Tom Gilson

“Undesigned Coincidences Series by Tim McGrew – Apologetics 315”

“Undesigned coincidences” in the New Testament: strong internal evidence for New Testament veracity. My friend Dr. Tim McGrew has been writing on this topic at the Christian Apologetics Alliance website. I’ve been waiting for it all to be compiled, and now you can access six articles from one location. I don’t know if there are more articles coming; I do know that in this series he has hardly begun to cover his list of examples.

And just what is an undesigned coincidence, you ask? Dr. McGrew explains it in general terms:

The term itself, coined over two centuries ago, is perhaps not the best description for modern readers, since we rarely use the word “undesigned” today. But the meaning is not terribly difficult to grasp. Take two texts (for the sake of the argument one need assume nothing about them except that they both purport to recount some historical events) and compare them. Of course, they might have nothing in common; in that case, there is no material for this sort of argument. But they might touch on some of the same characters and events. If so, we may examine them to see whether the manner in which they discuss these things fits together obliquely, in ways not likely to have been deliberately chosen for that effect—undesignedly.

That may not quite make it clear for you. Here’s an example from the last of Dr. McGrew’s posts (so far at least):

In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul explains that he has sent Timothy, “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ …” From that passage alone, however, we cannot tell whether he has sent him before the letter or with it, in which case the language of “sending” would be anticipation of the act. The language of 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 makes it plain that Paul had sent Timothy before writing the letter, as he speaks of Timothy’s arrival as something independent from their receipt of the letter itself – “If [or when] Timothy comes, …”

But the comparison of these two passages raises an interesting question. If Timothy had been sent first, why should he not arrive first? And if he arrived first, what use would it be to send, after the fact, instructions on how they were to receive him?

The only plausible resolution is that Timothy, though sent first, must have taken some indirect route to Corinth. The fastest method of travel from Ephesus, where Paul was writing, to Corinth would be to take a ship; with a fair wind, the journey between these two cities on opposite sides of the archipelago can be made in a very short time. But turning to Acts 19:21-22, we discover that Timothy, when he left Ephesus, took the land route, and went up through Macedonia.

Here once again we have the characteristic of undesigned coincidences that neither the historical account nor the letters could plausibly be said to have been written up from the other. The letter does not mention Timothy’s journey through Macedonia at all; the book of Acts does not mention Paul’s letter. But what we find in the book of Acts is the only plausible way of reconciling those stray comments Paul makes in the letter.

Here we see one of many cases where I Corinthians and Acts, written independently, explain each other. It’s a small matter. To think that Luke and Paul colluded on it would be to attribute an unlikely degree of detail to them in their planning. The most natural explanation for the interlocking information here is that both of them were writing about what happened.

By itself this one example is persuasive of almost nothing. The thing is, there are dozens of these in the New Testament, many more than you’ll find in the six articles posted so far. Taken together they comprise a cumulative case, leading reasonably to the conclusion that the most likely reason these different accounts interlock the way they do is because they were written about what actually happened.

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93 thoughts on ““Undesigned Coincidences Series by Tim McGrew – Apologetics 315”

  1. When comparing, Ray, it’s best to look at the differences not the similarities. For example, I can accept that there were eyewitnesses who saw Smith’s golden plates with an unknown language written on them. It’s a mark in favor of Mormonism until I compare that to the multiple public events that eyewitnesses reported in scripture, and how those eyewitnesses lived their lives until death. The differences become very clear at that point.

  2. Not fully accurate historically?

    You mean things like Luke’s census?
    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/12/18/Josephus-(not-Luke)-Misdated-Quiriniuse28099s-Census.aspx#.Uo_1HsSsjAk ( a number of refs in there as well – see this one http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/54/54-1/JETS_54-1_65-87_Rhoads.pdf) or
    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/11/01/Once-More-Quiriniuss-Census.aspx#.Uo_48MSsjAk

    Or the fact that the times critical scholars and historians have claimed that the Bible was wrong in specific historical details, only to have further archaeological research shown that the Bible got it right after all ( see Colin Hemer’s The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History for details and references that demonstrate Luke’s attention to historical details and that he knew what he was talking about). What about the Hittites? For years, the only reference to these people was the Bible, until archaeologists found them.

    Sure, there are still outstanding issues that have not been resolved, but I believe that if we had all of the historical data, we would see that the Bible did ‘get it all right’ after all.

  3. I think the conclusion of the third link I referred to above expresses the Christian confidence we have:

    Here we may gather up the evidence to present a composite picture: (1) Luke’s census is not a historical impossibility.49 Rather at all points, historical analogies can be drawn.50 (2) Quirinius was not the official governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth. The Syrian records and the current accepted chronology of Jesus’ life simply prevent this conclusion. However, Quirinius’s personal chronology is not fully known, particularly around the years of Jesus’ birth. Thus, it is not impossible that he held another office at the time which Luke appropriately describes with (h[gemoneuontoj thj Suriaj) hegmoneuontos tēs Surias, a description as we saw which could also appropriately describe the office from which he took his well-known census. In short, it is most likely under this otherwise unattested office that Quirinius officiated over what Luke describes. To say more would go beyond the present evidence; to say otherwise, would, as we saw, strain the syntax. As such, I. Howard Marshall is probably right when he suggests that Luke’s full vindication lies buried somewhere, waiting to be unearthed.51 Until then, Luke’s historiographical track record (well-documented in other places52) and the implausibility of such a monumental miscalculation, especially considering his method of and purpose for writing (cf. Luke 1:1–4),53 should forestall the rather premature conclusions noted initially. Moreover, for those of us with a high view of Scripture, the fact that Luke’s record is indeed part of Scripture suggests that these conclusions are not only premature but are, in the end, simply wrong. Further evidence will only demonstrate this more conclusively.

  4. “But one doesn’t have to believe that Jesus and the Apostles didn’t exist to doubt that the New Testament is fully accurate history.”

    But if, as you say, the NT isn’t “fully accurate history.” why then has that not been shown to be true. The reality is that the New Testament accounts have so far been backed up by all the evidences so far discovered. No one has found anything archeological, historical or otherwise that directly contradicts the NT. Shouldn’t we by now have some evidence to go on if we are believe that the NT isn’t “fully accurate history.” There is certainly a reasonable amount of evidence in the NT favor.

  5. @BillT
    Have you been watching that documentary on the History Channel, Bible Secrets Revealed? It doesn’t start until tomorrow here in Toronto.

  6. Victoria –

    Not fully accurate historically? You mean things like Luke’s census?

    Among others. I mean, “not impossible” is not the same thing as ‘strongly confirmed’. (In any case, note the same kind of “not impossible” thinking in Card’s essay. E.g. search for “Instant Cities” or “Naming”.)

    But I actually had a different point in mind. Homer seems to have had a lot right about Troy – another example of a myth later confirmed – but that doesn’t mean we accept that Hera and Ares and the rest of the Greek gods actually involved themselves in the conflict. Even a strong degree of historical accuracy in terms of battles and fortifications and siegecraft wouldn’t be sufficient to conclude that.

  7. Of course not. But don’t you see the difference in the NT accounts? We’re not claiming some invisible gods pulled some invisible strings to make some outcome invisibly favor one side or another. We’re claiming there are strongly supported historical markers of very unusual events that are best explained by a man rising from the dead.

