events like the Scopes Trial in the early 20th century to thank for that.

    It seems to me that you are pitching a set of contestable theological statements against a set of relatively uncontroversial scientific statements when there isn’t necessarily a reason to do this. Many Christians recognise the distinction.

    All in all I’m not sure what you are asking.

  93. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for your admissions of error. I respect that a lot.

    I think you still have more work to do on understanding the origins and growth of compassion. Study what Plato wrote about the sick. Study what Galen did during the plague. Study what Julian the Apostate said about “the impious Galileans.” Study what Aristotle said about slaves and women. Study what the Romans did with newborns, especially females. Study official Roman policy on compassionate care: when and why it was given.

    Then study what Christians did during Christianity’s first centuries.

    You’ll find that you have it backwards with your statement that charity was done under the banner of Christianity because of its affiliation with the state.

    Study also which people were the pioneers in providing humanitarian aid to peoples other than themselves. Granted there are many now doing that kind of thing, but study where they learned it from.

    Candida Moss’s thesis is rather idiosyncratic and not widely accepted.

  94. SteveK says:

    And since I believe that he died and rose again for me, I haven’t thought it worth the bother to investigate SSB.

    This is a key point that skeptics gloss over as if it’s unimportant to the question of God. Reported miracle workers don’t do anything to undermine the Christian faith. We know about false prophets and false christs. I can accept that these miracles occurred without any contradiction. I also don’t need to give any thought to claims that involve a god among gods.

  95. BillT says:

    …and the text being written well after the events in question leaving time for legendary development.

    Again, absolutely wrong. The NT texts were written between 20 and 50/60 years after the events they record. This means the were written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events they record and further in a number of instances they were written by the eyewitnesses to the events they record. This eliminates any possibility of legendary development. Just FYI, the time frame for legendary development is measured in hundreds of years (3/400 would be a good starting point) not tens of years.

  96. Billy Squibs says:

    Regarding Candida Moss, I have only encountered her recently but I’ve been put off reading her book after this review. Too many other books to read.

  97. BillT,

    My contention with the Flood/YEC claims wasn’t to do the sophomoric (and erroneous) “Some Christians think this stupid stuff, therefore Christianity is false”. It was more of a convenient example of scientific conclusions that are contentious in some religious circles, I was trying to ask more about whether or not faith as Tom defines it applies there.

    Tom answered and I’m good with that.

  98. Billy Squibs says:

    This eliminates any possibility of legendary development. Just FYI, the time frame for legendary development is measured in hundreds of years (3/400 would be a good starting point) not tens of years.

    I have to disagree. There is no absolute that will stop legend developing moments after an event let alone hundreds of years. Indeed, isn’t part of the battle that Paul faces in his recorded life against those within the early church are offering a false/ distorted gospel?

    With regards to the general message of the NT, I think that Galatians 2 1:11-2:14 is very interesting. Paul meets up very early in his ministry with likes of Peter and James (and what a meeting that would have been considering his previous life!) to see if they could corroborate his understanding of the gospel. They did.

    =====

    CA, I assume that your #97 post is directed at me? As there are loads of “Bills” knocking around these parts perhaps it’s better if I changed my nom de plume to something a little more distinctive. Either way I’m glad that you found your answer.

  99. Tom,

    I’m not sure how you can argue against Craig adopting some form of fideism there. I certainly grant that he thinks he’s got evidence for God’s existence. My entire YouTube channel/blog/posting here is relating to show how he is mistaken there.

    The question boils down to his “inner witness of the Holy Spirit” or the sensus divinitatus being a good or valid way to know, and I’ve outlined exactly how problematic that is when we consider all of the relevant evidence surrounding that.

  100. SteveK says:

    I couldn’t help but notice these statements from the review of Candida Moss that Billy linked to.

    Speculations become probabilities, which become assertions, which become facts, which prove the early Christians fraudulently invented martyrdoms.

    This is the common template that skeptics rely on.

    The rule is apparently to read skeptically the writings of the past, but not to doubt the imaginations of present-day scholars.

    Same here.

  101. BillT,

    Legendary development doesn’t take long at all. We had 9/11 conspiracy theorists pretty quickly and they persist to this day. Other religions have the exact same kinds of things. Further, we see legendary development within the gospels themselves – Mark being the oldest, and ending without much in terms of the resurrection (ending at 16:8). We see later additions to Mark that then add on the resurrection bits and demonstrably false supernatural claims (16:17-18). We see other additions later on with the resurrection of all the saints who then went into Jeruselem. We see the story of Doubting Thomas being added, etc.

    Also, your dating is considerably earlier than what is agreed on by a majority of NT scholars.

    EDIT: BillT – I’ve read you wrong. Your dating is fine, I read you as saying they were written in AD60 at the latest, I missed the “after the events” part. My apologies.

    Also sorry for the confusion between Billy and BillT.

  102. BillT says:

    CA,

    Conspiracy theories are not the same as legendary development in any way. All of the things you mention about the NT are duly noted in the texts. Here’s what you have to understand. The NT is an incredibly accurately preserved historical record of the eyewitness testimony of the life and ministry of Christ. The original texts are known to be preserved to a 98% accuracy and the authorship is well established. There is no other ancient text like it in any of these particulars. Further, there is no other religious text that can be compared to it as a historical document. They just aren’t written in that way nor do they even claim be be historical writings like the NT. It’s a highly trustworthy historical account and no historical or archaeological discovery has been found that contradicts the NT text. We believe it because it’s true.

  103. Tom,

    My position is that Abrahams belief is irrelevant, I have no qualms admitting that in the Bible he certainly believed it was God. The point was “Abraham heard a voice in his head and believed it was God”, that’s where faith came in.

    Since for the sake of argument I hold “hearing voices in your head that make you sure it’s from God” is generally unreliable, but not necessarily false, it’s a case where Abraham’s is basing his belief on a method that is generally unreliable. My contention is that this is belief based on bad evidence, and that’s what faith refers to.

    Seeing your point now, this is immaterial to “faith as trust in what you know to be true”, since that also can apply in this context. The passage could be read either way (or both ways).

    Still, in terms of the argument with Boghossian and others, they could largely still make their case if they adopted your definition of faith. Espeically against apologists like Craig and others who claim the primary way you know Christianity is true is via the sensus divinitatus. Boghossian argues against bad epistemology, and I think an extremely strong case can be made against the sensus divinitatus along the lines I’ve stated here, not to mention other arguments regarding scripture, etc.

    That is another conversation though and I think it should be had at another time. I think we’ve beat the topic to death.

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    I think that’s a fair summary, CA. I would disagree with your word choice “method” (“basing his belief on a method that is generally unreliable”) since I don’t think that’s a good description of what happens. I said it previously: it’s not a case where Abraham applies some method to determine whether or not to accept that the voice is from God. He just knows. I can attest to that from my own experience: not a “voice” speaking propositional truths, but a direct awareness of God, a perception.

    At this point I think it’s fine to say we’ve done enough on this. You’re likely to continue to think my own epistemological methodology is flawed. I’m going to continue to deny that it’s about “method.” And I think if we continued this discussion we would land where we started.

    But I will pray for you that God will reveal himself to you, so that you can know his reality in a personal way. His self-revelation comes through many channels: his word, his people, his creation, and his direct relationship with you, to name a few. I’ll be praying.

  105. Tom,

    I assume you’re saying that Abraham had a combo of sensus divinitatus plus the voice of God or message or whatever it is that he heard when “God spoke to Abraham”. I am assuming that to be charitable since you were very adamant about what Abraham had being very different from the sensus divinitatus that you and others claim to have.

    FWIW, I’m an apostate. I believed for 20+ years, I begged and pleaded for a sign when the intellectual issues caused me to question. I engaged in apologetics when I had problems to try and find answers and found atheism at the end of that trail.

    There was never any sense in which I had any special feelings or knowledge come to me from God. There was nothing but silence. Belief was axiomatic, it just wasn’t questionable. I was taught it by the same people who taught me water was wet and 2+2=4, almost at the same time as those things.

    But I can tell you that I believed. Please don’t take the pretending to know what you don’t know route, and tell me I didn’t believe.

    Generally I don’t like it when people offer to pray for me when they know I’m an atheist, but I can estimate you’re saying that in kindness. The problem is that I don’t think you’ll be praying harder than I did a few years ago, and that got me atheism.

    I don’t say that with malice either. Things haven’t been better since I left. Other than my marriage and the birth of my daughter, I rank that up there with one of the best things in my life. Hard, but worth it.

  106. SteveK says:

    Conspiracy theories are not the same as legendary development in any way.

    I would agree, they are different. I’m no expert in either, but one seems to be more of a method of interpretation and the other a further development of an established interpretation.

    So with that in mind, I’d say conspiracy theories give more weight to certain facts than is warranted and are not considered the most reasonable. CT’s can be very close in time to the event itself and often compete with the more reasonable theories at the same time in history. Legendary development takes what is already the most reasonable theory and develops or expands upon on it over a longer period of time to create legend.

  107. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Counter Apologist:

    There was never any sense in which I had any special feelings or knowledge come to me from God.

    Me neither, and yet one of the more certain beliefs I have is that He exists and could not but exist (I will leave Christianity on the side for now, because its rational justification is of necessity, and by the nature of the case, weaker in probative force). And I will even say more: you prayed to Him and, in your estimation, heard only silence. I came to Him in spite of my will and against my temperament; life would be much easier and simpler if He did not exist or… would just stop His maddening, deafening silence, and leave me alone.

    Of the still-living contingent of poets, my favorite is John Ashbery. One of his earlier poems is titled “How Much Longer Will I Be Able to Inhabit the Divine Sepulcher…” and it starts like this:

    How much longer will I be able to inhabit the divine sepulcher
    Of life, my great love? Do dolphins plunge bottomward
    To find the light? Or is it rock
    That is searched? Unrelentingly? Huh. And if some day

    Men with orange shovels come to break open the rock
    Which encases me, what about the light that comes in then?
    What about the smell of the light?
    What about the moss?

    Curious, how subjective experiences can yield so starkingly difficult judgments.

    Anyway, if there is one thing I will never understand is those skeptics that keep asking for a Road-to-Damascus experience (like another regular here, Ray Ingles). In verity, they have absolutely no idea what they are asking.

  108. Oisin says:

    I think it’s fair to say that, if we accept that Sathya Sai Baba may have faked his miracles, then we can also think it possible that Jesus faked his miracles. Just a thought, reject it if you like, it’s only throwaway.

