Tom Gilson

Richards and Hitchens Debate Intelligent Design at Stanford

I’m hoping it won’t be long before we can see this on video: last night’s debate between Jay Richards and Christopher HItchens on Intelligent Design. Stanford Daily Online reported on it, including this:

Hitchens then requested the chance to ask Richards a question.

“Do you believe Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?” he asked when Richards assented. “Do you believe he was resurrected from the dead?”

Richards said that he did.

“I rest my case,” said Hitchens. “This is an honest guy, who has just made it very clear [that] science has nothing to do with his world view.”

Earlier Richards had pointed out the obvious: “a sneer is not an argument.” He could have said it again here. (As a debater, Hitchens is definitely quick with the smug sneer of superiority.)

Hitchens’s point seems to be that belief in miracles precludes science being a contributor to one’s worldview, and vice versa. What would have to be true in order for that to be the case? First, it would mean that Isaac Newton’s and Francis Collins’s worldviews have had nothing to do with science, to say nothing of hundreds of other eminent Christian scientists. Is that not just a bit unlikely?

Second, it would have to mean that the virgin birth of Christ is so contradictory to science that no person could accept both at the same time. But this distorts the Christian position regarding miracles in general, and the virgin birth and resurrection in particular. Christians believe the universe behaves regularly, according to natural law, reflecting the rational mind of God; but that God as a personal Being interrupts this regularity from time to time, for the sake of relationship with the people He created. Interventions of the clearly miraculous sort are rare, rare enough that science can successfully discover the regularities that do exist. There is no contradiction there.

Hitchens might argue that science has proved miracles are impossible; but this is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific conclusion. Science studies regularities, that which usually happens. It does not know whether the usual always happens. If science says the usual must always happen, it is speaking outside its field. It can only study what is normal, regular, usual. How could it prove God never intervenes?

So Hitchens’s sneer is empty. We do not know how Jay Richards responded. According to the report, moderator Ben Stein got there first:

“Many people are deeply religious,” he said. “Are they just stupider than you?”

I wonder where he got the impression that Hitchens feels that way.

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44 thoughts on “Richards and Hitchens Debate Intelligent Design at Stanford

  1. “I rest my case,” said Hitchens. “This is an honest guy, who has just made it very clear [that] science has nothing to do with his world view.”

    Having watched Hitchens in several debates I must say this sneering is par for the course.
    Here he makes a tremendous error. He implies that a world view not entirely fed by the observations of science is a world view that has nothing to do with science. That if your world view contains beliefs not supplied by science then your world view denies science. But that claim is not a scientific one. By his own argument Hitchens, like Richards, has a world view which has nothing to do with science. The difference is, as Hitchens said, Richards “is an honest guy”.

  2. Charlie writes:

    Here he makes a tremendous error. He implies that a world view not entirely fed by the observations of science is a world view that has nothing to do with science. That if your world view contains beliefs not supplied by science then your world view denies science. But that claim is not a scientific one.

    That is not what Hitchens’ meant when he said, “science has nothing to do with [Richards’] world view.” What he meant was that scientific evidence is neither necessary nor sufficient to convince Mr. Richards of anything that challenges his deep-seated dogmas. The point is not that Mr. Richards disregards science altogether; but, rather, that (on religious issues) Richards has made up his mind a priori in spite of scientific arguments (or the lack thereof in favour of his position). In other words, nothing could ever convince Mr. Richards that he is wrong about his religiously derived beliefs, since he has passed beyond empirical observation (or at least hypothetical plausibility) as the necessary touchstone for belief.

    And you are wrong that Hitchens has a worldview which has nothing to do with science. On the contrary, Hitchens’ whole philosophy is that our propositions ought to be open to inquiry and refutation by observation rather than myth-making. And you are also wrong that Richards’ worldview literally has nothing to do with science. As I said, Richards is willing to entertain science only insofar as it agrees with his preciously-held doctrines.

  3. Charlie,
    That’s the double-standard these guys have that we always complain about. I just commented on that here. When you point it out they brush it off like it isn’t a real problem. Seems irony is lost on people like Hitchens.

  4. Mavaddat, thanks for stopping in and for your thoughts here.

    What he meant was that scientific evidence is neither necessary nor sufficient to convince Mr. Richards of anything that challenges his deep-seated dogmas. The point is not that Mr. Richards disregards science altogether; but, rather, that (on religious issues) Richards has made up his mind a priori in spite of scientific arguments (or the lack thereof in favour of his position).

    You make it sound so awful. 😉

    I think Mr. Richards would agree that scientific evidence is neither necessary nor sufficient to change his beliefs (on “dogmas,” see the irony here). But this is not what you think. First, though I can speak only for myself, I suspect Richards would agree that:

    1. Scientific evidence is not necessary in this respect, because not all evidence need be of the scientific sort–there are other forms of knowledge;

    2. Scientific evidence is not sufficient in this respect, because
    —a. Science has not shown that miracles cannot happen, and
    —b. Science cannot show that miracles cannot happen.

    Whether miracles are possible is not a question for science. The question resides in history and in metaphysics. The historical question is whether miracles have happened. If they have, then we ought to conclude that they are possible, don’t you think? This is a matter of examining the evidences from history, such as these (which I still haven’t had time to study, though I know the editors well enough to have a sense of what it probably contains).

    You falsely conclude,

    nothing could ever convince Mr. Richards that he is wrong about his religiously derived beliefs, since he has passed beyond empirical observation (or at least hypothetical plausibility) as the necessary touchstone for belief.