  8. Tom Gilson –

    We’re not claiming some invisible gods pulled some invisible strings to make some outcome invisibly favor one side or another.

    With respect, I have to suppose that you’re not all that familiar with the Iliad. According to Homer, the gods didn’t just pull “invisible strings” and such, they were active participants in the battles, right there on the field. Actually slaying soldiers, and sometimes taking wounds in return.

    We’re claiming there are strongly supported historical markers of very unusual events that are best explained by a man rising from the dead.

    Yes, but I’m making the point that historical accuracy about more mundane things doesn’t necessarily translate to historical accuracy about supernatural things. Homer and Joseph Smith are examples.

  9. You say,

    Yes, but I’m making the point that historical accuracy about more mundane things doesn’t necessarily translate to historical accuracy about supernatural things. Homer and Joseph Smith are examples.

    You know, don’t you, that we agree with all that? If you think you’re refuting a point we’ve made, that won’t accomplish it. You’ll have to address the point we’re actually making instead.

  10. “Homer seems to have had a lot right about Troy – another example of a myth later confirmed – but that doesn’t mean we accept that Hera and Ares and the rest of the Greek gods actually involved themselves in the conflict.”

    And that is the difference between myth and history. Myths can have accurate history but being written hundreds of years after the facts can have Greek gods actually involved in the conflict. The NT, written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events it records, cannot have mythologized elements in its narrative. Or as C.S. Lewis famously said:

    “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this [Gospel] text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.”

  11. BillT –

    Myths can have accurate history but being written hundreds of years after the facts can have Greek gods actually involved in the conflict. The NT, written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events it records, cannot have mythologized elements in its narrative.

    The accounts of Joseph Smith and Muhammad likewise purport to be straightforward eyewitness accounts. Many of them are confirmed in many historical details, too, and certainly inspired many, many people to do very unusual things. That alone is not demonstration of supernatural credentials.

  12. Just that, Tom. That accuracy with respect to “mundane” history does not have any necessary relation to accuracy with respect to “supernatural history”.

  13. Ray,

    That accuracy with respect to “mundane” history does not have any necessary relation to accuracy with respect to “supernatural history”.

    I’m trying to understand this. It seems to me that you are using the same “pool” of available data/evidence to determine the accuracy of mundane things as you are everything else.

    For example: the pool of available data/evidence that tells you Jesus existed as a real person in history is the same pool that tells you he died on a cross is the same pool that tells you he rose 3 days later.

    To say the latter example isn’t known to be accurate requires some justification on your part. What is your justification?

    I could be wrong about the pool being the same for all so help me out.

  14. SteveK –

    For example: the pool of available data/evidence that tells you Jesus existed as a real person in history is the same pool that tells you he died on a cross is the same pool that tells you he rose 3 days later.

    The same pool that tells me Mohamed existed and produced the Koran also tells me that he worked plenty of miracles. I can believe that a man named Mohamed lived, started a powerful religious movement, and produced an impressive work of Arab literature, without also believing in the miracles.

    Because there are several pools of evidence to draw from. The Bible and the Koran/Hadith are pools, but we also have archeology, sociology, history, etc. Religious movements and charismatic leaders and reports of miracles do happen fairly regularly. Mostly they flame out. Once in a while they spark major social revolutions. (I don’t have to believe in the Buddha’s miracles to believe Gautama existed and taught, either.)

  15. Ray,

    The same pool that tells me Mohamed existed and produced the Koran also tells me that he worked plenty of miracles.

    Seems reasonable. I say this not knowing the reported details.
    (edited: I modified this and then deleted what I wrote. sorry if you saw my mistakes)

    I can believe that a man named Mohamed lived, started a powerful religious movement, and produced an impressive work of Arab literature, without also believing in the miracles.

    I’ll ask you the same question that I asked you regarding the Bible. What is your justification? It could be a philosophical justification, and that would be okay with me as long as it was rationally justified.

  16. FYI, Ray – if you want to know my justification for tossing out parts of the Koran, it’s that it contradicts the Bible, which I take to be a very reliable source from the period in history that it reports on. Specifically, the Koran teaches that Jesus never died on a cross. If it got that part of history wrong, then I’m going to seriously question some of the other things it reports to be true about Jesus.

  17. “The accounts of Joseph Smith and Muhammad likewise purport to be straightforward eyewitness accounts. Many of them are confirmed in many historical details, too, and certainly inspired many, many people to do very unusual things. That alone is not demonstration of supernatural credentials.”

    That some other accounts that “purport to be straightforward eyewitness accounts.” contain inaccuracies, myths, fiction or even complete nonsense is utterly irrelevant and says absolutely nothing about the validity of the New Testament.

    Let me try to map your logic here. A “a religious book” says it’s true but it’s not. B “a religious book” says it’s true but it’s not. Therefore, because C “a religious book” says it’s true it’s not. Yikes!

  18. Yikes is right, BillT.

    The popular atheist slogan (below) is something that many atheists consider to be an actual argument against Christianity (it’s not).

    Ray appears to be doing his best to help Christian’s understand why we dismiss all the other gods, with the hope that this understanding will “rub off” onto Christianity and convince us that we ought to dismiss the Christian God.

    Atheist slogan: “I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    The reason that approach doesn’t work is because that isn’t the reasoning that thinking Christian’s use. A while back I thought up a slogan that better reflected the truth.

    SteveK slogan: “I just believe in one more God than you do. When you understand why I don’t dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others.”

    Take note, Ray.

  19. SteveK –

    I’ll ask you the same question that I asked you regarding the Bible. What is your justification? It could be a philosophical justification, and that would be okay with me as long as it was rationally justified.

    Some of it’s based on experience – lots of people have convinced large groups of miracles when investigation indicates, not so much. Solid evidence of miracles is hard to come by, and obviously I’ve never experienced one myself.

    I also have a philosophical commitment to Ockham’s Razor. Entities shouldn’t be multiplied beyond need. I know that things like credulity and exaggeration happen. (C.f. Joseph Smith in particular.) I know that legends can spring up fast (people reported sightings – and miracles – for both Elvis and JFK shortly after their deaths) and accumulate around actual history.

    So I have a fairly high threshold for establishing that something supernatural happened. I grant that it’s possible that it’s set too high. But on the other hand, I honestly think that standard is pretty common – when people are evaluating religions that aren’t their own. Pretty much the only people who accept that Mohamed split the moon are Muslims; everyone else wants a bit more substantiation than even eyewitness testimony.

    BillT –

    Let me try to map your logic here. A “a religious book” says it’s true but it’s not. B “a religious book” says it’s true but it’s not. Therefore, because C “a religious book” says it’s true it’s not. Yikes!

    No, we have many examples of religious books containing both things that are true and things that are false. So the fact that a religious book contains some verifiable things does not mean that everything it contains is correct. Corroboration is needed.

  20. “Corroboration is needed.”

    Nobody ever said it wasn’t. We provide that here all the time.

    However, and again, “that some other accounts that “purport to be straightforward eyewitness accounts.” contain inaccuracies, myths, fiction or even complete nonsense is still utterly irrelevant and says absolutely nothing about the validity of the New Testament.”

  21. Ray,

    Some of it’s based on experience

    You say this, then cite a situation that you never experienced. To make matters worse, this citation has *nothing* to do with the Bible or why a person would accept/reject the Bible as accurate history.