    Since we are of the opinion that miracles can and do occur, and we consider Sathya Sai Bab’s miracles, how do these occur? Does God imbue men like him with magical powers, or intervene in the world to suit their needs? Do magical powers exist without Godly intervention?

    Is it at all possible that Jesus’s followers lied about his resurrection? Or even one of them lied, then social influence and cognitive biases led to false memories of the event being created? Just possible, hypothetically.

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course it’s possible that if one person faked miracles, another might have as well. Is that supposed to be controversial? But what’s the next step, Oisin?

  110. Oisin says:

    Of course it’s possible that if one person faked miracles, another might have as well. Is that supposed to be controversial? But what’s the next step, Oisin?

    I’ll take that also as a tacit acceptance that one or more of the disciples may have lied about witnessing Christ risen, or that false memories of the event may have been created (for anyone doubting this, here is a real-world example in modern times of such a thing occurring).

    The next step, Tom, is admitting that eyewitness accounts of the resurrection are not good evidence of the event occurring. It is trivially easy to come up with alternative explanations for the miracle claims in the Bible that do not call into question or contradict modern understandings of reality. For this reason, the leap of faith required to believe the Bible is true is not evidence-based, the evidence does not lead us to conclude that the claims of the Bible are true. The faith aspect, therefore, is treating the work as a true account of the creator of the universe, despite the evidence not leading one to this conclusion.

    Regardless of whether you agree with my analysis, I think it is fair to request that you do not use the claims of historical accounts as evidence that the Bible is true anymore, unless you have some way of knowing that the accounts are genuine. Otherwise, you are pretending to know this.

  111. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Oisin:

    The next step, Tom, is admitting that eyewitness accounts of the resurrection are not good evidence of the event occurring. It is trivially easy to come up with alternative explanations for the miracle claims in the Bible that do not call into question or contradict modern understandings of reality. For this reason, the leap of faith required to believe the Bible is true is not evidence-based, the evidence does not lead us to conclude that the claims of the Bible are true.

    So your argument fleshed out runs like this:

    (1) Take Biblical event p.

    (2) It is “trivially easy to come up with alternative explanations” for p “that do not call into question or contradict modern understandings of reality”.

    (3) Therefore “the leap of faith required to believe the Bible is true is not evidence-based”.

    Do you realize how awfully bad this is?

  112. Tom Gilson says:

    Wrong next step.

    The next step, when there is a possibility that one or more accounts might not be true, is not to assume that both of them are false. It is to investigate the reliability of the accounts.

    And really, for all our discussion on eyewitnesses being unreliable, on the major points you are wrong. Eyewitness reports such as those that were made about Jesus are either true or else they’re fabricated out of thin air. They are not the result of eyewitness error.

    What I’m about to share is directed to several atheists who have tried to use the “unreliability of eyewitnesses” ploy. I’m going to speak it strongly. Oisin, I don’t remember whether you’ve used this one before or not. If not, then take my vehemence as being directed at others. The main point stands for anyone, though.

    Engineers speak of failure modes. When an electrical circuit goes bad, it could manifest in over-voltage, under-voltage, noisy signals, a house fire, etc. It will never result in skunks moving in under your floor and living in your crawl space. It will never result in your Windows machine suddenly running like a Mac. (Or vice versa, which would be a failure!)

    Similarly with eyewitness accounts. There are certain characteristic failure modes: disagreement as to sequences, colors, persons’ clothing and identity, and so on. They tend to reside in details. There may be all kinds of disagreement as to what caused a car to go off the bridge into the lake, but if ten people call the police and say, “there’s a car that just went underwater and you need to send divers,” they don’t answer, “Why should we? All we have are your unreliable eyewitness accounts.” That would be outside the plausible set of eyewitness failures.

    And eyewitness failures also do not include dozens of people agreeing that a man they knew was formerly dead and was then alive, and talked with them, and walked miles with them, and explained the Scriptures to them in a way they had never understood before, and ate with them, and caused them to have miraculous catches of fish, and was carried up to heaven out of their sight.

    This is not the way eyewitness accounts fail. This is not symptomatic of eyewitness unreliability. It is not indicative of eyewitness unreliability. Eyewitness unreliability is not a plausible or realistic explanation.

    The “unreliable eyewitness” ploy is nothing but that. It is intellectually disreputable, based on a misreading of science by people who supposedly claim science as their sole source of knowledge. It’s embarrassing.

    You (plural “you,” meaning, all those who have used this ploy) really need to drop it if you care about your own intellectual honesty and respectability. Whether you’ll do that in your own private set of beliefs, I don’t know. But you won’t get away with trying it here. It’s just too silly.

  113. Tom Gilson says:

    As for the “trivially easy” alternative explanations, it’s trivially easy to explain anything. I can explain the sunrise as the birth of a new sun god every morning. See–that was so easy, I did it without even thinking about it!

    What skeptics haven’t done is to find an explanation that remains so trivially easy to defend in the face of a good challenge.

  114. JAD says:

    Oisin:

    Is it at all possible that Jesus’s followers lied about his resurrection? Or even one of them lied, then social influence and cognitive biases led to false memories of the event being created? Just possible, hypothetically.

    Is it possible, Oisin, that you are rationalizing or explaining away the claims of the gospel because there are moral or spiritual issues in you life that you don’t wish to confront? Just possible, hypothetically.

  115. Random99 says:

    To CA:

    You wrote: “There was never any sense in which I had any special feelings or knowledge come to me from God. There was nothing but silence. Belief was axiomatic, it just wasn’t questionable. I was taught it by the same people who taught me water was wet and 2+2=4, almost at the same time as those things.”

    I’ve appreciated the dialog of this blog, but I’m more impressed with the honesty presented in the above paragraph.

    In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus never teaches to pray and ask for “special feelings or knowledge”… wonder why?

    Paul writes that man will not have an excuse for not believing because what is clearly seen by all, that what’s been “made” can be distinguished as only coming from God.

    Ironically, you do have special knowledge from God except you’re rejecting it because it’s found in the pages in the Bible! If you reject that, why would He elect to give you more? You attack the historicity of it without looking at it’s “message” to see how utterly profound and life-changing it’s message is. There is no other counterpart for wisdom and understanding that corresponds with the true nature of man, good and evil, and our reality.

    Moreover, how can anyone look at a sunset, the stars in the sky, a majestic mountain range, a flower, butterfly, hummingbird, polar bear, etc., the list of things in nature can go on and on… but especially the birth of a baby and not be moved with emotion at the awesome beauty, majesty, and gloriousness of it all! That is Paul’s point! Why do you need more than that?

    Naturalistic explanations simply will not suffice. They are deficient and artificially constructed to a determined outcome. It is wholly dishonest in the age of scientific enlightenment to simply believe that this universe with all its power, glory, majesty, beauty, art, life and intellect is the byproduct of “nothing”!

    Philosophy reasoned this ages ago, science supports today. Materialism can not be proven scientifically, it’s a metaphysical claim in which you express “faith”. An explanation devoid of value, meaning, and emotion there very things you say you desire.

  116. Larry Tanner says:

    eyewitness accounts of the resurrection

    We have eyewitness accounts of the resurrection, that is, reports written by actual people who witnessed the resurrection itself first-hand?

  117. Oisin says:

    Tom: How do you know the disciples did not lie to assist in their spread of Christ’s moral message?

    Tom and G. Rodrigues:

    Biblical event p claims a miracle occurred. Based on this one claim, billions of Christians spend their lives praying for miracles, and atoning for sins stipulated in the Bible.

    Biblical event p has two possible explanations. Eyewitnesses lied, or were wrong, or else the account of the miracle is true. The only evidence is that people long ago claimed it happened.

    The only evidence of a miracle occurring ever is claims that they occurred. The claim is that something completely unique in the history of physics and biology, etc., occurred thousands of years ago, and the reason for believing it is because some followers of a religious leader at the time said so.

    Religious people claim that accepting this claim is evidence-based faith. Sceptics rightly claim that accepting this evidence is a leap not justified by the evidence.

    Do you see where I’m coming from?

    JAD:
    I’m actually a very spiritual person, you don’t need to believe things on bad evidence to have transcendent experiences.

    If you’re curious I can find some links for you, but I can safely say that I hold no grudge against God or the gospels. I just think they are wrong, and religions have ways of making people change the way they consider evidence for claims when the claims are explicitly religious. I truly think that if you thought about Christianity from an outsider’s perspective you couldn’t possibly accept the miracle claims, and this is the context in which the word “faith”is used: to overcome evidential issues.

  118. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, yes. See the first paragraph of the first letter of John. Note also that Mark is widely believed to have been acting as a kind of mouthpiece for Peter, and that the gospels of Matthew and John were written by two of the original twelve. See also Paul’s own account in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

  119. Random99 says:

    To CA:

    There was never any sense in which I had any special feelings or knowledge come to me from God. There was nothing but silence. Belief was axiomatic, it just wasn’t questionable. I was taught it by the same people who taught me water was wet and 2+2=4, almost at the same time as those things.

    I’ve appreciated the dialog of this blog, but I’m more impressed with the honesty presented in the above paragraph.

    In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus never teaches us to pray and ask for “special feelings or knowledge”… wonder why?

    Paul writes that man will not have an excuse for not believing because what is clearly seen by all, that what’s been “made” can be distinguished as only coming from God.

    Ironically, you do have special knowledge from God and it’s found in the pages in the Bible! If you reject that, why would He elect to give you more? You attack the historicity of it without looking at it’s “message” to see how utterly profound and life-changing it’s message is. There is no other counterpart for wisdom and understanding that corresponds with the true nature of man, good and evil, and our reality.

    Moreover, how can anyone look at a sunset, the stars in the sky, a majestic mountain range, a flower, butterfly, hummingbird, polar bear, etc., the list can go on and on… but especially the birth of a baby and not be moved with emotion at the awesome beauty, majesty, and gloriousness of it all! That is Paul’s point! Why do you need more than that?

    Naturalistic explanations simply will not suffice. They are deficient and artificially constructed to a determined outcome. It is wholly dishonest in the age of scientific enlightenment to simply believe that this universe with all its power, glory, majesty, beauty, art, life and intellect is the byproduct of “nothing”!

    Materialism is a metaphysical claim, one that must believed based upon unfounded/unverified “faith” for it cannot be proven by the scientific method or philosophy. It is devoid of meaning, purpose, reason and emotion, the very things you say you seek?

    In fact, you are exhibiting the exact traits of Thomas, who clearly had enough evidence to believe, but sought more…can you see the irony in all of this regarding your discussion? This passage exemplifies your situation perfectly with an undeniable realism which should not be ignored.