    Christian belief is evidence-based, actually. Your throw-in clause on hypothetical plausibility comes without any explanation, justification, or argument, so I don’t have any idea what to make of that. If you mean that miracles should not be considered hypothetically plausible because they are not hypothetically plausible, that doesn’t get us very far, does it? So I hope you had something more substantive in mind than that, but from prior experience on this topic, I doubt you could support it with anything stronger than metaphysical presuppositions.

    The metaphysical question is whether we ought to assume that nature is a closed system. Science investigates what happens in nature, under the assumption of a closed system, but it cannot assess the assumption itself.

    So even though to you, Richards’s attitude toward science seems fully awful, it’s actually a reasoned position that is fully open to evidences. It just doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that all evidences must be of the scientific sort.

  5. The problem with Hitchens’ response is that by “resting his case” there he commits a strawman when he leads to the conclusion that therefore, science has nothing to do with his worldview. This conclusion simply does not follow from the premise.

  6. Is there an argument against miracles that doesn’t reduce to: “miracles don’t happen because, if they did, they’d be miraculous”?

    Also, given the topic of the debate Hitchens’ is clearly an argument ad hominen. What’s to stop Richards in return questioning the scientific rigour of Marxism? We’d just go round and round all night and still get no nearer to the issue at hand.

  7. mattghg, I think you’ve set up something of a straw man. The argument against miracles doesn’t have to deny them so absolutely as you’ve made it in your formulation.

    Here’s an alternate to your formulation: “Miracles *can* happen; but if one did, it would be a miracle.”

    Says the same thing ostensibly, but admits the possibility, however small, that a miracle could happen.

  8. That was an amazing debate and Hitchens clearly destroyed Richards. Even the Stanford Daily titled it’s article “Hitchens Knocks Intelligent Design”
    And to some of the comments on here.. You seriously still believe in the virgin birth? Isn’t it the same as other things we believed when we were young? like Santa, mermaids, Noah’s story, and Moses splitting the sea…etc. I doubt any of you sincerely believe that. if so you are simply wrong because these things just don’t happen, even if an old book that was compiled from ‘selected’ stories that ‘predate it by many years and aren’t even verified in any way’ says so.

  9. Off topic, David claims:

    if so you are simply wrong because these things just don’t happen

    Aside from the fact already covered that it is no argument against miracles to say that miracles don’t happen – as it happens, virgin births do occur (in scores of sexually reproducing species).
    For those who think that a male virgin birth is impossible or a violation of natural law, here is professor of mathematical physics, Frank Tipler on the Virgin Birth (those Christians who neither require nor condone a naturalistic explanation ought to look the other way):

    There are at least three ways to generate a male human being from genetic information that comes entirely from the mother.

    I propose that Jesus was a special type of XX male, a type that is quite rare in humans but extensively studied.
    171

    the virgin birth of such an XX male would be unique in human history even if there were only two such Y genes inserted into an X chromosome.
    172

    [But] [t]he SRY gene does not itself generate the male organs, as I mentioned. Rather, it induces other genes located on the autosomes to generate these organs. This raises the possibility that the SRY is itself no necessary. And in fact some XX males have recently been studied in which the SRY genes appears to be absent.
    ..
    Once again, the male genes would be present in the DNA but in a different ratio than in a normal male.
    173

    The Physics Of Christianity

  10. David wrote:

    That was an amazing debate and Hitchens clearly destroyed Richards. Even the Stanford Daily titled it’s article “Hitchens Knocks Intelligent Design”

    First, “knocks” means “disputes, denigrates, puts down.” The headline did not say “knocks out.” It said, in different words, that he disagreed. But we already knew that.

    Second, to support your point by saying “even the Stanford Daily [thinks Hitchens won]” is (forgive me) humorous. It’s like saying, “Even the Dallas Morning News likes the Cowboys, so they must be a great team.” For a newspaper at Stanford to disagree with ID is no new information whatever. But in fact their article was news, because they gave both Stein and Richards’ comments considerable weight. They did not, in fact, say Hitchens won. That’s quite remarkable.

    Maybe you were there, David, and maybe when we all see or hear the debate we’ll share your opinion, but the basis on which you expressed it here is really lacking.

  11. Mavaddat is inviting friends here. Y’all are welcome, certainly. The language over there is a bit on the threaty (def.) side–“faith heads on the march”–so please be aware of the discussion policies here.

    Be aware, too, that the last time I enforced the policies by editing/deleting, it wasn’t because someone disagreed. Disagreement expressed with respect, and without going off-topic, is fine.

  12. Hmmm… it appears Mavaddat fallaciously believes the more atheists assert something or the more often they assert it, the truer it becomes (the harder you pull the trigger, the further the bullet flies)… or if enough people are invited to shout down another’s views (he himself is calling for “back-up”), then those views are false (might makes right).

    Perhaps the question should be why is this the typical modus operandi of atheists—the sneering, the strength in numbers, the strawmen, the scientism, etc.

    This should be interesting… after all, it’s Mavaddat who rationalizes anger as a perfectly acceptable inspiration for projecting one’s position (see the anti-faith screed here) rather than relying on whether that position is true or not. I’ll leave it to Tom (formally trained in psychology) to offer us (if he wishes) an appraisal of the state of a person who calls for angry back-up rather than reasoned discussion… But from my non-expert perspective, Mavaddat seems quite threatened by Christian critical thinkers who are readily able to respond to his straw men and scientism (the non-scientific ideology that holds science is the epistemological arbiter of all knowledge).

  13. Jack then requested the chance to ask Christopher a question.

    “Do you believe in consciousness?” he asked when Christopher assented. “Do you believe in love?”