    I also have a philosophical commitment to Ockham’s Razor. Entities shouldn’t be multiplied beyond need.

    Not sure how this results in a problem. You can be committed to this while also concluding that the Bible is accurate history.

    I know that things like credulity and exaggeration happen. (C.f. Joseph Smith in particular.) I know that legends can spring up fast (people reported sightings – and miracles – for both Elvis and JFK shortly after their deaths) and accumulate around actual history.

    Jeepers, Ray, look what you are doing here. This entire paragraph has *nothing* to do with a person’s rational analysis of whether the Bible is accurate history or not. You are committing a logical fallacy (again). Additionally, just because something is possible (credulity/exaggeration), doesn’t mean you are justified in concluding it actually occurred.

    So I have a fairly high threshold for establishing that something supernatural happened.

    Thinking Christian’s would agree with you, Ray. Did you notice my slogan, BTW?

    I grant that it’s possible that it’s set too high.

    Maybe not. Perhaps your bar it set at the right height, but you are unable to get there because you are constantly distracted by things that don’t matter to the issue being discussed. I see this in you a lot, Ray. You fall for logical fallacies all the time.

    I see you believing that the atheist slogan is logically true – that *if* you can understand why the other religions are false *then* you’ll understand why Christianity is false. That’s bad logic, Ray, but you embrace it time and time again.

    When good reasons are provided *for* believing you get distracted and start thinking about other religions and how they are surely false. What does that have to do with Christianity being true, or not? Nothing.

    But on the other hand, I honestly think that standard is pretty common – when people are evaluating religions that aren’t their own. Pretty much the only people who accept that Mohamed split the moon are Muslims; everyone else wants a bit more substantiation than even eyewitness testimony.

    Eyewitness testimony is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

    There are solid *rational* reasons for thinking that something supernatural happened – and is happening now, today. I mentioned recently that I’m reading “Aquinas” and the 5 ways are examples of rational reasons for thinking God exists – now, today, at every moment – so it’s not a stretch to think that the Bible is accurate history when you consider the totality of the evidence.

  22. BillT –

    However, and again, “that some other accounts that “purport to be straightforward eyewitness accounts.” contain inaccuracies, myths, fiction or even complete nonsense is still utterly irrelevant and says absolutely nothing about the validity of the New Testament.”

    That’s not my point. My point is that evidence that Paul and Luke accurately reported that Timothy movements isn’t much in the way of evidence that Luke and Paul accurately reported miracles.

    It’s not evidence they didn’t, of course, but it’s pretty much “irrelevant” to the question of miracles in the NT. (Which is, of course, the heart of the matter so far as winning converts is concerned.)

  23. Irrelevant?

    IRRELEVANT?

    It practically shoots down the whole stinkin’ “legend” hypothesis! Which, by the way, is the number one competing theory: either Jesus was who the accounts say he was, or he was substantially invented by legendary processes.

    So if you knock the legs out from under the top competing theory, that’s irrelevant?

    What would it take for you to see anything at all as making any difference at all?

    Sometimes I just shake my head, Ray.

  24. Ray,

    My point is that evidence that Paul and Luke accurately reported that Timothy movements isn’t much in the way of evidence that Luke and Paul accurately reported miracles.

    What about intentionally dying for something that you reported to have experienced. Is that behavior evidence for anything? Yes it is. It’s evidence that you truly believed in the accuracy of your report. It’s certainly not evidence that you thought your report was inaccurate.

    If I reported that a gun was being aimed at me and I subsequently jumped to the side to avoid the bullet if it was fired, you’d be nuts to conclude that my actions weren’t evidence for my report being accurate and true. Ultimately I could have been mistaken about the gun being pointed at me but you’d have no way to know if that was the case.

    Ray, you are claiming to know what you do not know (that the report is inaccurate) and denying what we do know (that the behavior agrees with the report)

  25. Ray,

    Yes, we got that the first time and acknowledged it multiple times. You have a real talent for stating and restating the obvious. How about you acknowledging that we’ve basically eliminated the possibility of the NT being myth or being mythologized. And your constant references to J. Smith and Mohammad are off point and pointless. They illustrate nothing that everyone on earth didn’t already know and have nothing to do with the validity of the NT even though you’re trying your best to muddy the waters with them. (Yeah, Ray, we all saw that!)

  26. Tom,
    Some would be happy to undermine the legend hypothesis because the goal is to create total uncertainty. It’s a virtue for these people. Better to conclude that we don’t really know anything about what happened then to think we do.

  27. Tom Gilson –

    It practically shoots down the whole stinkin’ “legend” hypothesis!

    I never claimed that Jesus never existed. I’m sure that he, and Mohamed, and Gautama, and Zoroaster, and Mani, and even Joseph Smith also existed. That doesn’t mean I’m convinced they did everything ascribed to them. I’m certainly convinced their followers believed they were miraculous, though.

    SteveK –

    What about intentionally dying for something that you reported to have experienced. Is that behavior evidence for anything?

    Actually, we have church traditions for the martyrdom of the apostles – competing ones, in fact, in several cases. No contemporary corroboration for how they died, or whether they were offered any opportunity to recant, etc.

    BillT –

    How about you acknowledging that we’ve basically eliminated the possibility of the NT being myth or being mythologized. And your constant references to J. Smith and Mohammad are off point and pointless.

    Even when they offer examples of the problems with accepting the history offered by partisans without corroboration?

  28. Ray,

    No contemporary corroboration for how they died, or whether they were offered any opportunity to recant, etc.

    I’m not an expert on this so maybe someone can chime in on this. However…!!

    There’s also willfully enduring a difficult life that they could otherwise have avoided. You can’t escape the fact that the behavior aligns well with the report they gave us, and that this *is* evidence for the accuracy of their NT report.

    If you want to undermine this evidence you’ll need to provide evidence that their behavior aligns well with some other report, or some other bit of historical evidence. What do you have?

  29. Even when they offer examples of the problems with accepting the history offered by partisans without corroboration?

    Yes, even then. (And we’ve explained why multiple times.)

  30. Ray, when will you wake up and see that errors made by other people in unrelated situations have nothing to do with the truth of scripture?

    But if you’re so keen on fallacious reasoning that you just can’t help yourself, at least spread the love around by linking to examples where naturalists got it wrong.

  31. SteveK –

    There’s also willfully enduring a difficult life that they could otherwise have avoided.

    Like the Mormons uprooting everything, giving up much land and possessions, and moving to Utah? I’m not seeing anything unique to Christianity, or to a unique degree.

    Ray, when will you wake up and see that errors made by other people in unrelated situations have nothing to do with the truth of scripture?

    You’re missing the point. I’m not claiming that anything I’ve been talking about proves that Christianity is wrong. I’m pointing out that nothing along these lines has been sufficient to prove Christianity right.

  32. Like the Mormons uprooting everything, giving up much land and possessions, and moving to Utah?

    LOL! Yep, that’s just like being thrown in jail and giving up your possessions for good.

    I’m pointing out that nothing along these lines has been sufficient to prove Christianity right.

    Explain this, Ray. When all of your points are about Mormonism, how does this serve to prove anything about Christianity? Make that connection for me.

  33. Ray,
    My last comment was rushed.

    You’ve done it again. You’ve taken my comment in #31 about 1st century history that was designed to make sense of 1st century reports, and you “rebutted” that by making a comment about 19th century history. Huh??