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin:

    Tom: How do you know the disciples did not lie to assist in their spread of Christ’s moral message?

    Because among other things, it is an incredibly implausible theory. Why would they lie to spread a false message? What would it gain them? It netted them death.

    Also, how did a conspiracy of lies produce a character as incredibly other-centered and good as Jesus Christ? The very concept of lying to spread Christ’s moral message is preposterously unlikely.

    Furthermore, for Paul the moral message wasn’t the main thing anyway. The main thing was union with the crucified and resurrected Christ, and life in him. Morality was an expression of that union. Without the resurrection, Paul would have had no message.

    Those are three reasons. I could provide more, but that gives you something to chew on for now at least.

  121. Tom Gilson says:

    You say,

    The only evidence of a miracle occurring ever is claims that they occurred. The claim is that something completely unique in the history of physics and biology, etc., occurred thousands of years ago, and the reason for believing it is because some followers of a religious leader at the time said so.

    Actually, no, that’s not the only evidence, and the claims of a religious leader 2,000 years ago are not the only reason to believe it.

    The facts are against you on that one. And facts are very important things.

  122. Oisin says:

    Tom,

    how did a conspiracy of lies produce a character as incredibly other-centered and good as Jesus Christ? The very concept of lying to spread Christ’s moral message is preposterously unlikely.

    If the message of Jesus was correctly spread but miracle claims added in later to help cover people, your criticism here doesn’t apply. Jesus’s followers aren’t necessarily as bound to be moral as Jesus himself, especially since they’d rather spread Christ’s message than let it die with him.

    Why would they lie to spread a false message? What would it gain them? It netted them death.

    For the same reason all the other religions on Earth do it, for one thing, and on the other hand the claim that these men wouldn’t risk their lives for a lie is historically misleading. This link also discusses how they could just have been wrong due to human biases too.

    You are acting like it just doesn’t make sense to doubt the Biblical accounts, whereas it really does make sense. Further, it doesn’t contradict science or history when we view the Bible from a sceptic’s viewpoint, but the believer’s viewpoint is in direct contradiction with the information we have attained thus far. Trusting the character of the authors of Bible isn’t a position based on impartial evidence.

    There is definitely a discussion to be had about why people lie about religious experiences, e.g. in Hinduism and Islam, I’d love to see one religion’s explanation for another religion’s religious experiences and miracle claims that somehow didn’t apply to their own religion.

    Without the resurrection, Paul would have had no message.

    Paul had a vision of Jesus, according to Luke, which Paul himself alluded to only a very abstract manner. Not good evidence.

  123. Random99 says:

    To Oisin:

    You might consider reading Michael Licona’s book, The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach.

    You will learn much about how historical writing is evaluated, including the inadequacy of the fallacious objections you continue to offer against the resurrection.

  124. Tom Gilson says:

    There’s a lot to disagree with there, Oisin, but the most glaring is this:

    Further, it doesn’t contradict science or history when we view the Bible from a sceptic’s viewpoint, but the believer’s viewpoint is in direct contradiction with the information we have attained thus far.

    Science says absolutely nothing about whether a man could be raised from the dead by the power of God. Nothing.

    History says absolutely nothing to contradict it; in fact, the only reason “history” comes down in denial of the resurrection is because of prior beliefs that it’s improbable.

    Matson’s speculation that the apostles were glory-hogs is completely contradicted by the evidence of what they wrote, and what was written about them. This part in particular is just silly:

    Perhaps the disciples initially believed Jesus’s claims and were later too entrenched in their belief to admit that they had been wrong.

    So, initially they believed Jesus’s claims that he had risen from the dead, but then later they were too entrenched in it to admit that when he told them that, he was actually still dead.

    Tell me how that works.

    Perhaps, after a period of initial depression and confusion, they had forced themselves via group reinforcement to believe that Jesus had risen even though none of them had actually witnessed the event.

    Kamernitsky did a better job than that with proposing cognitive dissonance as the explanation for their beliefs. Again, however, there’s no trace of pathology of that sort in the evidence they left, i.e., their writings.

    One or more of the group may have mistakenly identified a perfect stranger at a distance as Jesus, only to lose him to a crowd. Perhaps one of them was out fishing and saw Jesus amidst the waves. They might have been seeing Jesus under every tree and behind every bush, only to have their hopes dashed–until a fateful combination of events “confirmed” a sighting

    Again, this completely contradicts the evidence. (Talk about fishing!) See my last comment.

    Consider the recent tragedy at Rancho Santa Fe, just north of San Diego. There 39 people committed suicide, apparently in the belief that their physical death was a necessary step before being picked up by a spaceship traveling in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp!

    This is a belief of a wholly different order. The Hale-Bopp group believed “x will happen if y,” a belief of the sort that could only be known to be true or false by testing it (or by common sense, actually, in this case). The apostles’ belief was, “Jesus is alive, and we know it because we had extensive interaction with him up close, talking, eating together, etc.” The Hale-Bopp belief was of such an entirely different order than that of the disciples, it makes no mistake to say that a mistake in one is like a mistake in the other.

    Such doctrines as the resurrection may have been fixed decades later in distant cities, for the most part, by people who had their own agendas.

    Actually, the scholarly view now is trending toward the belief that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 originated in Jerusalem during the first four to eight years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Evidence for that is increasingly being regarded as well attested. So this speculation is likely to be wrong (but then, why worry about evidence when there’s room for speculation?).

    what we actually know about Jesus, if anything, is what has survived the purges of the first few centuries. If we could actually go back in time, we might find that some early Christian communities viewed Jesus only as a teacher, that his crucifixion played no doctrinal role for them.

    It is naive to think that the truth would have gotten back from a few elderly disciples to destroy such developments.

    Utter poppycock. Pure evidence-free invention.

    Tell me, and pardon me raising my voice, but DO YOU BELIEVE IN EVIDENCE OR NOT? THEN ACT LIKE IT FOR A CHANGE!

    All this speculative stuff you’re trying to foist on us, with no anchor in reality, is really quite intellectually irresponsible.

  125. Oisin says:

    Random99:

    Telling me to read a book is just not helpful, at the very least summarize the idea you are expressing, then cite the book for a more detailed analysis. Otherwise it doesn’t advance the conversation whatsoever.

    Everyone arguing that the account in the Bible of the resurrection can be used as evidence:

    Here is an account (cited in one of my previous sources) of the various reasons for skeptics to treat the resurrection as a myth. It was written by an evangelical Christian pastor, one still a member of the faith.

    The aimis to convince apologetics to stop pretending that the evidence for the resurrection is good enough quality to convince non-believers (it’s a chapter from his book, the ending is about how Christians should be working to bring others to experience the Holy Spirit under whatever religious doctrine they are a part of, then leave God to sort them out, an approach I am extremely sympathetic to as a non-Christian).

  126. Tom Gilson says:

    Robert M. Price is no evangelical, and is not in the faith.

  127. Oisin says:

    oops, i take that back about the author then, sorry!

    Science says absolutely nothing about whether a man could be raised from the dead by the power of God. Nothing.

    History says absolutely nothing to contradict it; in fact, the only reason “history” comes down in denial of the resurrection is because of prior beliefs that it’s improbable.

    You can’t prove a negative, Tom, you know that. History and science have no evidence to show that miracles can occur, that all the laws and rules we observe the universe obeying 100% of the time can be broken randomly on very rare occasions in ways too small to be verified.

    Matson’s speculation that the apostles were glory-hogs is completely contradicted by the evidence of what they wrote, and what was written about them.

    Again, however, there’s no trace of pathology of that sort in the evidence they left, i.e., their writings.

    You just trust them, that they expressed themselves in a way that was true and not a designed method of transferring ideas that they were taught by the head of their religion for years. A faith claim.

    This part in particular is just silly:

    “Perhaps the disciples initially believed Jesus’s claims and were later too entrenched in their belief to admit that they had been wrong.”

    So, initially they believed Jesus’s claims that he had risen from the dead, but then later they were too entrenched in it to admit that when he told them that, he was actually still dead.

    Tell me how that works.

    Deliberate strawman, very rude. They believed that he was the Messiah, and had magic powers, yet saw that he could not stop himself from being executed, nor could he prove to those doing the executing that he was the Messiah. According to this hypothesis, they would keep their belief that he was the Messiah by thinking that he came back from the dead.

    The apostles’ belief was, “Jesus is alive, and we know it because we had extensive interaction with him up close, talking, eating together, etc.” The Hale-Bopp belief was of such an entirely different order than that of the disciples, it makes no mistake to say that a mistake in one is like a mistake in the other.

    Try the numerous UFO sightings, then. Or the Muslims who saw Muhammed (pbuh) fly to Paradise on a winged horse, or the claims of satanic abuse, among other claims. You are disputing that groups of people can form extremely strange mis-rememberings of things, ever, which I just find to be an odd claim, it is clearly something that occurs.

    the scholarly view now is trending toward the belief that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 originated in Jerusalem during the first four to eight years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Evidence for that is increasingly being regarded as well attested.

    No citation, and contradicting Wikipedia which places the writing at 20 years after.

    Tell me, and pardon me raising my voice, but DO YOU BELIEVE IN EVIDENCE OR NOT? THEN ACT LIKE IT FOR A CHANGE!

    All this speculative stuff you’re trying to foist on us, with no anchor in reality, is really quite intellectually irresponsible.

    I believe in evidence, and have been duly citing my claims. Some of those were indeed speculative, but this speculation fits with our current body of knowledge, whereas your claims ask for a re-write of everything we think we know. This is based on the word of the followers of a religious then-cult leader 2,000 years ago. I have the right to be skeptical and offer alternative explanations that are not as fantastical, I do not stand behind every claim in the piece but the bits about group delusions were the ones I was referencing, as is clear in the context I cited it.

    I do not pardon you for this caps-lock outburst, it was extremely rude and I would like an apology before continuing the conversation.

  128. Tom Gilson says:

    “You can’t prove a negative”?

    Prove it.

  129. Tom Gilson says:

    You just trust them, that they expressed themselves in a way that was true and not a designed method of transferring ideas that they were taught by the head of their religion for years. A faith claim.

    You just overlooked what I said and repeated yourself. That’s how prejudice acts.

    Try the numerous UFO sightings, then. Or the Muslims who saw Muhammed (pbuh) fly to Paradise on a winged horse, or the claims of satanic abuse, among other claims. You are disputing that groups of people can form extremely strange mis-rememberings of things, ever, which I just find to be an odd claim, it is clearly something that occurs.