    Christopher said that he did (his date being in the audience).

    “I rest my case,” said Jack. “This is an honest guy, who has just made it very clear [that] science has nothing to do with his world view.”

    (i.e., just because science can *talk* about love or consciousness does *not* mean that those topics are even remotely *addressed* by science)

  14. Holopupenko writes,

    Hmmm… it appears Mavaddat fallaciously believes the more atheists assert something or the more often they assert it, the truer it becomes (the harder you pull the trigger, the further the bullet flies)…

    Really now? How did you draw that inference? Actually, the reason I called for “back-up” is that I just don’t have the time to respond to all your posts. In fact, I think there are some interesting conversations to be had here, and I know there are other people who are equally qualified to make use of arguments similar to what I would be able to provide. I appreciate the group of thinking people you have here (though not including yourself, for reasons I outline below) and I really would love to get knee-deep in these discussions; but unfortunately, I’m a full-time student with little time to spare.

    Holopupenko writes,

    This should be interesting… after all, it’s Mavaddat who rationalizes anger as a perfectly acceptable inspiration for projecting one’s position (see the anti-faith screed here)

    So being anti-faith means I’m angry? How does it follow? Or was there something particularly “angry” about my post? I was merely making arguments. In fact, I wasn’t angry, but rather intrigued. Could it be that I sincerely believe that faith is unjustified and harmful? No? Very well then. In that case, let me assert with equal probability that your being opposed to my position (i.e., being pro-faith) also makes you angry. But the difference is that I never denigrated anger as a legitimate motivation, but you did. Ironically, since I’m not angry at all, it looks like you’ve left yourself standing out in the cold!

    Holopupenko writes,

    I’ll leave it to Tom (formally trained in psychology) to offer us (if he wishes) an appraisal of the state of a person who calls for angry back-up rather than reasoned discussion… But from my non-expert perspective, Mavaddat seems quite threatened by Christian critical thinkers who are readily able to respond to his straw men and scientism (the non-scientific ideology that holds science is the epistemological arbiter of all knowledge).

    Funny that you should invoke strawmen (without mentioning a single argument) when you are the one drawing false conclusions about my motives based on zero evidence. Again, my call for “back-up” was simply a signpost for other sincere atheists who were interested in a discussion. Again, I have no problem with discussion with intelligent Christians, and I can see that some people have made some very thoughtful replies here. So again, there’s nothing “angry” about my state of mind, nor about my referral to others to join the discussion.

    It’s clear that your post constitutes a knee-jerk reaction based on deep-seated prejudices against atheists (i.e., “Atheists are all angry scientists; therefore, Mavaddat is an angry scientist”) rather than any actual evidence or thinking on your part. I want you to consider, Holopupenko, that your lack of engaging the argument suggests that it is you who is intimidated by intelligent discussion with an atheist. Moreover, I want you to consider that your arguments are the strawmen, not mine, since you cannot imagine an atheist who isn’t angry, who believes in objective morality, and who isn’t a “scientist” (I’m a radical empiricist of the Quinean tradition). I want you to ask yourself, Holopupenk: Could it be you who is angry? Angry that an atheist would dare to reply with well-reasoned arguments (none of which you replied to)? And lastly, I want you to ask yourself whether you have, rather than actually thinking about my arguments, projected your own motives and feelings onto me only to condemn yourself by a different name. Or perhaps I should leave “Tom” to decide these questions for you. What do you say?

  15. Holopupenko,

    You wrote in a comment directed to Mavaddat just now,

    … given the flavor of this latest response of yours, my suspicions appear to be borne out.

    I disagree, and on that count I am stepping in as I wrote previously (and I’m sure you were around to see it) to blow a whistle, stop play, and call a foul here. From my perspective you are getting off-topic and, as I said, drawing unfounded conclusions regarding persons’ character. Let’s deal with their thoughts and arguments, please.

  16. Well, in all fairness, I admit to stoking the flames on the atheist blog. In my defense, I have little to say other than it’s hard to motivate people to join an argument unless you can present it as important. I mean, imagine if I had invited people with “Hey guys, check it out! Another Internet debate between Christians and atheists! Come join me!” :-S

    Anyway, the call-to-arms doesn’t seem to have worked out very well…

  17. Tom:

    You may not agree with that sentence, but your disagreement is with a suspicion (explicitly stated as such), not with a direct or even veiled accusation. Suspicions, conjectures, and even baiting, etc. are perfectly acceptable rhetorical tools in argumentation as long as they are specifically identified as such in order to take away their thunder.

    I have little problem with you keying on that particular sentence. You may remove it, and more-or-less I agree. But the other 95% of the comment? I begin to wonder (again) about the double-standard creeping in: DL, for example, is given essentially free reign to, if not direct invective at individuals, then certainly at entire groups–like people of faith, if his latest comments are any example. And Mavaddat? Well, if permitting him go get off topic (as well?) with the unsubstantiated things he attributed to me without permitting a response is okay, then the suspicion of double-standard is strengthened.

    Your blog: your call.

  18. There was a lot of accusation going both directions, and I left one such post there for each of you. It’s not a matter of who was more at fault; I just thought it was time to call it off after that. I may not have done it the best way. Going back to the basketball referee analogy of my post on comment guidelines, well, sometime there are hard calls, and every game I’ve done, I’ve walked off the court knowing I’d made mistakes. (Some of them I’ve recognized even without the friendly reminders 😉 provided by the coaches and fans!)

    My opinion on one specific: suspicions can be rhetorically legitimate but should be very closely tied to evidence and offered very tentatively. More judgment calls there.