    Make the connection, Ray. You seem to be saying that there’s some universal principle at work that ties the two together. What is that principle?

  34. Ray,

    I’m not claiming that anything I’ve been talking about proves that Christianity is wrong. I’m pointing out that nothing along these lines has been sufficient to prove Christianity right.

    I’m going to keep hammering on this until you either stop or you explain yourself. 🙂

    First of all, we were never talking about proof. We were talking about evidence, and if some evidence can tell us anything about the accuracy of a report – specifically the NT report of the resurrection event.

    Your statement here means that you hold this *strange* idea that evidence from the 19th century serves to undermine the evidence I offered to support the accuracy of a 1st century resurrection report.

    Here’s an analogous situation:

    – Last week Joe reported that he saw a gun pointed at him.
    – The evidence shows that Joe jumped to the side as if to avoid something on the same day he made the report (eyewitness testimony, bruise on arm, damage to furniture)

    Me: The evidence is in agreement with Joe’s report, we have no other reports (of equal credibility) or evidence that would lead us to conclude the report is false, therefore it is reasonable to conclude the report is accurate – Joe saw a gun.

    Ray: This week Sue reported that she saw a man stealing a car and that turned out to be false, [insert some other statements], therefore this serves to undermine your logic regarding the accuracy of Joe’s report.

    (edited out FSM to avoid arguing over that)

  35. LOL! Yep, that’s just like being thrown in jail and giving up your possessions for good.

    Somewhere north of three thousand of those pioneers died. The survivors generally didn’t move to a higher standard of living, either. Many Mormons got jailed, attacked, and persecuted, too.

    (Not that they didn’t inflict their own persecutions and atrocities when things erupted into war, of course. But they believed enough to risk their lives and go to war over it.)

    Early converts to Islam fled Mecca because of persecution a few times. Being willing to suffer persecution for even young beliefs is not limited only to Christianity, I’m afraid.

    Here’s an analogous situation:

    No, here’s an analogous situation:

    – Last week Joe reported that he saw a Martian pointing a laser gun at him.
    – The evidence shows that Joe jumped to the side as if to avoid something on the same day he made the report (eyewitness testimony, bruise on arm, damage to furniture)

    But other people have reported being threatened by aliens and it has turned out to be mistakes, exaggeration, or hoaxes. Armed human assailants aren’t a huge stretch. To establish aliens, you need more than sober witnesses (search for “UFO story”).

    Again, I’m not arguing that divine intervention is ruled out. That’s not the same as it being firmly established, though.

  36. Ray,

    But other people have reported being threatened by aliens and it has turned out to be mistakes, exaggeration, or hoaxes.

    You still haven’t explained how this unrelated fact undermines the following logic: the evidence in Joe’s situation supports the accuracy of Joe’s report.

    Please do that.

  37. SteveK –

    You still haven’t explained how this unrelated fact undermines the following logic: the evidence in Joe’s situation supports the accuracy of Joe’s report.

    It doesn’t turn the evidence in Joe’s report from positive to negative; that’s not what I said. What it does is reduce the scale of support rather sharply. Joe’s motions and injuries lend some support, just not a great deal, to the idea that he was dodging alien death rays.

    How about a burn mark on the wall behind him, where the ray he dodged would have hit? (Bonus points if it’s slightly radioactive or indicates spot temperatures well in excess of a blowtorch.) Now that would be interesting.

    People choosing to undergo great suffering or deprivation for religious beliefs, even new young religious beliefs, is frankly not all that unusual in history. We know in several cases that they were deceived or mistaken, yet they did it anyway. I mentioned Ockham’s Razor – why can’t we conclude, absent further evidence, that other cases are more of the same? The same way we conclude that, absent further evidence, UFO and Bigfoot sightings are deceptions or mistakes?

    Evidence of life-altering behavior changes is probably necessary to establish the truth of religious claims. That’s just not the same thing as sufficient.

  38. Ray,

    What it does is reduce the scale of support rather sharply.

    You keep asserting this, and I keep asking “how?” (logically) it does that. Will you ever respond to that specific question? The rest of your comment isn’t an answer to this question. Let me see if I can help further this discussion along.

    I can see that you’re grasping for some unifying principle/argument so that you can logically bridge the two statements together to make your point, but so far you’ve failed to communicate that principle/argument to anyone.

    Logically speaking , how does your fact in (1)

    (1) “…other people have reported being threatened by aliens and it has turned out to be mistakes, exaggeration, or hoaxes.”

    undermine my statement in (2)?

    (2) the evidence in Joe’s situation supports the accuracy of Joe’s report.

    Truth be told, I do think there is a unifying principle/argument that undermines my statement in (2), but it has nothing to do with the fact in (1). It has to do with some *other fact*.

    In other words, Ray, in the case of Joe and the alien from Mars, you are right that some fact undermines Joe’s report – it’s just not the fact that you are citing.

    However, when it comes to the NT reports, the situation is fundamentally different. I’ll explain why once we get past the alien example.

  39. Ray,
    Continuing…

    I mentioned Ockham’s Razor – why can’t we conclude, absent further evidence, that other cases are more of the same? The same way we conclude that, absent further evidence, UFO and Bigfoot sightings are deceptions or mistakes?

    I’d say that you’re on the right track with this. Where you go wrong is that you cite an invalid reason for why Ockham’s principle would lead us to this rational conclusion. You’ve arrived at the correct answer, but for the wrong reason. I alluded to this in my last comment. Let me tell you where I think the mistake is.

    Joe’s report isn’t undermined because “other people have reported being threatened by aliens and it has turned out to be mistakes, exaggeration, or hoaxes.”

    Joe’s report is undermined by the fact that multiple independent reports (with evidence) from apparently credible people tell us that there is no advanced life on Mars. Those facts undermine Joe’s report precisely because those facts speak directly to oppose Joe’s specific report about life existing on Mars. If you can’t see the connection, let me say it this way:

    Joe’s report that he saw a being from Mars is undermined by the multiple independent reports (with evidence) from apparently credible people that tell us advanced life on Mars doesn’t exist.

    It’s possible for Joe’s report to be true, but we (as distant outsiders) have no rational reason to think it actually is, and one big reason to think it actually isn’t.

    Does this principled line of reasoning work for the God of the Bible? No, because there are no multiple independent reports (with evidence) that tell us a God from beyond nature doesn’t exist. As a matter of principle, those reports don’t exist.

  40. how does your fact in (1)… undermine my statement in (2)?

    I didn’t say it “undermined” your statement. What I said was that it put a limit on what can be concluded from (2). It provides a clear demonstration that such facts are not necessarily associated with getting shot at by aliens. Other explanations are not only possible, they’ve actually obtained in other cases.

    To reiterate, this does not prove that Joe’s lying. It does not even mean that it’s any kind of evidence that Joe’s lying. What it means is that the evidence of Joe’s actions and injuries is not sufficient evidence that Joe’s story is correct.

    Since multiple explanations are consistent with the given facts, we have to use additional considerations to fully evaluate the likelihood of Joe’s story being correct.

    Joe’s report that he saw a being from Mars is undermined by the multiple independent reports (with evidence) from apparently credible people that tell us advanced life on Mars doesn’t exist.