    Again, they are experiences of a completely different order, and therefore there’s no analogy there. Give it up, Oisin, until you take seriously what you’re dealing with. I’m a little tired of this game-playing where you don’t do that.

    Wikipedia places the writing of 1 Corinthians 20 years later. But what Paul “passes on” here was much earlier: http://carm.org/analysis-pre-pauline-creed-1-corinthians-151-11

  130. Random99 says:

    Oisin,

    Licona’s book focuses on what’s called the Minimal Facts approach to understanding the resurrection. It is an excellent resource for understanding the historical methodologies used by scholars in examining history in general and documents in particular.

    Licona lists the three chief Minimal Facts regarding Jesus’ fate: (1) Jesus died due to the process of crucifixion. (2) Very soon afterwards, Jesus’ disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the resurrected Jesus. (3) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus also experienced what he thought was a post-resurrection appearance of the risen Jesus (pp. 302-3).

    Licona moves far beyond what the average Christian feels comfortable in conceding as being historically reliable. The “bedrock historical facts” were based solely on the documents being treated as any other ancient writing. He provides several additional “secondary” facts that help in evaluating competing hypotheses that most evangelicals believe are extremely relevant. So the point is, he errors on the side of the critic, not the believer.

    The 3 facts above are agreed upon by virtually all Historian’s even the antagonists, those of the Jesus Seminar, Ehrman, et’al’.

    Armed with these facts alone he then analyzes the scholarly thinking of those who deny the resurrection. He compares the positions of Geza Vermes, Michael Goulder, Gerd Ludemann, John Dominic Crossen, & Peter Craffert against the plausibility of the Resurrection being true. Using the evaluation criteria of Explanatory Scope, Explanatory Power, Plausibility, consideration of Ad Hoc elements, and illumination he goes on to show how the “Resurrection is true” best represents the historical bedrock of facts that we can know using a historical approach reviewing all 1st, 2nd, 3rd Century writings, not just the New Testament.

    This approach is based upon scholarly methods which eliminate the ad hoc objections you suggest like the witnesses might have lied.

  131. Oisin says:

    You just overlooked what I said and repeated yourself. That’s how prejudice acts.

    I summarized your view. The argument is merely that they may have made up the resurrection, or developed false memories due to cognitive dissonance and social pressure and so fully believed they had seen something they did not see. You reject these hypoetheses based on what they wrote, you think that their writing shows that they were sincere and were not suffering from false memories. This is pure faith, their writing cannot show this except in how it agrees with other writing, but it is completely unique and alone in its claims and so cannot be justified with recourse to anything except itself, circular reasoning.

    Again, they are experiences of a completely different order, and therefore there’s no analogy there. Give it up, Oisin, until you take seriously what you’re dealing with. I’m a little tired of this game-playing where you don’t do that.

    These experiences are extremely similar. You are claiming that: a hallucination of being abducted by aliens is “completely different” from a hallucination of meeting a man known to be dead and sticking one’s fingers into holes in his hands. Or a huge group of people claiming to see a man fly into the sky on a winged horse. How are these two claims different apart from the content? Again, it’s not proof, it’s speculation, but it is not unjustified.

    Wikipedia places the writing of 1 Corinthians 20 years later. But what Paul “passes on” here was much earlier: http://carm.org/analysis-pre-pauline-creed-1-corinthians-151-11

    Blatant misrepresentation. Paul wrote the passage 20 years later, receiving the creed 7-8 years after Christ’s death, this is not what you said and does not contradict me.

    Most important:

    You have not apologized. You have disrespected me by insinuating that I do not value evidence (without giving evidence of this). You are accusing me of not taking this discussion seriously and playing games. You have used the internet equivalent of shouting at me. You have ignored the arguments I used to show flaws in your claims. You are now replying in short posts, instead of taking the time to show me why I am wrong, damning me to an eternity in Hell on your view.

    If your God requires us to just accept this kind of intellectual word games and strange reasoning, then I think you are praying to the wrong God.

    Finally note that I would not attack your practice of prayer, any of you. I think this is a valuable thing, even if the miracle claims of the Bible are doubted. We come to know God through the experiences of our lives, and once we embrace moment-to-moment experience of God there will be no need for apologetics: people will see God within us, every moment of our lives, and this will be all the evidence that anyone will ever need.

  132. Random99 says:

    Oisin,

    We come to know God through the experiences of our lives, and once we embrace moment-to-moment experience of God there will be no need for apologetics: people will see God within us, every moment of our lives, and this will be all the evidence that anyone will ever need.

    Well said, ironically, that is exactly what we have as mankind and we experience it every moment of every day!

    Evolution in now way can account for the existence of life, even if you believe its paltry explanation of the development of life. You’ve essentially confirmed Paul’s words, man will not have an excuse for not believing.

    Nature shows us the complete uniqueness of mankind, our self-awareness, consciousness, our morality or lack thereof. All people of all ages have a innate self-awareness that there is something more, a spiritual component to man and higher power in the universe.

    Evolutionary explanations for this are simply inadequate as are materialist explanations for the origins of the universe and life.

    The evidence is there, will you look to prove it or simply disregard it? Is life special? Is it unique & precious? If you have a child you know it is? Is their purpose, meaning, value, love, benevolence, charity, mercy in life? If materialism is true – how can this be?

  133. Victoria says:

    Just to be clear – the article that Tom linked to, concerning the creedal statement received by Paul and passed on by him to the Corinthians has this to say (lest our readers be misled by Oisin’s misdirection)

    When scholars analyze 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 they note that it has a creedal nature.7 There are a number of reasons why scholars draw this conclusion from linguistic considerations. First, the words “received” (Greek “parelabon”) and “delivered” (Greek “paredoka”) “are the Greek equivalents of the technical rabbinic terms qibbel min and masar le,”8 which are terms for the passing on of tradition.9 Orr agrees, “Here the correlation with delivered in vs. 3 points to a chain of tradition: Paul received the facts that he is relating from Christians who preceded him, and in turn he delivered them to the people of his churches.”10 1 Corinthians 11 contains a similar example using the same words “received” and “delivered.” This indicates that 1 Corinthians 15 is not the only example of Paul using traditional material in his epistles. Second, the thrice repeated hoti (translated “that” and italicized in the English translation above) indicates a streamlined formulaic pattern of creedal information. Scholars have noted that hoti (or kai hoti, translated “and that”) function as quotation marks to link all of the sections.11 In fact, if one removed the hoti references, the material would still be grammatically and syntactically correct in the Greek. Without the kai hoti the text would read, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” It is likely that Paul added the kai (English translated as “and”) for emphasis.12 Third, there are non-Pauline words in the text such as for our sins, according to the scriptures, the ordinal number after the noun in the third day reference, and the twelve.13 Finally, the creed exhibits a four-fold pattern of death-burial-resurrection-appearances. The burial reinforces the death while the appearances reinforce the resurrection.14 There is debate regarding the exact length of the creed which we will deal with later, but this evidence from linguistic clues substantially supports that 1 Corinthians 15 contains a creed whatever its length. For reasons such as these scholars unanimously conclude that Paul “. . . is adopting and passing on traditional material.”15

    Not only do scholars suspect that Paul is referring to a creed in these few verses, but they almost unanimously argue it predates Paul.16 Gerald O’Collins, a resurrection expert, states that he knows no scholar who dates the creed after the mid 40’s.17 Wilckens states concerning the creed, “the material collected here indubitably goes back to the oldest phrase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.”18 Some scholars even give exact dates for the creed. Dodd states that the conversion of Paul occurred approximately in A.D. 33-34 and his visit to Jerusalem was three years after that. Thus, assuming the crucifixion of Christ occurred around A.D. 30, that would date the creed to “at the utmost, therefore, not more than seven years after the Crucifixion.”19 Likewise, Tom Wright argues that the creed is “. . . stemming from a primitive tradition of the mid-thirties . . . .”20 So it is at least reasonable to conclude that the material in the creed predates Paul.

    The article (http://carm.org/analysis-pre-pauline-creed-1-corinthians-151-11) has numerous references (the numbered items) so I would exhort readers to follow up for themselves (especially ref 20, which I believe is N. T. Wright’s (http://ntwrightpage.com/) The Resurrection of the Son of God historical analysis and exposition.

    The point here is that Paul’s language is explicit about the receiving of an authoritative tradition and passing it on to his readers.

    @Tom
    I had posted a few comments on this passage on a previous thread – explaining it in more detail – it would be great to link to those comments, but I can’t find them :)

  134. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin,

    First off, I apologize for the all-caps outburst. I didn’t apologize previously, because I was right in the middle of reading and responding to your last comment when my wife brought me some chips and dip to eat. I shouldn’t have posted a comment without reading all you had said, so I made a double mistake that way. My sincere apologies to you for both those errors.

    Still I continue to dispute your reasoning.

    You reject these hypoetheses based on what they wrote, you think that their writing shows that they were sincere and were not suffering from false memories. This is pure faith

    Then how do you define faith? For if this is pure faith, then by your own admission faith is belief backed by reasons. I did give reasons, after all. If that’s your view, then I agree with you.

    their writing cannot show this except in how it agrees with other writing, but it is completely unique and alone in its claims and so cannot be justified with recourse to anything except itself, circular reasoning.

    But this simply isn’t true. The internal evidence of their own writing makes some of your speculations implausible (such as lying to promote Jesus’ morality). The superb moral quality of Jesus in the Gospels belies any attempt to make him a mere product of cognitive dissonance. The facts of psychology contradict your theory of false memories or hallucinations.

    This is evidence, Oisin, and you just wave it off with a link to another web page full of its own evidence-free speculations.

    You are claiming that: a hallucination of being abducted by aliens is “completely different” from a hallucination of meeting a man known to be dead and sticking one’s fingers into holes in his hands.

    There is more to the resurrection accounts than that. They happened to multiple people in multiple situations, who interacted with him in multiple modes. I didn’t mention this previously, but they also fit into a coherent and plausible account of reality–an account made coherent by these very events. (See my for the full explanation on that.) None of that can be said for alien abductions.

    I’m not sure what the “blatant misrepresentation” was. When I explicated the timing of 1 Cor. 15:3f, I was correcting myself, not you. I hadn’t give you the full story earlier.

    You say you believe in evidence and you’ve been duly citing your claims. Now you say, “You have disrespected me by insinuating that I do not value evidence (without giving evidence of this).” But I have been giving evidence of it! (I’ve been duly citing these claims.)