    Mavaddat, I appreciate your admission about stoking the flames.

  19. This should not be “one-upmanship.” I (by extension re: your “whose at fault” point) agree with you, Tom. (By the way, because nonetheless it appears lost in the shuffle, the “suspicion” was “closely tied” to examples… and then borne out by admission.)

    But, analogy or not… this is not a [basketball] game. It becomes a “game” when (analogously speaking) the Sudatenland is offered as appeasement. Your “calls” are now filtering more than rancor. The charge of double-standard remains. Good-bye.

  20. On a lighter note: I laughed so hard when I read what Stein had to say to Hitchens about being smarter than everyone. Of COURSE Hitchens thinks he is smarter than most, he is a know-it-all that DOESN’T know-it-all.

    One thing I do admire about Hitchens (don’t beat me up, he is one of God’s creations) is that he acknowledges the greatness of America’s forefathers. I’d like to understand more about how he can admire them so much and NOT know there is a God.

  21. Returning to an earlier discussion here, I wanted to comment on the question of the miraculous.

    Tom:
    “2. Scientific evidence is not sufficient in this respect, because
    —a. Science has not shown that miracles cannot happen, and
    —b. Science cannot show that miracles cannot happen.”

    While that may be true, science can’t prove that anything cannot or has not happened. It boils down to the old impossibility of proving a negative. Science also can’t disprove the existence of a space ship behind the Hale Bopp comet (it could have been cloaked, after all), but that isn’t evidence that one exists.

    I’ve noticed that many arguments for theism are grounded in the postmodernist idea that we can’t prove or disprove anything 100% (ie. just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there). Our inability to disprove a negative makes this logic impossible to deny, but at the same time using it validate the resurrection & other miracles opens the floodgates to validating any statement whatsoever. Using this argument may score a point for Christianity, but it is also a point for Islam, Shinto, Pastafarianism and any other claims that have ever been made (including, I suppose, atheism).

    TOM:
    “The historical question is whether miracles have happened. If they have, then we ought to conclude that they are possible, don’t you think?”

    A lot hinges on that question, and my take on it is similar to my first point. Materialists deny the reality of miracles because there has never been a verifiable event that can be deemed miraculous – everything in the universe available for our scrutiny has a natural explanation. If being far-fetched to the point of near non-existent liklihood is not just cause to doubt the accuracy of a historical account (especially one from a time when the gods were given credit for almost every natural occurance), on what basis should we deny any claim from the past?

  22. Jason,

    Your point about science’s inability to prove a negative is fine, but I’m not sure how it changes anything with respect to the point in the discussion where I brought this up. You said this:

    I’ve noticed that many arguments for theism are grounded in the postmodernist idea that we can’t prove or disprove anything 100% (ie. just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there). Our inability to disprove a negative makes this logic impossible to deny, but at the same time using it validate the resurrection & other miracles opens the floodgates to validating any statement whatsoever. Using this argument may score a point for Christianity, but it is also a point for Islam, Shinto, Pastafarianism and any other claims that have ever been made (including, I suppose, atheism).

    First, the idea that we can’t prove or disprove anything 100% is something that contributed to postmodernism, but it is not itself postmodern. It’s grounded in modernism.

    Second, I don’t really see how we use this to validate theism. Theism has its own positive evidences.

    Third, my earlier point about the limits of science (that it has not/cannot disprove the possibility of miracles) is a standard conclusion, agreed among most philosophers of science. It’s not, for example, any kind of theistic manipulation. It’s just a statement about science.

    Now, there is some controversy over this statement–there are scientists (Peter Atkins is one) who say that science can in principle discover everything that can be discovered. And scientists and philosophers who say this are indeed quite uniformly atheists. But their assertions are easily refuted without reference to Bible or to religion. The statement itself is not scientific; and if it expresses a truth that can be known or discovered, then it stands as an exception to its own universal assertion. It is self-defeating.

    Materialists deny the reality of miracles because there has never been a verifiable event that can be deemed miraculous – everything in the universe available for our scrutiny has a natural explanation.

    I get the sense that by “everything in the universe available for our scrutiny,” you mean either or both of these:
    1) That which is occurring and available for scientific investigation right now, and/or
    2) That which happens on a predictably repeated/repeatable basis.

    If that is what you mean, then of course it can all be explained naturally; for miracles are by definition neither (1) nor (2). But what you are saying is that miracles don’t happen just because they are not happening under a scientist’s instruments right now and/or we can’t repeat them predictably. Or, as mattghg already said, miracles don’t happen because if they did, they would be miraculous.

    If being far-fetched to the point of near non-existent liklihood is not just cause to doubt the accuracy of a historical account (especially one from a time when the gods were given credit for almost every natural occurance), on what basis should we deny any claim from the past?

    This is a kind of Bayesian probability question. In order to address it properly we would need to show a full analysis. The short answer to your question is that Christians’ confidence in the resurrection stems from several converging lines of evidence. This evidence includes the historical reports from the period, the short- and long-term impact of the event, fulfilled prophecy, and background information like philosophical arguments in favor of the existence of a personal God

  23. I brought up our inability to prove a negative because it seemed that you were using it to display that science was somehow lacking in that respect, as though anything (even metaphysics) could disprove the possibility of miracles. But as you have clarified, it was a moot point to begin with, so no need to beat a dead horse.

    I would be interested to hear more postive evidences for God’s existence, because the vast majority I have ever heard – even from prominent Christian authors & speakers – boil down to the idea that because I can’t say for certain God doesn’t exist, he does exist, or that because life is complex, God must have created it.