    But lets turn that around. Joe may have misidentified the origin of the creature that shot at him, no? The fact that it probably didn’t come from Mars is no argument that it couldn’t be from Jupiter or even a planet circling Proxima Centauri, right?

  41. Ray,

    I didn’t say it “undermined” your statement. What I said was that it put a limit on what can be concluded from (2).

    I admit that maybe it’s my problem that I don’t understand your comments. Earlier you said this,

    It [your comment] doesn’t turn the evidence in Joe’s report from positive to negative; that’s not what I said. What it does is reduce the scale of support rather sharply.

    and when I see “reduce the scale of support” I interpret that as “undermine”. That seems like a reasonable interpretation of your comment.

    Now, if you meant to say that your comment “put a limit on” my statement rather than what you actually did say, then my reply is that you’re now implying that I’ve went too far with my statement of fact. I purposely limited what my statement said so I think you are reading a conclusion into my statement and then objecting to a conclusion I didn’t make.

    You don’t want me to conclude that Joe’s story is *actually* accurate and true. I would agree (I recently explained why). But I never offered a conclusion, only a statement of fact. Here is my statement again.

    Me: the evidence in Joe’s situation supports the accuracy of Joe’s report.

    moving on…

    What it means is that the evidence of Joe’s actions and injuries is not sufficient evidence that Joe’s story is correct.

    I agreed with that in my recent comment and explained why. The evidence of Joes’ story is directly and forcefully undermined by the other evidence I cited.

    But lets turn that around. Joe may have misidentified the origin of the creature that shot at him, no? The fact that it probably didn’t come from Mars is no argument that it couldn’t be from Jupiter or even a planet circling Proxima Centauri, right?

    Check with the evidence and the multiple independent reports by people who are knowledgeable about this subject. What does all of that tell us? Whatever it says, I’ll side with that conclusion.

  42. Ray,
    Can we get back to the NT resurrection event now? Unlike in Joe’s situation (where we agree), I would disagree with your statement that there’s not sufficient evidence to conclude the story is *actually* accurate. You lack a sufficient defeater, whereas in Joe’s case we had one.

    Just like in Joe’s situation we have this statement of fact: “the historical evidence supports the accuracy of the NT reports concerning the resurrection event.”

    However in this case what we do have is sufficient to justify an affirming conclusion. It is sufficient *because* (among other things) there is no other *evidence* that directly and forcefully undermines the strength of the multiple independent reports to the point where my conclusion is unjustified. That wasn’t the case in Joe’s situation.

    Your 19th century history example does not directly and forcefully undermine the strength of the multiple independent reports. That has been my point all along.

  43. when I see “reduce the scale of support” I interpret that as “undermine”

    To “undermine” generally means to ‘damage or weaken or erode’. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is not taking it as definitively. I’m not talking about making alien attack unlikely, as not making it likely.

    In short: “the evidence in Joe’s situation supports the accuracy of Joe’s report”. It just doesn’t support it very much. (Actually, eyewitness testimony tends to be very unreliable, as many people have found out in the worst possible way.)

    In other words, we’re dealing with a method with a “false positive” rate that’s known to be greater than zero (in many cases, much greater than zero). I don’t have to argue for a “defeater” to reasonably request some additional confirmation.

    Now, when dealing with really unusual claims, a lot more substantiation is required. Let’s remove the word “Martian” from my original claim – what about aliens in general? We certainly can’t prove there aren’t aliens visiting Earth. The problem is, the only evidence we have in favor of that are eyewitness reports – which we know to have “false positive” problems. (As noted back in #38.)

    “the historical evidence supports the accuracy of the NT reports concerning the resurrection event.”

    The historical evidence supports that many of the disciples and early Christians believed in a resurrection event. In Joe’s case, the evidence likewise supports the idea that he believed he was dodging a death ray. Now, in Joe’s case, there are others reporting alien encounters, too, but we know many of them are wrong. So we don’t accept Joe’s account without other corroboration.

    We similarly know that people have been swept up into religious movements and believed in miracles when the validity of those miracles is… in serious question, let’s say. In the same way, it seems reasonable to me to ask for some kind of independent corroboration before taking that account at face value, any more than Joe’s.

  44. What I’m talking about is not taking it as definitively.

    I never said it was a definitive conclusion. Only said the conclusion was justified. All conclusions are subject to being overturned. That’s implied in all cases, Ray. Don’t jump beyond what I’m saying.

    In other words, we’re dealing with a method with a “false positive” rate that’s known to be greater than zero (in many cases, much greater than zero).

    In the specific case of aliens we do have many false independent reports. Each one serves to confirm that my specific defeater is a justified defeater.

    You don’t have the same situation when it comes to the resurrection. If you can’t see that then keep reading.

    I don’t have to argue for a “defeater” to reasonably request some additional confirmation.

    Request whatever you’d like. You often don’t have that luxury when it comes to historical events. As a matter of principle, you do need a defeater in order to block a rationally justified conclusion.

    Now, when dealing with really unusual claims, a lot more substantiation is required.

    I’m going to presume you’re speaking about the NT reports now. Your philosophical hangups aren’t my problem, Ray.

    We both agree that we *already* have “evidence which supports the accuracy of the reports”, so what’s preventing anyone from *actually* affirming the accuracy of the reports?

    Me: “We know that the evidence supports the accuracy of the reports, and we don’t have a direct and forceful defeater”
    You: “I agree, however a person needs more of that same knowledge”
    Me: “Why do we *need* more of this knowledge?”
    You: “Because I have this philosophical hangup regarding confidence in the conclusion”
    Me: “I’m not saying anything about confidence. I’m saying the conclusion is justified *because* we don’t have a defeater – and that’s all I’m saying.”

    The problem is, the only evidence we have in favor of that are eyewitness reports – which we know to have “false positive” problems. (As noted back in #38.)

    If you want to undermine eyewitnesses reports of this kind in general, this acid test undermines all of them – even the scientific ones involving “really unusual claims”.

    If you want to undermine *specific* eyewitness reports involving really unusual claims, you are going to have to show that we have numerous false positive reports of resurrection events just like the NT reports describe. Let me know how many false positives you find.

  45. Ray,

    Now, in Joe’s case, there are others reporting alien encounters, too, but we know many of them are wrong. So we don’t accept Joe’s account without other corroboration.

    Here again you are arriving at the correct conclusion but for the wrong reason. The false reports are not the defeater reason. The false reports serve to reinforce the defeater reason already in place. See the difference? Without a defeater reason, you couldn’t rationally conclude that the reports were indeed false.

    In case you forgot, the defeater in Joe’s situation is this: multiple independent reports (with evidence) tell us there’s no advanced life on Mars.

    We similarly know that people have been swept up into religious movements and believed in miracles when the validity of those miracles is… in serious question, let’s say.

    A non-issue here because it’s not a defeater argument or reason. See also my prior comment about specific vs. general arguments against eyewitness reports. Feel free to undermine the credibility of all scientific reports by accepting the general argument against eyewitnesses.

    In the same way, it seems reasonable to me to ask for some kind of independent corroboration before taking that account at face value, any more than Joe’s.

    See my prior comment #47. You lack a defeater in the case of the resurrection event. And because you lack a defeater, I, and others, are unhindered. Because the evidence supports the accuracy of the multiple reports we have, we are rationally justified to think they are accurate and true.