    Sure, you have the right to be skeptical, but you don’t have the right to call free-form speculation anything other than what it is. You don’t have the right to say I have ignored your arguments when in fact I have addressed most if not all of them.

    Finally, this isn’t true:

    Some of those were indeed speculative, but this speculation fits with our current body of knowledge, whereas your claims ask for a re-write of everything we think we know.

    The “we” is unspecified, for one thing. For another thing, and far more importantly, the NT accounts fit in quite nicely with our current body of knowledge, including science, and including especially what it means to be human.

  135. Oisin says:

    Random99:

    You need to prove anything other than the natural world exists, Christianity’s proof lies in the resurrection. If one thinks that the miracle claims in the Bible were fabricated or created due to cognitive dissonance combined with immense social pressure and grief, what evidence shows this to be implausible? The Bible?

    Victoria:

    The accounts of the Bible were written long after Christ’s death. The stories were spread at the time. I was not misrepresenting it, and I accept that the stories were there soon after Christ’s death. The time distance between the events and the writing is extremely important, and I would think even the 8 years is a long time.

    This much time between an event and its record is not good for accurate recollection. At all. This would be consistent with the false memory hypothesis, btw.

  136. Victoria says:

    @Oisin
    Then should I surmise that you do not give any credence to any writings of ancient historians? I guess you doubt everything that Josephus may have written, for example?

    According to Acts, the apostles started their preaching and teaching about the resurrection some 50 days after Jesus’ death at Passover (on the day of Pentecost – which occurs 50 days after Passover). For a culture that was adept at maintaining an accurate and reliable oral tradition, what would the problem be?

    If the analysis of the Gospels is correct, (the so-called Q document that Matthew and Luke both used) then we also have a much earlier written collection of traditions about Jesus’ life.

  137. Oisin says:

    Thank you for the apology, Tom, I did feel I needed that.

    faith is belief backed by reasons

    I am claiming that you cannot know these historical accounts to be accurate, so it requires a “leap of faith” to accept them as true. I don’t think I need to define faith there.

    The superb moral quality of Jesus in the Gospels belies any attempt to make him a mere product of cognitive dissonance. The facts of psychology contradict your theory of false memories or hallucinations.

    I think you are simply mistaken here. I am not claiming Jesus did not exist, I am not claiming he did not teach the things he taught, I am claiming that he did not perform miracles. His moral character is completely removed from whether he came back from the dead or not, and is not a disproof of the false memory hypothesis.

    I’m not sure what the “blatant misrepresentation” was. When I explicated the timing of 1 Cor. 15:3f, I was correcting myself, not you. I hadn’t give you the full story earlier.

    I misunderstood your intention.

    Sure, you have the right to be skeptical, but you don’t have the right to call free-form speculation anything other than what it is. You don’t have the right to say I have ignored your arguments when in fact I have addressed most if not all of them.

    I am calling every explanation a hypothesis, and I am claiming the resurrection is a hypothesis, not a definitive fact.

    the NT accounts fit in quite nicely with our current body of knowledge, including science, and including especially what it means to be human.

    The miracle claims do not fit into our current body of knowledge, they would be completely unique and unheard of occurrences. Further, this presupposes that we accept the claims of the Bible before accepting the resurrection of Christ. If Christ did not come back from the dead, then we do not need to consider whether the NT fits with modern knowledge or not. (disregarding the OT completely…)

  138. Victoria says:

    Oh, for readers interested in the arguments for authorship and dates of the NT documents, you can find good summaries by Daniel B. Wallace, here

    https://bible.org/series/new-testament-introductions-and-outlines

  139. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, I’m not sure you understand cognitive dissonance theory, or its manifestations. Have you read Festinger et al. on When Prophecy Fails? That would probably be the one most relevant text for you to refer to. Wikipedia’s summary is all too brief. Here’s a better summary, in the form of a Word document. The typical response to a failed messianic or doomsday prediction, when certain conditions are present to support the cognitive dissonance reaction, is to revise one’s beliefs so that one can believe it happened after all, but on an invisible or spiritual level.

    That would have been the likely reaction of the disciples. Judaism at the time was fairly open to the idea of a spiritual re-appearance. The idea of a physical resurrection, however, was completely foreign; it was the last thing they would have thought of, for as N.T. Wright has forcefully argued, no Jew thought of resurrection in any terms except for bodily, physical resurrection; and no Jew thought of it as happening to any individual before the day of judgment.

    So for them to have concocted a physically resurrected Jesus would have violated the experience of cognitive dissonance research as well as their own Jewishness.

    Further, the complete sanity of Jesus in the Gospel accounts–especially in his trial, torture, and execution–counts very strongly against the idea that his character was invented by people who were so much in psychological distress that they were unable to face reality. The accounts count against cognitive dissonance-theoretic explanations.

    Ever since the time of Jesus Christ, almost every group has wanted to own him for their own. Liberals claim him. Conservatives claim him. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus claim him. Secularists and atheists respect him as far as they can believe in him (though they find his religious connections embarrassing). He is without doubt the most influential and most admired history in all history.

    This is not a plausible product of a group of wackos who improvised an invented character to protect themselves from reality.

  140. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, “His moral character is completely removed from whether he came back from the dead or not, and is not a disproof of the false memory hypothesis.”

    If he was an invented character, then his moral character as presented by the people who wrote the accounts is not completely removed from the moral character of the people who wrote the accounts. If he was invented, he was invented falsely for false reasons. So you are postulating that a group of liars and/or pathological fabricators created history’s supreme example of moral character.

    The “false memory” hypothesis, as far as I’m concerned, is no hypothesis at all. You’ve presented no theory to support it, no adequate examples, nothing to suggest that it’s the kind of thing that could conceivably have happened. So on that count, it’s your turn. What exactly is this “false memory hypothesis”? What conditions are conducive to a group of people forming false memories of the sort entailed by the Gospel accounts? What makes you think this hypothesis fits?

  141. Tom Gilson says:

    The miracle claims … presupposes that we accept the claims of the Bible before accepting the resurrection of Christ. If Christ did not come back from the dead, then we do not need to consider whether the NT fits with modern knowledge or not. (disregarding the OT completely…)

    I think what you’re saying is that whether the miracle claims are true depends on whether they’re true. I’m tracking with you 100% there.

    On this, though, you moved the goalposts:

    The miracle claims do not fit into our current body of knowledge, they would be completely unique and unheard of occurrences.

    Earlier you had said, “this speculation fits with our current body of knowledge, whereas your claims ask for a re-write of everything we think we know.” I answered by explaining that the claims do not contradict science. Of course they would constitute new information, but not any re-writing of science (which is what I presume you mean by “everything we think we know”).

    So then, are you saying that all new information necessarily requires a re-write of everything we know? Are you saying that new paradigms (Einstein, for example) should be rejected because they don’t fit into current knowledge? Or something else? Just what are you saying?

  142. Oisin says:

    So for them to have concocted a physically resurrected Jesus would have violated the experience of cognitive dissonance research as well as their own Jewishness.

    This would in no way contradict the false memory hypothesis! I don’t understand how you can make that claim. Fair enough it may not have been a part of the Jewish mythology, physical resurrection, but this is not relevant. The whole point is that people come up with crazy explanations to match what they think they already know, this fits with the hypothesis.

    This is not a plausible product of a group of wackos who improvised an invented character to protect themselves from reality.

    Didn’t claim Jesus was made up, I explicitly said this, so most of your comment simply isn’t directed at me and is irrelevant to the discussion.

    What exactly is this “false memory hypothesis”? What conditions are conducive to a group of people forming false memories of the sort entailed by the Gospel accounts? What makes you think this hypothesis fits?

    Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article you just sent me:

    “A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.

    The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.

    The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.

    Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.

    The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.”

    This belief would be that Jesus is the Messiah, they needed to explain how this could be so if he died like an average mortal. What if they came up with him coming back, and watched for him, and repeatedly thought they saw him as it says in the Bible he was hard to recognize? What if they just all agreed that they did see him, and an elaborate backstory built up from their experiences in grief and in coming through the loss of a supremely moral and wise leader who inspired them to live their lives in a profoundly more meaningful way? Possible, or not?

    To the outsider: is it more likely that this happened, or that Jesus was the Son of God and did lots of miracles to a tiny number of people compared to the potential miracles an omniscient God could have done to convince the world?

    This is all getting elaborate, but here is your claim stripped to its core: We know Jesus came back from the dead because his disciples said so.

    I’m done, I’m not enough of a historian to argue the specifics, all I meant to say that naturalistic explanations exist and are not impossible. I stand by that. Thank you for your time everyone, I respect your intellects even if I disagree about the specifics of how we come to knowledge of God.

  143. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, “This would in no way contradict the false memory hypothesis!”

    I ask again, Which false memory hypothesis? I still don’t think you’ve articulated one.

  144. Tom Gilson says:

    You complain,

    Didn’t claim Jesus was made up, I explicitly said this, so most of your comment simply isn’t directed at me and is irrelevant to the discussion.< ?blockquote>

    I didn’t claim you claimed Jesus was made up. Read it again. Please.

  145. Tom Gilson says:

    Your reading of Wikipedia is accurate but it doesn’t speak to my criticism of cognitive dissonance theory as an explanation. Please read my criticism again.

  146. Tom Gilson says:

    What if they just all agreed that they did see him, and an elaborate backstory built up from their experiences in grief and in coming through the loss of a supremely moral and wise leader who inspired them to live their lives in a profoundly more meaningful way? Possible, or not?

    Possible, not plausible. I’ve already explained why. I have much more to say about it in the forthcoming print article I keep mentioning here, though, so I’ll let it slide for now.

  147. Tom Gilson says:

    And finally (at least for now), you can apologize for this yourself:

    This is all getting elaborate, but here is your claim stripped to its core: We know Jesus came back from the dead because his disciples said so.

    Translation: You know Jesus didn’t come back from the dead because you strip every reason you’ve been given down to “because his disciples said so,” flinging off every layer of literary, historical, and psychological argument that’s been presented to as if it had never been spoken.

    If you think you can support that with any integrity, think again.

  148. JAD says:

    Here is a lecture, by Gary Habermas, on the Resurrection using “minimal facts” approach which has been discussed here… Habermas also gets into some of the psychology of belief during the question and answer period after his talk.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5znVUFHqO4Q

    It’s very easy to follow if you’re tired of reading.

    Habermans lays out a very basic argument that begins where most skeptics begin. The skeptics need to respond in kind with a point-for-point critique, otherwise we’re not really talking about the evidence. That’s what missing from most on-line apologetic discussions and debates. If you have the facts on your side you need to demonstrate that.