    I don’t believe you addressed the point I was trying to make by noting that all verifiable events that have ever taken place are natural. As you say, miracles are by definition not available for investigation or regularly occuring. On what basis, then, are we to assume a miracle has ever occured? Or on the flip side, on what basis should we doubt any miracle that is supposed to have happened? For instance, say someone claimed God came to them in a vision and clarified that Jesus was actually just his nephew. On what grounds would you doubt such a claim? It would, after all, be miraculous and therefore not subject to science & logic.

    The problem I still have with your arguments is that they don’t explain how to rule out untruth. There is plenty of historical evidence for the Loch Ness Monster. Buddhism has been around longer that Christianity, so it’s long term impact is undeniable, and Scientology has had a massive impact on peoples’ lives in its short existence. Nostradamus has had prophecies “fulfilled” (prophecies from early in the bible that were fulfilled later in the bible don’t mean anything). Every philosophical arguement for a personal God says nothing of the nature of that God, or indicates that there must be only one.

    It still seems that any point I give to Christianity also goes to all other religions, myths, and even blatant lies.

    Edited by Siteowner for capitalization: “God” and “Christianity” are proper nouns. This has been in the discussion policies for quite some time. Call it a quirk of mine if you will, but this is my blog, I have a deep worshipful relationship with God, and I take it as a mark of disrespect when someone defies normal rules of grammar to treat “God” as if the word wasn’t even a name.

  24. Jason:

    On what basis, then, are we to assume a miracle has ever occured? Or on the flip side, on what basis should we doubt any miracle that is supposed to have happened?

    On the basis that miracles are
    1) logically possible (philosophically too)
    2) widely attested by people throughout history (including today) and across all cultures.
    3) sometimes claimed by people who were very hostile toward others making similar claims
    4) sometimes witnessed by many, many people
    5) sometimes claimed by people who suffer immensly because of it, yet they never retract

    Where else in life do you reject claims that meet these requirements, especially when they include items 3, 4 or 5? It’s OK to be skeptical – heck, I’m skeptical – but to say every claim MUST (key word) be 100% false is just silly.

    Sure, many are probably false claims but you have to weight the alternatives by asking what would have to occur for the miracle claim to be false? Sometimes the answer is an easy one, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it takes more faith to believe a miracle didn’t occur. Such is the case surrouding the story of the resurrection as this included items 3, 4 and 5.

    For instance, say someone claimed god came to them in a vision and clarified that Jesus was actually just his nephew. On what grounds would you doubt such a claim? It would, after all, be miraculous and therefore not subject to science & logic.

    I don’t know that making Jesus the ‘nephew of God’ really changes anything if all other claims remain the same.

    My standards are not so high as to rule all miracle claims out, but I do have standards. I’m always skeptical when there are no other witnesses – that’s just me. Ultimately I would have to know more information than what you have supplied here. In the meantime, I’d have doubts just like you probably would.

  25. Jason:

    The problem I still have with your arguments is that they don’t explain how to rule out untruth. There is plenty of historical evidence for the Loch Ness Monster. Buddhism has been around longer that Christianity, so it’s long term impact is undeniable, and Scientology has had a massive impact on peoples’ lives in its short existence. Nostradamus has had prophecies “fulfilled” (prophecies from early in the bible that were fulfilled later in the bible don’t mean anything). Every philosophical arguement for a personal god says nothing of the nature of that god, or indicates that there must be only one.

    I just started reading the paper that Tom linked to here. The author talks about comparing one miracle claim to another as Hume did. I think it’s worth your time to take a look at it because you are making some of the same mistakes Hume apparantly made.

    It still seems that any point I give to christianity also goes to all other religions, myths, and even blatant lies.

    If it seems that way, then I have to conclude that you haven’t thought about it very hard. Your words hint at sloppy thinking…why would you give an equal point to a KNOWN myth or blatant lie? Why wouldn’t you give zero points to these, a partial point to those cases you found less convincing and more than one point to those you found more convincing?

  26. Tom, I’ll watch my capitalization – I’m not a regular here.

    I would like to get a few things straight before I continue, though.

    I’ve already admitted that I can’t deny that the POSSIBILITY of the miraculous exists. I am also not beyond believing that non-physical beings, the afterlife and such may exist. However, I would never claim that such things are certainly true or even more likely than materialism.

    SteveK, your words hint at sloppy comprehension. An unproven religious claim, a known myth and a blatant lie are all linked by the fact that they:
    1) May all be completely false, and
    2) can’t be disproven, as mentioned earlier.
    From a practical standpoint, I find them equally unbelievable. Philosophically, you could defend an admitted lie just as solidly as one might defend an accepted truth (if you find someone stubborn enough to want to try).

    As to your 5 points, none of them, alone or combined, is really proof of anything, and they still seem to apply to claims made by all of the world’s major religions as well as most of the minor ones. And I simply don’t accept that it would be harder to believe that the resurrection didn’t happen than to believe it did, as I will explain.

    I did look at that document you linked, and I can see the reasoning there. However, it is entirely based on the premise that it is more (or at least equally) likely that the laws of nature were violated – which I maintain has never been reliably reported to have ever happened – than that a very authentic-looking ancient document might be false (with “false” including the possibility that some very religious & superstitious men might have been honestly mistaken). As far as I am concerned, no matter how well documented a story about the moon dropping down to earth and dancing a jig may be, the likelihood that it actually happened is still virtually zero.

    Ultimately, Jesus may very well have healed the sick, risen from the dead and so forth, but it still wouldn’t validate the existence of the Christian god (I believe the lower-case is appropriate here), only that such actions are possible. I have yet to hear a philosophical defense of a personal god I find credible, so it is more probable to me that he could have had super-human power or even been aided by alien technology. Or the materialist explanations, of course.