  46. Time for a sanity check. 🙂

    If anyone else is following along I’d like to know if what I’m saying makes sense, or not. You don’t have to agree with me, just wondering if I am being clear or missing an important point that Ray is making.

  47. I never said it was a definitive conclusion. Only said the conclusion was justified.

    Without a defeater reason, you couldn’t rationally conclude that the reports were indeed false.

    And here’s the problem. From #43: “To reiterate, this does not prove that Joe’s lying. It does not even mean that it’s any kind of evidence that Joe’s lying. What it means is that the evidence of Joe’s actions and injuries is not sufficient evidence that Joe’s story is correct.”

    I’m not talking about concluding that the reports are false. I’m talking about not being convinced the reports are true. Do you see the distinction? Why isn’t “I don’t know” a live option?

    C.f the false positive paradox. Or c.f. drug-sniffing dogs.

    Based on tests for cancer, or a drug-sniffing dog “alerting”, you might suspect something. But that’s the not the same as being justified in concluding that.

    Request whatever you’d like. You often don’t have that luxury when it comes to historical events.

    …and in such cases, you have to suspend judgment and acknowledge that the facts of the matter aren’t known, and may never be known.

  48. Ray,

    Why isn’t “I don’t know” a live option?

    I’ve been responding to your comments, remember? You haven’t been arguing for “I don’t know” as one option of several – as if to say “I don’t know” and “I believe” are both reasonable responses to the NT evidence and reports.

    You’ve been arguing that there is something intellectually wrong – something illegitimate or invalid – with my conclusion, and you wish to make me aware of that. That’s how I read your comments.

    After all, what’s the point of referencing Mormonism, UFO’s and Islam in the context of discussing the Christian faith if your only point is to say “I have no objections to the Christian faith”?

    Ray, if all of this is a terrible misunderstanding on my part and you actually think there’s nothing intellectually wrong/illegitimate/invalid with me (and all Christian’s) believing in and affirming the NT reports of the resurrection, then just say so.

  49. You’ve been arguing that there is something intellectually wrong – something illegitimate or invalid – with my conclusion

    That’s just it. I’m not arguing with the conclusion! I’m arguing with this particular argument used to reach the conclusion.

    You can use an invalid argument to reach a true conclusion. (“Apple pie is delicious, and leaves contain chlorophyll, therefore 2+2=4”. The conclusion happens to be true, even though the logic is invalid.) Just because a conclusion is reached from an invalid argument, that doesn’t mean the conclusion is false. All it means is that the argument does not succeed in establishing the conclusion.

    What I am arguing is not that “other religions that motivated deep belief are false, therefore Christianity is false”. I am saying that evidence of deep belief is not sufficient to establish that a religion is true. That argument doesn’t serve to reach the purported conclusion.

    Which – apparently I need to belabor this – doesn’t mean the conclusion is false. It simply means that, if the conclusion is true, some other argument will be needed to establish that.

    You claim that I “lack a defeater in the case of the resurrection event”. I humbly submit every other death in history. A resurrection, if it happened, would be a highly unusual event. Rarer than purported alien abductions, even. Simple eyewitness reports would not be enough to establish such an event with confidence, any more than detailed eyewitness reports establish UFO encounters. You’d need other evidence.

    Note – again – that I’m not even claiming that such other evidence couldn’t or doesn’t exist. But that evidence would be what’s decisive, not historical eyewitness reports.

  50. Ray,

    I am saying that evidence of deep belief is not sufficient to establish that a religion is true. That argument doesn’t serve to reach the purported conclusion.

    Which – apparently I need to belabor this – doesn’t mean the conclusion is false. It simply means that, if the conclusion is true, some other argument will be needed to establish that.

    What other argument would that be, Ray? Please spell it out.

    Taking your comment at face value, what you’re saying doesn’t seem correct at all. This is not how we actually live our lives. If you have evidence that your mom went to the store and she reported that she went to the store, you are warranted to conclude the report is accurate and true. You say we need another argument before we can make that leap.

    I’ll even go a step further: we don’t even think this way when it comes to science. Take as an example, a new journal report about some amazing, counter-intuitive discovery made in the realm of the physical sciences.

    (1) We have scientists who deeply believed they were eyewitnesses to the events just as they are reported in the journal. We know they wrote the journal piece.

    (2) We have various sets of evidence, data, etc that reasonably supports the accuracy of the journal report. The data aligns pretty well.

    (3) The reported conclusion is *extraordinary* in some sense, however the data and the reported conclusion don’t violate some established fact of the physical sciences.

    Question: Are we, as readers of the journal report, warranted to concluded that the report is true as it has been reported by the scientists?

    Don’t read anything else into that question. I’m not asking how convinced you are of the truth of your answer. I’m only asking if a rational person – a peer scientist – is warranted to conclude the journal report is *actually* true. Don’t get distracted by what might be possible. It’s always possible for reports to be false. You don’t have any evidence for that.

    If you, Ray. wanted to be consistent in your thinking, you’d have to answer “no”. To quote yourself, “evidence of deep belief is not sufficient to establish” that a report is true, and “it doesn’t mean the conclusion is false. It simply means that, if the conclusion is true, some other argument will be needed to establish that.”

    What other argument? Maybe it’s the argument that says we need another report just like the one in the journal? Okay, but the answer for that report is the same as the first one – we can’t say if the report is *actually* true. All we can say is the writers held a deep belief that it was true.

    Peer review journals are a collection of reports about people with deeply held beliefs (sound familiar?). You say we need some other argument before we can conclude that any of those reports were *actually* true. What is it, Ray?

  51. And while we are at it, if the historical eyewitness testimony to Jesus being alive again after being confirmed as dead, as recorded and discussed in the New Testament is not enough for you, Ray, to say “Okay God, I’m willing to listen to You and follow through on the implications of this event”, what would constitute sufficient evidence for you, Ray?

    Remember too that Jesus’ parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 ends with

    16:29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.’ 16:30 Then the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 16:31 He replied to him, ‘If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    Well, now you not only have Moses and the Prophets, but Jesus of Nazareth, Who rose from the dead, and still you will not repent and acknowledge God’s sovereign authority and accept His gift of redemption?

    It is also clear from the NT that both the human authors, Jesus Himself, and the Holy Spirit expect that eyewitness testimony is sufficient for a person to follow the evidence to the Person it points to:

    7:20 “I [Jesus] am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their[Jesus’ disciples] testimony,

    (John 17:20 )

    and

    20:31 But these [Jesus’ miracles and His death and resurrection] are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    (John 20:31)

    And don’t bring up Thomas – he was a special case, unique to the circumstances – as a first line apostle, he had to see the Risen Lord (cf Acts 1:21-22) to qualify – it was Thomas’ attitude that Jesus’ chides Him for – a more faith-ful attitude would have said “You guys saw Jesus alive? Really? Oh boy, I can’t wait to see Him for myself – everything He told us was true, then?”.

  52. Victoria,
    Ray’s worldview problem is worse than my comment #53 hopes to make abundantly clear.

    If reports with evidence to back them up can’t legitimately move a rational person in the direction of “I reasonably conclude this report is actually true as reported” then they can’t move a rational person in the direction of “I reasonably conclude this report is actually false as reported”

    Reports with evidence to back them up are basically useless indicators of the truth as reported. Having more of them is equally useless because it’s more of the same, except when Ray wants them to be useful – but only in the cases where he approves of the conclusion.