  149. Victoria says:

    @Anyone:
    How would cognitive dissonance apply to Thomas and Saul of Tarsus? Or the Pharisees and priests who came to believe in Jesus as their resurrected Messiah ( we know they are there, since Luke mentions them in passing in Acts 15:5)?

    I think in this case we can be grateful to Thomas’ skepticism and refusal to accept the testimony of his friends until he had seen and touched the risen Jesus for himself.

  150. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Oisin:

    Biblical event p claims a miracle occurred. Based on this one claim, billions of Christians spend their lives praying for miracles, and atoning for sins stipulated in the Bible.

    Oisin, you have no idea what you are talking about. Imaginary numbers pulled out of thin air notwithstanding, the reasons, on the part of the average Christian for believing in the Bible are more nuanced than your crude caricature. But even this matters not; what you have to tackle is not what the average Christian believes, but the *arguments* put forward — yes I know, it sounds incredible, but there are such thing as arguments. That you have little familiarity with them, is your problem. If I want to refute atheism, it does not suffice to address the sillyness of your average atheist, but I would have to address the best arguments put forward by the strongest philosophers.

    The only evidence of a miracle occurring ever is claims that they occurred.

    There are literally countless things which we accept, of which the only evidence is “claims that they occurred”. The only evidence we have that the Higgs boson exists is that a group of some hundreds of people tells you that by smashing electrons and positrons at high velocities, certain luminosity detectors fired up, the signals recorded, and voila, the Higgs made his appearance. Huh huh. Do you have a particle accelerator in your basement to replicate the experiments? Do you even understand the Standard Model and why the Higgs symmetry breaking mechanism is needed? If you do not then why do you accept the existence of the Higgs? If you can answer the latter question you can start understanding why and how Christians answer parallel questions. You cannot say that miracles violate the laws of nature, because that is just question begging. So what is the non-question begging way to discard one set of testimony while not the other?

    Hint: there is no *general* way, which is why all “skeptic” arguments that do not tackle the *specifics* of the case fail.

    Really, I would wish these “skeptics” would stop for once and ponder the sillyness they spout with such abandonment.

    Religious people claim that accepting this claim is evidence-based faith. Sceptics rightly claim that accepting this evidence is a leap not justified by the evidence.

    This way of putting the problem strikes me as oddly accurate. To me, it simply indicates that self-proclaimed “skeptics” have a completely ad hoc and arbitrary standard of evidence; if the conclusion is not to their tastes raise the bar as high as they can get away with; if it does, swallow it hook, line and sinker.

    You can’t prove a negative, Tom, you know that.

    This is false in two ways; first, it is self-refutingly false as Tom noted. Second, just about everyone proves existencial negatives. Mathematicians do it as a matter of daily routine (As I am writing this, I have just jotted down a wickedly clever, if contorted, proof that the semivariation v of a sigma-additive vector measure u on a Boolean algebra is exhaustive — which is logically equivalent to a negative existential statement, e.g. there does not exist an e > 0 and a disjoint sequence E_n in the Boolean algebra such that v(E_n) >= e for all n); Physicists prove it (I still remember vividly while doing course work at the local CERN group, when the news arrived that the data was in substantiating there were no more than three generations of Leptons); Historians do it. Everyone in their daily lives proves existential negatives.

    Really, I would wish these “skeptics” would stop parroting such ignorant and stupid cliches. Either that or that they would simply shut up about Science ™, of which they have no understanding.

  151. jwds says:

    Absolutely, G. Rodrigues. I actually read through some of the work of Loftus and Wells on the eyewitness testimony and memory stuff, and it doesn’t prove at all what atheists love to pretend it proves.

  152. Tom Gilson says:

    Further on this:

    What if they just all agreed that they did see him, and an elaborate backstory built up from their experiences in grief and in coming through the loss of a supremely moral and wise leader who inspired them to live their lives in a profoundly more meaningful way? Possible, or not?

    Who are “they”? The four Gospel authors, whoever they were? The original disciples? The so-called “community of faith,” so beloved of legend theorists? If the latter, then where was this community centered? In Jerusalem and/or Antioch, the acknowledged early centers of Christianity? if so, then how did it reach Rome (as historical evidence makes absolutely certain it did)? Or was this community (as Bart Ehrman says) widely distributed across cultures and languages? If so, how did they compose such a great story, not just once but four interdependent yet also markedly independent times? What is your best theory on who was responsible for developing this elaborate backstory? Under what conditions did they do it? What were their circumstances?

    Do you have some plausible proposed answers to questions like these? If not, your false memory theory is nothing but a vapor, and you would do well to remind yourself of that. You’re proposing a non-theory as a counter to a theory.

  153. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t mean to overwhelm you with all those questions, for really they are only versions of the one: What is your “false memory” theory?

  154. BillT says:

    Oisin,

    Here’s another perspective on the problem with your position that the miracles/resurrection of Christ were stories, lies, etc. The problem is you have to deal with the realities of the teaching and growth of the early church. It is accepted by 90+% of theologians of all stripes that within two years of his death the teachings of the early church included the miracles/resurrection of Christ. The early church began among the eyewitness (both believers and non-believers) of Christ’s life and ministry in Jeruselem. The early church grew and flourished (churches in every major Mediterranean city within 30 years of Christ’s death) during the lifetime of those eyewitnesses. You must be able to answer this to maintain your position:

    How does the early church grow and flourish while teaching the miracles/resurrection of Christ when the entire first generation of believers had access to the eyewitness (both believers and non-believers) of Christ’s life and ministry.

  155. bigbird says:

    @Oisin

    This is all getting elaborate, but here is your claim stripped to its core: We know Jesus came back from the dead because his disciples said so.

    No, we know Jesus came back from the dead because his disciples said so, and we have good reasons to believe they were absolutely convinced that they were telling the truth.

    There are at least two good reasons we believe this:

    1. Within a short period of time many paid a high price for maintaining this. They appeared to be reliable witnesses who did not change their story when given considerable incentives to do so. It’s an old clique, but no-one dies for what they know is a lie, “elaborate backstory” or not.

    2. Within a short period of time thousands of Jews abandoned important religious practices that had been practised for hundreds of years. They must have been convinced.

  156. Andrew W says:

    People will “die for a lie” if they believe that doing so will benefit someone else that they have significant loyalty towards. But I can’t think of a sane scenario where that would apply to the early Jewish Christians, as a group.

  157. Andrew W says:

    On miracles in other traditions:

    The Christian and the materialist sceptic both have issues with supernatural events in other traditions. But the Christian mostly takes issue with what such events (if true) signify. The sceptic must deny the very possibility that they occurred.

  158. Michael says:

    I think it helpful to recognize that Boghossian is peddling pseudoscience:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/new-atheist-pseudoscience/

  159. JAD says:

    Good point, Mike. This is yet another example of the double standard that Boghossian and other “new” atheists appear to embrace. (Giving them the benefit of doubt, I’d like to say that it’s unintentional. However, that’s something I just can’t bring myself to do.)

    For example, way back up at #30 I asked:

    Aren’t the advocates of SETI pretending to know what they don’t know? I mean, what evidence do we presently have that life of any kind, let alone intelligent life, exists anywhere else in the universe?

    The same question could be asked of those who believe that other universes exist– the so called “multiverse theory.” What evidence do they have?

    At present we have NO evidence that life, or intelligent life, exists else where in the universe and we have NO evidence that other universes exist.

    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/01/is-faith-an-unreliable-epistemology/#comment-78825

    Curiously, this criticism elicited no response from any of our “scientistically” minded interlocutors.

    It appears as long as you have even the thinnest veneer of scientific respectability– that is, other respected scientists agree with your beliefs or speculations– you get a complete pass from the experts of so-called “science based” epistemology, no matter how unfounded that belief may be. Why is that? Am I misunderstanding something here?

  160. bigbird says:

    People will “die for a lie” if they believe that doing so will benefit someone else that they have significant loyalty towards.

    Is that really dying for a lie? Examples?

  161. Billy Squibs says:

    I can’t think of any real life examples, only a work from literary fiction. The character of Sydney Carton in a Tale of Two Cities willingly embraces a lie that costs him his life.

  162. Andrew W says:

    There have been rare instances of individuals pleading guilty to someone else’s capital crime for the benefit of a third party (usually family).

  163. Tom Gilson says:

    Sydney Carton didn’t die for that lie. Nor did those Andrew W mentions. They died for people they cared about.

  164. bigbird says:

    @Tom, exactly. And in the oft quoted example of the captured spy, they too are not dying for a lie, but for their country.

  165. Billy Squibs says:

    That’s a fair point, Tom. Serves me right for playing Devil’s advocate. Thought I’ll give it another shot.

    How about a man like Jim Jones? If he died for a lie it was for a very ugly lie!

  166. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question.

    Jim Jones died for a lie that he thought was the truth: that he was special.

  167. JAD says:

    Why does this need to be a knock-out argument? Why not say that people who die for a cause, in which they believe, usually don’t die if they know it’s a lie. I don’t think that this is a strong argument anyway. If this was a court case I think their attorney would argue that the disciples were not the type of people who told lies, nor did they have a motive to do so. What was their motive?

  168. Larry Tanner says:

    Why not say that people who die for a cause, in which they believe, usually don’t die if they know it’s a lie.

    Usually, yes, but history shows plenty of times when people used lies to grab power and influence.

    England’s King Henry VII had his early reign troubled by the emergence of pretender kings. Someone would say someone else looked like one of the royal heirs that Richard III locked in the tower, and then start a revolt. Henry prevailed and some of the conspirators would be put to death.

    Many a zealot has preferred death to known reality. And many more folks have consciously sought to live a more extreme and risky life, whether that risk involved shocking, offending, angering, or provoking people with the power and disposition to kill them for it.

  169. Andrew W says:

    Despite nit-picking the slogan, it seems clear that those who die holding a falsehood do so for loyalty to a greater cause. Thus, those who suggest the apostles lied about the resurrection also need to suggest an ulterior motive that could be shared covertly among the group and sustain them in boldly asserting through torture and death the plainly audacious and counter-cultural claim that Jesus is Messiah God raised from the dead.

  170. JAD says:

    Just to clarify, my point is that I think the burden of proof is on the skeptic to demonstrate: that the disciples were liars to begin with and that they had the opportunity and motive to lie about Jesus’ resurrection. That’s a much better argument than trying to defend an inductive argument like “no one ever knowingly dies for a lie.” However, I do think that the more modest claim, “that people who die for a cause, in which they believe, usually don’t die if they know it’s a lie,” is an argument that is just about as effective without employing any kind of fallacious move. The problem with any kind of inductive argument is that it can be falsified by a single counter example.