  27. Jason:

    I did look at that document you linked, and I can see the reasoning there.

    Good.

    As to your 5 points, none of them, alone or combined, is really proof of anything, and they still seem to apply to claims made by all of the world’s major religions as well as most of the minor ones.

    After reading it you still suffer from one of the same illnesses that Hume suffered from….the belief that all miracle claims are more or less the same. “Trial by proxy” I think the author called it. Just show that one claim is likely false (like the example you gave before) and conclude all must be likely false.

    it [resurrection] is entirely based on the premise that it is more (or at least equally) likely that the laws of nature were violated

    Did you read how the author defined a miracle event?

    “For our purposes, it suffices to stipulate that a miracle is a specific event that would not have happened if only the natural order had been operating, where the natural order is understood to involve physical entities, their interactions, and the actions and interactions of animals, humans, and beings with powers much like ours.”

    Ultimately, Jesus may very well have healed the sick, risen from the dead and so forth, but it still wouldn’t validate the existence of the Christian god (I believe the lower-case is appropriate here), only that such actions are possible.

    What exactly would it be proof of? Keep reading because we’ll soon find out. 😉

    I have yet to hear a philosophical defense of a personal god I find credible, so it is more probable to me that he could have had super-human power or even been aided by alien technology. Or the materialist explanations, of course.

    So super-human aliens who ‘break’ the laws of nature are more believable than God? OK….but I though you said my 5 points proved nothing. I see you’re willing to think they do NOW…..just as long as it doesn’t involve God.

    So you’ve made a 172.8 degree turn. You started off with a philosophy that said the 5-points proved nothing, and ended up with a philosophy that said they could prove something – just so long as they don’t point to God.

    ** ‘proof’ understood as being most likely to occur

  28. On the contrary, SteveK, I still hold that your 5 points prove nothing at all – I was just saving you the trouble of proving them further by giving your points the benefit of the doubt. The simple fact of the matter is that evidence for the resurrection is not automatically proof that the Christian god is the one and only lord of existence. The topics are not necessarily related. If I were to state a fact about geography, would that mean anything I said about chemistry was necessarily accurate? We should not generalize so haphazardly.

    You are still missing the point I am trying to make by making comparisons among miracles. Muslim reports of the miraculous may not have as much backing as Christian reports, but the backing they do have would still be quite convincing if you first accept that such things are possible. Why would you deny them and not the Christian reports? You keep trying to avoid the question by accusing me of over-generalization, but you have not answered my original inquiry as to how one is supposed to sort the false reports from the true once one has allowed that natural law can be violated. How many eye-witness reports does it take? What constitutes a reasonable report? How do you justify your criteria?

    I am well aware of the “A Cumulative Case..” document’s definition of a miracle, but just because an event is defined by the fact that it violates natural law does not automatically give it relevance or increased probability.

    I am sorry, but I remain unconvinced.

  29. Jason, forgive me for lurking, but you’re right on track with your arguments, and I hope you continue the discussion and get closer and closer to understanding SteveK and other theists, as well as being understood. I don’t have time, probably, to contribute, but I sure hope you continue to, because what you’ve said so far seems clear and proper.

  30. I appreciate the compliment, Paul, particularly as it applies to my attempts to understand the theist perspective. I know many nonbelievers seem to be driven by the desire to ridicule or otherwise insult theists, but I really do try to hold on to the thought that perhaps they know something I do not, or are privvy to some string of logic I am unaware of. My line of questioning is intended to draw that information out – if it does indeed exist – and my comments are intended to share that which I know in case someone on the other side has not considered it before. I personally would hate to find myself ranting and raving about “the truth” when I was actually missing an important piece of the puzzle.

    All this aside, I remain fairly secure in my current beliefs as I have not yet heard an argument that would cause me to alter them (which I would certainly be open to – if I wasn’t, I would still be a Christian myself).

  31. Now I have not read past the first paragraph of the cited paper, but since the phrase “violate natural laws” keeps reappearing here, let me add this.
    SteveK pointed out that Dr. McGrew is not defining miracles as a violation or breaking of natural laws.
    C.S. Lewis says, in Miracles and in his defence of that book, they do not break natural laws. In fact, he says they neither need to, nor can they. (pages 59 and 60)
    “St. Augustine argued for the nonviolation of physical laws by a miracle.”(source below).
    ID theorist and master of divinity, William Dembski says they do not break laws.
    William Lane Craig says “miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature
    “.
    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/miracles.html
    And, to refer again to Frank Tipler, professor of mathematical physics:

    the law of physics responsible for Jesus’ Resurrection was first discovered in 1976 by Gerardus ‘t Hooft, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1999. This new law was not fully understood until the 1980s. The new law is a consequence of the Standard Model of particle physics.(198)

    It is this mechanism of baryon annihilation via electroweak tunneling that could have been used to accomplish all of the miracles described in the Gospels, particularly the Resurrection.(198)

    All eight of the “nature” miracles of Jesus could have been accomplished via the electroweak quantum tunneling mechanism.(199,200)
    ==
    Indeed, why should God violate His own laws? He knows what He wants to accomplish in universal history and has therefore set the laws of physics accordingly.
    C.S. Lewis devoted an entire book to the study of miracles and provided a defense of the orthodox position that a miracle never violates natural law.(102)

    St. Augustine … makes clear why he wished to emphasize that a miracle does not violate the laws of nature: the material world in the Christian worldview was a creation of God, who knew what He was doing. God ever has to act contrary to His own creation. (112)
    [T]here is indeed no distinction between moral law and natural law. All moral judgments are really judgments about matters of fact. (112)

    The Physics Of Christianity

    Tipler may be wrong, ultimately, in his assessment of by what process miracles have occurred but the very good point to me is this: we do not have a full catalogue of what is and is not “possible” and the unjustified law of induction cannot get us there.
    As G.K. Chesterton said

    The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.