    Way back in comment #26 Tom picked up on this, and ever since I’ve been doing my best to help Ray see the *rational* problem he’s inflicted upon himself.

  53. @Ray Ingles:

    You claim that I “lack a defeater in the case of the resurrection event”. I humbly submit every other death in history. A resurrection, if it happened, would be a highly unusual event. Rarer than purported alien abductions, even. Simple eyewitness reports would not be enough to establish such an event with confidence, any more than detailed eyewitness reports establish UFO encounters. You’d need other evidence.

    Since the resurrection, if it happened, is a past event, and historical evidence, of which eyewitness reports is a supremely important part, is all we have and all we can ever hope to have (barring something like time travel), this is just an elliptical way of saying that you will never be convinced by the historical case no matter how airtight it is, not even in principle. Good for you. But if that is what you want to say, just say it, there is no need to confound and obscure the issue by throwing at it irrelevant considerations.

  54. A resurrection, if it happened, would be a highly unusual event.

    Not any more unusual than any other miracle. However, the rarity of miracles is, in and of itself, not a factor in their probability. The probability of a miracle is dependent on the existence of a omnipotent God who desires such an occurrence. So, given that is a possibility then standard historical proofs are certainly sufficient to establish such events. In other words, given the omnipotent God, the event isn’t extraordinary nor do the evidences for it need be.

  55. BillT:

    …the rarity of miracles is, in and of itself, not a factor in their probability. The probability of a miracle is dependent on the existence of a omnipotent God who desires such an occurrence.

    Indeed, if God does not exist the probability of miracles is zero. This is why it’s important to first lay the foundations of a theistic-Christian world view… If such a world view is correct, then the probability of miracles is more likely than not. How do we know that it is correct? I would argue it’s because it is a better explanation than any of the alternatives.

  56. I agree that a rare event doesn’t create a problem for acquiring knowledge of that event. Every event in the history of mankind was rare the first time it occurred.

    That being said, Ray would find himself in the middle of a worldview contradiction IF he were to ever conclude that some event actually was rare – whether it was a reported miracle or not. He’d base that conclusion on first-person reports with evidence that supported the report, and he has told us that the logic doesn’t permit him to conclude the event actually happened as reported – only that the eyewitnesses had deeply held beliefs.

    I don’t know if it’s accurate to say that this is logical positivism, but it seems close to it. Now you know why most people abandoned it. Will Ray?

  57. God’s grace is sufficient to redirect the disordered will of a man, and a man’s will is sufficient to rebel against it.

  58. SteveK –

    Take as an example, a new journal report about some amazing, counter-intuitive discovery made in the realm of the physical sciences.

    It depends – a lot – on how “amazing” and “counter-intuitive” the discovery is.

    A couple of examples. Literally yesterday, it was announced that the Hubble telescope found evidence of water plumes over Europa. Let me quote James Green, (head of NASA’s planetary science program): “The plumes are incredibly exciting, if they are there.” (Emphasis added.)

    This is literally “amazing”, and described using that exact word. But even the scientists announcing it aren’t claiming it’s confirmed yet! Even though liquid water is strongly believed to be present under the ice of Europa, along with tectonic and volcanic activity sufficient to generate such plumes, they want further confirmation.

    Or take the faster than light neutrino anomaly from 2011. The measurement was repeatable at OPERA, but the scientists didn’t claim they were sure – they published their data and asked for people to check it over. Eventually a couple errors were found that accounted for the anomaly – but the possibility was seriously investigated.

    Maybe it’s the argument that says we need another report just like the one in the journal? Okay, but the answer for that report is the same as the first one – we can’t say if the report is *actually* true. All we can say is the writers held a deep belief that it was true.

    The difference is that the conclusions can be checked. Other people can run the same experiment and get the same data. This turns out to be kind of a little bit crucial. (It doesn’t happen often enough, but it does happen.)

    It’s not just “a collection of reports about people with deeply held beliefs”, it’s data records and photos and descriptions of techniques sufficient to reproduce the results.

  59. Victoria –

    what would constitute sufficient evidence for you, Ray?

    Well, shucks, I’ve never asked for anything more than Saul of Tarsus got! (Note the date on that one.)

    It is also clear from the NT that both the human authors, Jesus Himself, and the Holy Spirit expect that eyewitness testimony is sufficient for a person to follow the evidence to the Person it points to:

    Well, so do Nigerian princes – judging by the emails, at least. Of course, if the authority is based on the accounts, and the trustworthiness of the accounts based on the authority… hmm.

  60. But even the scientists announcing it aren’t claiming it’s confirmed yet!

    You’ve ignored my entire comment about the problem with confirmation. The second report is just another report of an amazing event with evidence that supports the report. It’s no different than the first report.

    To put it in mathematical terms, you’re saying: “Unconfirmed” + “Unconfirmed” = “Confirmed!”. The more unconfirmed reports we get the stronger the confirmation.

    There’s a resolution to this apparent dilemma, but I know you won’t like it very much because it will also apply to some reported miracles events.

  61. G. Rodrigues –

    this is just an elliptical way of saying that you will never be convinced by the historical case no matter how airtight it is, not even in principle.

    Not at all! Let’s say that Jesus had told his disciples to record the factorization of a 300-digit number. That would be a strong indication that something really unusual was going on. That would take impressive supercomputing resources today – no one’s actually done it yet, so far as I know – but checking it is within merely human capabilities, unaided by computers. Finding a result like that from 33 A.D. would be – ahem – startling.

    (That kind of thing would also be truly unique in purported divine revelations, too – something unmistakably far in advance of anything humans could do at the time. Carl Sagan has a chapter in “The Demon-Haunted World” that discusses how mundane most revelations are.)

  62. SteveK –

    To put it in mathematical terms, you’re saying: “Unconfirmed” + “Unconfirmed” = “Confirmed!”

    What if the level of confirmation is a continuous rather than binary value? Is that imaginable?

  63. SteveK – It’s not that hard. One report is, say, “0.4 confirmed”, and the second is “0.4 confirmed”. Together, they add up to “0.8 confirmed”. (In reality, confirmation calculations are a tad more complicated, but you get the idea.) I mentioned this before: “Joe’s motions and injuries lend some support, just not a great deal, to the idea that he was dodging alien death rays.”

    The more unlikely the phenomenon, the more confirmation needed – the higher the threshold is set. That’s what I meant, bringing up the “ancient astronauts” stuff to BillT. Maybe there really were aliens that visited humans in the distant past. Ambiguous (at best) pictograms and the occasional technological surprise offer some evidence for that, maybe, but not enough to conclude that, sure, aliens visited humans in the past.

    Believing that there was a city named Ilium was sacked and destroyed? Sure, hardly unusual. There was some skepticism before ruins were found, true, but that was hardly universal. The Trojan Horse? Maybe – a neat story, and physically possible based on what we know. Unlikely, but certainly not ruled out. The god Ares on the field, slaying soldiers? Er… not just on Homer’s say-so, sorry.

  64. @Ray Ingles:

    Not at all! Let’s say that Jesus had told his disciples to record the factorization of a 300-digit number.

    Giggle.