    P.S. Probably a better phrasing would be: “people who die for a cause, in which they believe, usually wouldn’t have died if they had learned it was a lie.”

  171. bigbird says:

    Why does this need to be a knock-out argument? Why not say that people who die for a cause, in which they believe, usually don’t die if they know it’s a lie.

    It’s not just a cause we are talking about here.

    It is about a very specific historical event (the resurrection) that occurred only months (or perhaps a couple of years) prior to Stephen’s martyrdom.

  172. bigbird says:

    The problem with any kind of inductive argument is that it can be falsified by a single counter example.

    If there are not any comparable counter examples, why not use it? It’s a powerful argument in this case, and analogous to a law of science (also inductive).

    The more modest claim you suggest seems ineffective to me. If it only applies “usually”, there’s no reason to believe it applies at all in the case of a miracle such as the resurrection. It would be more rational to accept that the resurrection was one of the unusual cases.

  173. Random99 says:

    @Larry Tanner,

    Usually, yes, but history shows plenty of times when people used lies to grab power and influence.

    I’m sorry, but this is just foolishness to insinuate that the disciples sought power and influence. It is a completely Ad Hoc fabrication that in no way represents the historical narrative. That narrative is not the gospel, but includes many other first century writings. They had no opportunity for power or influence. They suffered and died for their testimony. They ran for their lives and left their villages never to return.

    These are men, who before the resurrection, ran and deserted Jesus when he was arrested. They hid from the authorities, e.g. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Jesus’s brother James thought him to be out of his mind. Paul sought out Christian’s to kill them for their blasphemy, Paul was in the position of power as a Pharisee.

    Just what would it take to transform these people into warrior’s for a cause of Christ who in human terms is now a failed prophet by being killing and worse yet, crucified? They died for proclaiming what they knew to be true, they were eye-witnesses who had no other option to tell the truth! To deny the truth they believed, they witnessed, would be the sin.

  174. JAD says:

    I’m sorry, but this is just foolishness to insinuate that the disciples sought power and influence. It is a completely Ad Hoc fabrication that in no way represents the historical narrative.

    Good point! If that’s the best argument that a skeptic, like Larry, can bring to the table then he doesn’t have very good arguments. Based on the historical documents, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, the early Christians sincerely believed that Jesus had been raised physically from the dead after he had been crucified under Pontius Pilate in Roman controlled Judea. The record then shows that they were persecuted for that belief. They had neither the opportunity or the motive to seize power.

  175. Larry Tanner says:

    I’m sorry, but this is just foolishness to insinuate that the disciples sought power and influence. It is a completely Ad Hoc fabrication that in no way represents the historical narrative.

    Maybe, although I really was not insinuating that in this particular case.

    Your larger problem is defining what the actual versus the alleged historical narrative is.

  176. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    If this is truly a problem for someone who has various writings and historical data to substantiate the actual historical narrative, imagine how much larger, and deeper the problem is for the skeptic who has nothing more than his skepticism and imagination.

  177. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK,
    Great point. I’m sure those “various writings and historical data” are compelling to any reasonable, objective observer of sufficient education and experience.

  178. BillT says:

    Larry,

    If they aren’t then we’re going to have a problem establishing an historical narrative for the Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, Assyrians, ancient Chinese, Egyptians and most every other ancient culture. The various writings and historical data that support the Christian historical narrative are at least as good if not quite a bit better better than any of those others.

  179. Larry Tanner says:

    Maybe so, BillT. I guess it depends on what one specifically means by “the Christian historical narrative.”

  180. BillT says:

    No one here on our side has any doubt about what that means. Do you have a specific question about the Christian historical narrative Larry or are you just hedging?

  181. Larry Tanner says:

    BillT,
    You may have no doubt, but that’s unsurprising. It’s not a matter of doubting what it means but of being able to define and express what it means.

    No, I have no questions. Just commenting. Someone thought I had insinuated that the disciples were seeking power and influence, and I had not made that insinuation, or had not meant to make it. After all, I do not know and don’t like pretending to know why the disciples may have done whatever they are alleged to have done. Were I to pretend to know, that would be “faith” in Boghossian’s sense, right?

  182. BillT says:

    I don’t see where anyone is having a problem defining and expressing the Christian historical narrative Larry. Do you? If so, please enlighten us.

  183. Larry Tanner says:

    Fair question. I suppose I myself have trouble defining the historical narrative. In the OP, Tom says this:

    I know these things to be true:

    I know that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. I know that he traveled the region as a teacher and a healer, gaining a remarkable reputation for himself until finally he was crucified outside Jerusalem. I know that after his crucifixion his followers had experiences of him that they interpreted as his having been bodily resurrected, and that they held to that belief to the very end, most of them dying for it. I know that the early Jesus movement was opposed by one Saul who converted to Christianity because, on his own account, he too had had an experience with the resurrected Jesus.

    I’ll pause a moment now and point out that the prior paragraph contains information that virtually every person with an interest in the topic could and should know, because there is historical consensus on these matters. Both skeptical and believing experts broadly agree with that list.

    But I know more than that. I know that the sacrifice Christ made of his life on the cross was a fulfillment of prophecy, and it was at the same time the ultimate expression of self-sacrificial love. I know that through Christ and through other events in Scripture, God proved himself to be a keeper of his word. I know that in his resurrection Jesus Christ showed that death need not be forever. I know that he promised eternal life to those who enter into his living Kingdom through faith.

    To explain the trouble I refer to at the beginning of this comment: my read of Tom’s second paragraph above finds very little that I personally could say I know to be historically true, and of that “very little” I am talking about a few select phrases rendered in neutral language. Certainly among Christian believers and among serious scholars of the relevant period there is also disagreement of what can be known to be historically true, what can be inferred, what might be true enough (say, for example, that the “Joshua the Messiah” character had been hanged from a tree rather than crucified–it’s only an illustrative example, not a claim on my part).

    So, you may indeed have certainty over what’s covered by the term “Christian historical narrative.” I don’t, and my understanding is that others also lack your certainty. I hope that’s OK with you.

  184. BillT says:

    Larry,

    Ok. I get that. After all, since Christianity is a faith that is uniquely based on historical events it’s hard for someone outside the faith to accept those historical details given how theologically loaded they are. On the other hand, that Christianity does rely on those historical details it gives most everyone a fair shot at being able to evaluate and access the truth of Christian claims. I believe if you looked, and as Tom mentioned, you would find that theologians both skeptical and not agree with those facts to a very high degree.

  185. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    After all, I do not know and don’t like pretending to know why the disciples may have done whatever they are alleged to have done.

    What we know – not me personally, but those who study it as a profession and then teach us what they know – we get from the historical record.

    If “alleged to have done” aligns well with the historical record then it’s reasonable to conclude it actually happened that way. To suggest otherwise would require that you introduce new and relevant evidence into the discussion.

  186. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK,

    Agreed in general. I suppose you and I might differ on what exactly is alleged to have happened and how well it aligns with what you are calling the historical record.

    If this upcoming question is tangential and uninteresting to you, feel free to let me know and disregard it, but based on what you say I wonder whether you think that what people are “alleged to have done” should align with the record of what physical reality allows.

    For example, if a person is alleged to have uttered an incantation and made people fly in the air unaided, and this event aligns well with historical documents, is it reasonable to conclude it actually happened that way?

    To put maybe a finer point on it, do you trust history over science?

  187. BillT says:

    To put maybe a finer point on it, do you trust history over science?

    No and yes. Just any old history over science. Probably no. However, if we’re taking about miracles then it’s a different conversation. After all, speaking of Christian miracles, especially in the time of Christ, we would have to consider that Christ himself (God incarnate) is a miracle. Gives the other miracles a different perspective.

  188. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    To put maybe a finer point on it, do you trust history over science?

    I think BillT is right to respond “no and yes”. I trust science to inform my conclusions about history. I trust the philosophy of science to tell me when I no longer need to trust science for that.

    For example, if a person is alleged to have uttered an incantation and made people fly in the air unaided, and this event aligns well with historical documents, is it reasonable to conclude it actually happened that way?

    I’m going to hone in on the term “unaided”. That one key word means I don’t believe it happened that way. Why? People don’t naturally have the ability to fly in the air unaided – unless you simply mean they jumped – so it’s unreasonable to think they did that. People only move through the air, as if they are flying, when they get some form of assistance.

    So, if 20 people saw someone “flying” I might be convinced God was involved, but I’d never be convinced that people naturally have that ability.

  189. JAD says:

    Larry @ #185:

    Tom’s OP: “I know that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. I know that he traveled the region as a teacher and a healer, gaining a remarkable reputation for himself until finally he was crucified outside Jerusalem. I know that after his crucifixion his followers had experiences of him that they interpreted as his having been bodily resurrected, and that they held to that belief to the very end, most of them dying for it. I know that the early Jesus movement was opposed by one Saul who converted to Christianity because, on his own account, he too had had an experience with the resurrected Jesus.”

    Larry: “To explain the trouble I refer to at the beginning of this comment: my read of Tom’s second paragraph above finds very little that I personally could say I know to be historically true”

    Do we know anything historically? For example, do we know that the battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 B.C. and that for a few days, 300 Spartans along with some other Greek allies, under the command of King Leonidas of Sparta courageously held off the vastly superior Persian army of Xerxes I before being wiped out? How do we know this? Who are our sources?

    Is Larry being an “equal opportunity skeptic” here, or is he being selectively skeptical? Does he grant that the battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 B.C. and that the Greek forces led by King Leonidas of Sparta were defeated? Does he believe that really happened?

  190. Larry Tanner says:

    JAD,

    I accept that Herodotus and other sources recount the story. Herodotus never got everything right. Everyone knows this.

    Heck, just about 60 years after the German composer Bach died, his first biographer embellished–maybe on purpose or not–the story of ho the Goldberg Variations were composed.

    One will make a lousy historian fully believing every statement of every source.

  191. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    One will make a lousy historian fully believing every statement of every source.

    I touched on this back in 178 and 187, so maybe you should go back and re-read those replies.

  192. JAD says:

    Larry,

    I accept that Herodotus and other sources recount the story. Herodotus never got everything right. Everyone knows this.

    I’m not sure exactly what you are saying here, Larry. Is a professional historian of ancient history, “pretending to know what he does not know,” if he believes that the Persian army of Xerxes I invaded Greece about the year 480 B.C. and that they were met at Thermopylae by a much smaller Greek force led by King Leonidas of Sparta?