  32. Jason

    The simple fact of the matter is that evidence for the resurrection is not automatically proof that the Christian god is the one and only lord of existence.

    I’m not arguing for automatic proof OR the Christian God. I am arguing that it is very reasonable and rational to believe miracles (as defined) have occurred which points to the existence of something beyond nature itself.

    You are still missing the point I am trying to make by making comparisons among miracles. Muslim reports of the miraculous may not have as much backing as Christian reports, but the backing they do have would still be quite convincing if you first accept that such things are possible. Why would you deny them and not the Christian reports?

    I don’t automatically deny miracle claims made by other religions. I accept that many of them may have occurred and many may be false – just like miracle claims made by Christians. I have no double-standard. There can only be one ‘best explanation’ though so don’t fault me for looking at the evidence and concluding that one explanation stands out over all the others.

    You keep trying to avoid the question by accusing me of over-generalization, but you have not answered my original inquiry as to how one is supposed to sort the false reports from the true once one has allowed that natural law can be violated.

    Try to stop thinking in terms of violated laws. Instead, think in terms of what nature is capable of doing on it’s own versus what can be done if something outside nature gets involved.

    If you assume, like Carl Sagan and others did, that the cosmos is all there is then you have an a priori commitment to naturalism instead of a commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    How many eye-witness reports does it take? What constitutes a reasonable report? How do you justify your criteria?

    This is interesting because I’ve asked this question about the scientific method and you’ll be surprised to hear that nobody (here or elsewhere) can quantify their response like you are asking me to do.

    – How many scientists or published papers does it take to ‘prove’ one theory over another?

    – What constitutes a reasonable experiment? Are the experiments that show the speed of gravity far exceeds the speed of light valid??

    – What if 30% (or 10% or 3% or 0.3%) of the scientific community has doubts about the majority position? How do you handle the scientists in the gravity example above?

    – How do you justify your criteria?

  33. Interesting take on the subject, Charlie. I often wonder why more people don’t attempt to explain miracles in natural terms.

    I certainly won’t stand against the possibility of an unlikely natural event occurring. The question remains, however, that just because we may accept that nothing is impossible, does that make everything probable? If someone claims that something which has never happened before and cannot be recreated has occurred, it would demand a very convincing proof to suggest that it had indeed happened. It may be an overused saying, but it is appropriate here nonetheless: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    The bible accounts may be ample evidence to suggest that Jesus existed (although we all know that that isn’t undisputed), but it comes very short of proving to any degree of certainty that something as spectacular as a person rising from the dead was likely to have happened.

    It is also important to note that while showing that miracles may happen by natural processes bypasses most philosophical barriers, packing them with the idea that such events are caused by a supernatural agent still makes a statement that the evidence can’t back up.

    SteveK, I still deny that there is any evidence suggesting that something outside of nature exists. As Charlie’s illustration suggests, natural events can appear quite miraculous, but as natural events they do not really qualify as miracles in the traditional sense, and certainly don’t suggest unnatural interference – that is just the common assumption when something has yet to be explained.

    If you want to postulate that something outside of nature could effect the natural world, anything would be entirely possible – you wouldn’t have much basis for doubting any claim. I do not simply assume that the cosmos is all there is – I am saying that just because there might be something else doesn’t mean there is. If there were evidence leading to the supernatural I would follow it, but in it’s absence I am content to take what I can get and settle for the natural. I don’t see why, when natural explanations are satisfactory for 99.9% of all events in history (including countless debunked “miracles”), we should assume that a supernatural explanation for the .1% of dubious events alleged by dubious sources is more rational.

    I will stop asking you questions as you seem determined not to answer them, but I will try to answer yours in the order you posed them:

    -Just one, and the person doesn’t have to be a scientist, nor the paper published. If an 80-year-old housewife writes a theory on the back of a napkin, it can be tested and checked against the evidence for accuracy. The theory would validate itself, if true.

    -I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the gravity/speed of light experiments. This is a difficult one to sum up, but basically a reasonable experiment would need to take all valid variables into account, the experiment itself would have to follow a logical progression (A leading to B leading to C) and the conclusions would have to be directly indicated by the evidence presented.

    -The minority (and the majority, for that matter) should be able to support their ideas with evidence of some form or another. If they can, any honest scientist would follow the evidence where it leads, as has been said. If they can’t present any evidence or can only offer a series of unverifiable hypotheses, they should not expect to change any minds.

    -I justify my criteria on the basis that when we examine evidence and draw conclusions based only on what is directly suggested by that evidence, we can make accurate predictions. When you throw an unrelated determination into the mix, all you have is the logical conclusion plus one erroneous statement that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. That is what the history of science and logic has shown us.

    I am not a scientist myself – I’m just devoted to the idea that we should avoid making wanton assumptions when the evidence doesn’t call for them.

  34. Hi Jason,

    Interesting take on the subject, Charlie. I often wonder why more people don’t attempt to explain miracles in natural terms.

    It’s possible you’ve made a slight error in your interpretation. The explanation is not a naturalistic one.

    The question remains, however, that just because we may accept that nothing is impossible, does that make everything probable?

    Neither is it a probability argument. I happen to agree with you that one should not accept that everything is probable. In fact, if this were a naturalistic argument, where the explanation must be made in terms of chance and nothing but natural law, then you’d have a good case about probabilities. I hope you’re around when we discuss probabilities in such cases as they are not only appropriate but devastating.

    If someone claims that something which has never happened before and cannot be recreated has occurred, it would demand a very convincing proof to suggest that it had indeed happened. It may be an overused saying, but it is appropriate here nonetheless: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    I agree here as well. I think that observation, repeatability and empirical testing would help the case greatly – as did Jesus’ disciples.
    Indeed, part of defining it as miraculous is the religious nature of the event. If something never occurs, if nature never recreates the event, if there are no natural antecedent conditions sufficient to cause the result then what right have we to assign its occurrence to some unknown, areligious, natural explanation without violating the principle of causation? If causality is uncertain then one ought to be agnostic. If prayer and petition are correlated with the event and in their absence nature always conditions a different, determined event, then the proper course is not to posit an unknown natural efficient cause. To do so would suggest that the miraculous violates not natural laws, but one’s philosophical position.

    The bible accounts may be ample evidence to suggest that Jesus existed (although we all know that that isn’t undisputed), but it comes very short of proving to any degree of certainty that something as spectacular as a person rising from the dead was likely to have happened.

    It wasn’t ever likely to happen. As I said, it isn’t a probability argument. “As St. Augustine. Lewis, Pannenberg, and a long list of Christian writers have emphasized for many centuries, for a Christian, a miracle is a very improbable event that has religious significance.” Tipler, 104
    “Once again, a miracle is an event allowed by natural law but improbable according to human knowledge. Recall that probability is a measure of human ignorance, not human knowledge.” 136
    According to Tipler, the probability of the virgin birth is 1/120 billion. The probability of the Resurrection is 10^-100 raised “to a power equal to the numbers of atoms in a human body, something like 10^29. It is a virtual certainty that no one will ever observe dematerialization of even a single atom via this process.”Tipler, 199
    This holds, of course, if these events are considered to be random occurrences unrelated to the universe at large. In reality, if God wills that these occur, then the probability is 1.

    As Charlie’s illustration suggests, natural events can appear quite miraculous, but as natural events they do not really qualify as miracles in the traditional sense, and certainly don’t suggest unnatural interference – that is just the common assumption when something has yet to be explained.

    But I think I’ve demonstrated that these do really qualify as traditional miracles. In my mind St. Augustine and Pope Benedict XIV qualify as traditionalists.

  35. I’ll be sure to listen to that debate, although I’ve never had much use for Greg Koukl or Stand to Reason before.

    On the upside, Charlie, I think we are in agreement about the data we have to work with, and on a number of principle – the interpretation is where we still differ.

    If something never occurs, if nature never recreates the event, if there are no natural antecedent conditions sufficient to cause the result then what right have we to assign its occurrence to some unknown, areligious, natural explanation without violating the principle of causation?

    If there were a modern day miracle that we could establish properly meets these criteria, there would be room to argue a religious explanation. However, when solid evidence for such an event is lacking, I fail to see why it is less reasonable to say that that the event in question probably never happened at all, or least didn’t happen quite as it was described by our ancient God-fearing ancestors. Once there is a reason to believe the event even took place we can discuss it’s unusual cause in further detail.

    I think I will cut myself off here, though. Events described as miracles do not prove the existence of the supernatural, because in order to prove the existence of miracle one must first establish that there is such a thing as the supernatural. After all, if there is nothing supernatural then any half-baked natural explanation would would be more likely to be true.

    Until we can reach agreement on that matter, I don’t forsee much progress being made here, and I supect debating the ultimate existence of God & the supernatural is a discussion best left for another time or message board.

    To draw all this back to the original article – I’ve never shared Hitchens’ revulsion for religion, nor do I believe that the unnecessary digs at his opponents prove anything. However, I do agree with his assertion that the evidence is insufficient to prove that 2000 years ago, the son of a carpenter rose from the dead.

  36. Hi Jason,
    I may have misled you:

    I’ll be sure to listen to that debate, although I’ve never had much use for Greg Koukl or Stand to Reason before.

    The STR link only has a brief discussion between Koukl and Richards about the Hitchens debate.
    I like Greg Koukl of STR.

    However, when solid evidence for such an event is lacking, I fail to see why it is less reasonable to say that that the event in question probably never happened at all, or least didn’t happen quite as it was described by our ancient God-fearing ancestors. Once there is a reason to believe the event even took place we can discuss it’s unusual cause in further detail.

    Agreed.

    I think I will cut myself off here, though. Events described as miracles do not prove the existence of the supernatural, because in order to prove the existence of miracle one must first establish that there is such a thing as the supernatural.

    This seems a little circular to me, but your epistemology is your own. I think that God is proven very effectively.

    After all, if there is nothing supernatural then any half-baked natural explanation would would be more likely to be true.

    That has certainly been my experience.
    As I said to Paul, if “natural” is all there is then “natural” is always the best explanation. Having no such philosophical position, however, I’m not forced into eating such ill-prepared dishes.

  37. This seems a little circular to me, but your epistemology is your own. I think that God is proven very effectively.

    I see where you might get that, so I’ll clarify. If someone attests to a miraculous healing, but the healing itself was actually psychosomatic or the result of a diet change, then it is not really a miracle, but rather a mislabeled natural event. If the cause is not supernatural, an event is not truly miraculous, but merely unusual.

    As for God’s existence being proven, I simply disagree.

    …but I suppose that’s no surprise at this point.

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