  193. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK: After reading comments 178 and 187 I accept that you touch on ‘doing history,’ but I don’t see a relevant point related to my assertion that “One will make a lousy historian fully believing every statement of every source.”

    JAD:

    Is a professional historian of ancient history, “pretending to know what he does not know,” if he believes that the Persian army of Xerxes I invaded Greece about the year 480 B.C. and that they were met at Thermopylae by a much smaller Greek force led by King Leonidas of Sparta?

    No, because belief itself is not equal to faith. In other words, to believe that Herodotus got some or everything right about details of Event E is not to have faith either in Herodotus or Event E.

    To have faith in Herodotus or Event E would be to assert something like this: “I know these things to be true: that the Persian army of Xerxes I invaded Greece about the year 480 B.C. and that they were met at Thermopylae by a much smaller Greek force led by King Leonidas of Sparta.”

  194. JAD says:

    Larry,

    No, because belief itself is not equal to faith. In other words, to believe that Herodotus got some or everything right about details of Event E is not to have faith either in Herodotus or Event E.

    What I am saying is that the historian believes that event E actually happened… Is that belief or faith, in your opinion?

  195. Larry Tanner says:

    It’s belief if s/he believes it happened. It’s faith if s/he knows it happened.

    That’s the simplest way I can think of the distinction. The key difference, to my mind, is the allowance/embrace of doubt and revised views. Belief accepts having incomplete information and knowledge, and accepts that the belief itself will likely be altered in light of new details or approaches. Faith (in Boghossian’s sense, at any rate) does not accept that the faith itself could be fundamentally altered, although faith may be open to new information and knowledge. To believe God exists is to believe also that God might not actually exist. To have faith that God exists is to reject the idea that could not actually exist.

    But, as I say, this is my mental shorthand of things.

  196. JAD says:

    Larry,

    It’s belief if s/he believes it happened. It’s faith if s/he knows it happened.

    So you don’t believe there are objective historical facts? Leonidas only exists if a historian believes he exists?

  197. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    To believe God exists is to believe also that God might not actually exist. To have faith that God exists is to reject the idea that could not actually exist.

    You are pitting reason against faith as if faith (Christian) is detached from reason. It’s not. If a person believes that a conclusion is true by reason (say, God exists), then by the definition of what it means to reason, you reject the idea that the conclusion could not be true – otherwise that would be your conclusion too and hence you wouldn’t have held the belief to begin with.

    The conclusion could not be true by some form of faith that is detached from reason, but this is not Christianity.

    It’s possible that the conclusion could not be true if some new information is introduced, but that’s the case for any belief/conclusion.

    It’s also true that you could be mistaken, but that too is the case for any belief/conclusion.

    If you think Christianity fails to have reasons for the existence of God, you’re not thinking.

  198. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, you say,

    It’s belief if s/he believes it happened. It’s faith if s/he knows it happened.

    How far do you take this? Is there knowing that is not faith-knowing? And where is the line between that and simple knowing?

    And why should we be concerned with Boghossian’s sense of faith anyway? He’s just wrong, after all.

    To believe God exists is to believe also that God might not actually exist. To have faith that God exists is to reject the idea that could not actually exist.

    That’s not accurate. A person’s belief that God exists could be qualified, as in, “I’m 90% sure God exists,” which would translate to something like holding a 10% probability that he does not. Faith is on a different level. In my case, while I can’t put a numerical percentage on it, I’m very sure God exists. I know I could still be wrong. My faith in God is my volitional commitment to rest my whole being upon God: upon his reality, his character, and his promises.

    That is, I don’t have 100% apodictic (mathematical, unassailable) certainty that God exists, but I have enough confidence in his reality that I’m willing to rest 100% of myself upon him, or at least all of myself that I am able to rest upon him.

    Do you see the difference?

  199. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK: You are over-stating my point. I am trying to distinguish reason and faith, to show what make one different than the other. This is not a process of pitting reason against faith. Unless you are saying that reason and faith are identical, we need to try and distinguish them if we are to make any useful points.

    Faith is certainly not detached from reason, and you mistaken to attach that kind of implication to my words. I understand and accept that Christianity has reasons for claiming the existence of God.

    Your statement here is wrong for obvious reasons:

    If a person believes that a conclusion is true by reason (God exists), then by the definition of what it means to reason, you reject the idea that it could not be true

    Really? To believe X is also to believe not-X is impossible? That’s exactly what you say in that “could not be true” expression.

    I have said, repeatedly now, that to reason that X is true is equivalent to reasoning that X is likely to be true or even (in some cases, I guess) all-but-certainly true. But even all-but-certainly true allows for sliver of probability that the opposite is in fact true. In other words, 99.99 percent confidence in A means there is 00.01 percent confidence in A’s opposite. This is belief, in my mind. Faith is 100 percent confidence.

  200. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    I edited my comment and you might have missed it. Here it is.

    If a person believes that a conclusion is true by reason (say, God exists), then by the definition of what it means to reason, you reject the idea that the conclusion could not be true – otherwise that would be your conclusion too and hence you wouldn’t have held the belief to begin with.

    Faith is 100 percent confidence.

    In a sense every conclusion requires this “faith” because you cannot hold a middle ground. You either hold a conclusion, or you do not. So…holding that you are 70% confident that deism is true means that you have 100% confidence in *that* conclusion (that you are 70% confident) – otherwise you would not hold it.

  201. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    Let me restate what I said at the end of #202 and put it in terms of the Christian faith as I understand it.

    – To have faith in Christianity means that I am 100% confident in the conclusion that Christianity is probably true.

  202. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK:

    To have faith in Christianity means that I am 100% confident in the conclusion that Christianity is probably true.

    So, you are saying you know that you believe Christianity is true.

    I don’t believe even Descartes had such confidence in knowing what he knew/believed!

  203. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for your comment, but I have little response to it. Something like this —

    My faith in God is my volitional commitment to rest my whole being upon God: upon his reality, his character, and his promises.

    seems like what Boghossian terms a “Deepity.” Anyone can say they are willing to rest 100% of themselves on X, but what does such bravado actually refer to? It means you are really passionate about your beliefs, which is fine and great.

  204. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    Not sure what conclusion I should draw from #204.

  205. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    So, you are saying you know that you believe Christianity is true.

    It took me a while to figure out why this didn’t sound right to me. I’m not saying this. I’m saying: “I know Christianity is probably true”. That’s it. Knowledge being “justified true belief”. How can I come to know this? The same way you do – via the various forms of evidences and reasoning.

    So why does our knowledge contradict each other? The answer to that takes us on a very long and winding path that, I think, ends up demonstrating that my conclusion is probably the correct one. ;)

  206. JAD says:

    Tom to Larry:

    How far do you take this? Is there knowing that is not faith-knowing? And where is the line between that and simple knowing?

    Let me rephrase the question I asked earlier: Are there objective historical facts?

    Tom: And why should we be concerned with Boghossian’s sense of faith anyway?

    We’ve been discussing how historian’s, both religious minded and secular, do history. Does Boghossian’s epistemology apply here. Again, is a secular historian who believes that there really are historical facts “pretending to know what he does not know”?

    Here are some comments from an interview that I thought are relevant to our discussion here.

    Mike Licona: “Professional historians divide themselves pretty much into two camps. They’re either realists, who believe that there is a past that is knowable to some extent, or they’re postmodernists that say all of the past, any reconstruction of the past, is a narrative and its fiction. So the past is unknowable. It’s pure interpretation. So, by far most historians are realists.

    This debate raged, has raged for the last couple of decades amongst philosophers of history and professional historians outside the community of biblical scholars. We find a lot of it in history of theory and the debate got heated at times but, towards the end of the 20th Century, like around 1997, you find some of the leading lights of the postmodernist historians, like Keith Jenkins, saying that pretty much, the postmodernists have lost! Later on, as we get into the early part of the 21st Century you have more of them who are conceding defeat.”

    Brian Auten: “Now along that same line then, you hear people talk about ‘this is a historical fact’. So are there facts in history or is there such thing as a ‘historical fact’?”

    ML: “Well, it’s a good question and scholars today debate over the definition of a historical fact. What is it? Do they exist? Some like to contend that facts are merely interpretations of the data and this is true to an extent but it would be a low level interpretation so, I mean you could, I don’t know, you know, someone’s missing – just trying to think of this now – but someone’s missing, a body turns up, the DNA matches, you know, there…there…it’s a month later, you can’t recognise the corpse, their DNA matches, so that would be the data I think it would be fine to say for a fact that person is dead but to an extent there’s some degree of interpretation there.

    I like the definition offered by a Philosopher of History, Richard Evans of Cambridge University. He defines a historical fact as something that happened and that historians attempt to discover through a verification process, that’s how I like ‘facts’. So, yeah, I think that there are facts in history. In fact, there are many scholars who would regard… to say that historical facts do exist, they’re more than interpretations. They are facts. This is a description of what happened in the past. A narrow description of something that happened in the past and of course then, scholars are going to disagree on what they allow into their country club, to be members of this country club called ‘facts’!”

    http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/02/michael-licona-interview-transcript-2.html

  207. SteveK says:

    Regarding historical facts, yes they can be know. Not all of them, of course. We know each effect can only be the result of a limited range of causes. Because we know the effect, we can therefore say that we know something factual about the past.

    Situational context allows you to further narrow down the list of causes because that context is an effect itself, which can only be the result of a limited range of causes. Scientists do this stuff every day. Detectives too.

  208. Larry Tanner says:

    JAD,

    I agree with you in thinking there are historical facts. Objective historical facts might be another matter. What exactly do you mean by an objective historical fact, is it a historical fact reported without introducing bias, speculation, and interpretation?

  209. SteveK says:

    I agree with you in thinking there are historical facts. Objective historical facts might be another matter.

    I know this comment wasn’t addressed to me, but I have to ask, what other kinds of facts are there – subjective facts? Seems like a contradiction of terms to even suggest this. The interpretation has an element of subjectivity, but that doesn’t do anything to make the facts that are being evaluated any less objective.

  210. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    You are on the right track; anyway, here is sTruth! that might be helpful in clearing up the terminological muddle.

  211. SteveK says:

    Q: What makes the moon landing an objective historical fact?
    A: The act of landing on the moon, if it indeed occurred, would make it an objective historical fact.
    Q: Did this act occur?
    A: Let’s look at the evidence.

  212. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK,

    “Objective historical facts” is JAD’s term and I simply want to know what he means. I suspect he means something like “objective representation of historical facts.”

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