    So, performing a public miracle as authenticated by eyewitnesses is not enough, Jesus would have to bow down to your personal, subjective, arbitrary standards of evidence and with the miracle, *also* give a certificate for the miracle that would leave no doubt to Ray Ingles, e.g. factorize a 300-digit number. Why not ask for a solution of the Riemann Hypothesis? Or a Theory of Everything? In fact, why did God not ordered Moses to write it down as the eleventh commandment?

    Of course, if you were given such a certificate, you would be asking for a certificate of the certificate (I can already imagine it: “it is highly unlikely that such a task could be achieved, so most probably, it is a forgery. Why did Jesus not provided (fill in the blanks) to dispel any lingering doubts? The more unlikely the phenomenon, the more confirmation needed.”) and so on ad infinitum. Jerry Coyne (I think it was him; if not, let the example stand as illustrative) at least asked for a personal appearance of a 5′ Jesus (or something to that effect); Oh wait, you also want a road-to-Damascus experience.

    And your examples from #62 again forget the very simple fact that the resurrection is a *singular*, *particular*, *Historical* event, so all the talk about “confirmability” is just a confirmation (heh) that “you will never be convinced by the historical case no matter how airtight it is, not even in principle”.

    The more unlikely the phenomenon, the more confirmation needed – the higher the threshold is set.

    This is another of those cliches that gets thrown out with all the semblance of reasonableness, but it is nothing more than a paraphrase for a “personal, subjective, arbitrary standard[s] of evidence”.

  65. G. Rodrigues, I have a problem with your most recent answer.

    You didn’t stop after the first word.

    That was really all that was necessary to say in the circumstance.

  66. Ray, you might want to ask yourself, What kind of “Jesus” would have done all these kinds of things you suggest he might have done? Why would he have done it? And most importantly, can you yourself conceive of any possible reason he would have decided to do it the way he did instead?

    That last question is really quite crucial. If you can’t answer it, then either we haven’t explained Jesus to you as we know him, or you haven’t been listening. In either case, if you can’t answer it, then you don’t understand what you think you are disputing. You are trying to stand against something unreal, a Christianity that doesn’t exist except in your mind.

    And it seems to me that if you want to interact with the question of whether Christianity is true or false, you might prefer to interact with Christianity as it is, not as you imagine it.

  67. Ray,

    The more unlikely the phenomenon, the more confirmation needed – the higher the threshold is set.

    Let me guess – this is the other argument that you spoke about in #52? There are many problems with this, the first being that it’s highly subjective and arbitrary (how high is higher and how likely is unlikely?) and the second being that it suffers from the same problem I mentioned in #65.

    You seem to be resolving the second problem in the next section I will be covering, however if you come back later and insist that this rule governs all unlikely events then you can’t say what you did in this next quote.

    One report is, say, “0.4 confirmed”, and the second is “0.4 confirmed”.

    I think I get the jist of what you are trying to say. But note: to establish any confidence level greater than zero means that the evidence and report have moved you off of agnosticism. You now have a justification for believing in the truth of the reports whereas before you lacked any reason to believe in that same truth.

    If there were no justification for thinking the evidence/reports were actually true, you would have assigned a zero value.

    Unlikely events like your Hubble example in #62 may be judged by some to get a 0.00000004 confirmed value (notice the subjectivity in this process), but that value can never be zero *if* the evidence supports accuracy of the report. Some will choose to believe the reports based on the evidence and they are rationally justified in doing so for now (assuming no defeaters).

    And what do you know…this has been my point all along (the crowd cheers!)

    Faith is belief, rationally justified. This is the foundation of the Christian faith. Some will choose to remain skeptical until this subjective “higher threshold” has been met – but you don’t need to wait in order for your belief to be rationally justified.

  68. It seems to me that Ray is using a warmed over version of Hume’s argument against miracles.

    Francis Beckwith very succinctly summarizes Hume’s argument as follows:

    “(1)If E is a highly improbable event, no evidence is sufficient for one to be justified in believing it has occurred.”

    “(2)If E is a miracle that violates natural law, no evidence is sufficient for one to be justified in believing it has occurred.”

    Beckwith then gives this example to illustrate (1):

    Imagine… the case of a woman accused of murder and brought to trial. Testifying against her are five upstanding and responsible citizens who have no reason to lie. Each testifies to having seen the accused commit murder. Suppose, however, that the defendants attorney a strong defender of (1), calls 875 people to testify that they have known the defendant for more than twenty years and have never seen her murder anybody… the defense attorney argues, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your job as rational agents is to weigh the testimonies of 875 people who say that they have never seen my client commit a murder. Because the evidence of her not murdering anyone in the past is greater than the evidence of her recently murdering someone, and because a person’s belief is not justified unless he or she believes on the basis of the greater evidence, my client is not guilty.” The problem with this reasoning, as any intelligent jury or judge would quickly recognize, is that it mistakenly assumes– as the advocate of (1) mistakenly assumes– that what is most probable (what is most likely to occur, like not murdering) cannot be used perpetually to trump any evidence, however powerful, for the occurrence of a rare event (like murdering).

    In Defense of Miracles, Geivett, Habermas ed. (p 92-93)

  69. While it illustrates the point, the problem with the hypothetical example that Beckwith gives above is that it exaggerates the kind and quality of evidence that is needed to bring a conviction in a typical criminal case. For example, most murderer’s try to make sure there are no witnesses to the murder, as well as any incriminating evidence. So having five eyewitnesses is unrealistic, as is having 875 character witnesses.

    Here is an example of a real life murder case that was filed away for lack of evidence and then reopened after two decade. The case was built from a single piece of circumstantial evidence and a second hand witness who changed her testimony after 20 years. On the other hand, the accused, William Marshall, had a line of witnesses who could testify that he was a man of good, if not outstanding, character. Furthermore, the prosecution could present no evidence that he had murdered before or had murdered since… Nevertheless the jury found the evidence for Marshall’s guilt to be very compelling. Basically, I think that this is, from a Humean perspective, the same kind of “asymmetry of evidence” that Beckwith was trying to illustrate above.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/29/local/me-verdict29

    If you have the time the following Dateline progam about this case is very much worth watching.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/video/dateline/42618302#42618142

  70. JAD,
    You are correct that the kind and quality of evidence is important. Those two aspects cannot be quantified, yet our minds are capable of sorting through it all.

    In the case of the NT resurrection reports, Ray would like us to think that the sum total of the evidence rises only to the lowest levels – that there is some credible evidence, but hardly enough to rise to the preponderance level (51%).

    Cold Case Christianity does a good job discussing this in detail. Maybe Ray will get this book for Christmas.

  71. Historians are a lot like detectives working with clues which one may put together puzzle like to give us a clearer picture what actually happened historically. In fact that is what “undesigned” coincidences is all about. By comparing separate accounts of the same event (recorded in separate gospels, or in the gospels and Pauline epistles, for example) we can find incidental details that broaden and clarify the “bigger” picture of what happened historically. If nothing else this approach lends veracity to the NT text.

  72. G. Rodrigues –

    So, performing a public miracle as authenticated by eyewitnesses is not enough

    As I’ve been pointing out all along, it’s certainly not unique. Why are the others like Mohamed and Gautama and Zoroaster and Mani not authenticated by the same mechanism?

    Why not ask for a solution of the Riemann Hypothesis? Or a Theory of Everything? In fact, why did God not ordered Moses to write it down as the eleventh commandment?

    Any of those would work, too. I figured you as a mathematician would appreciate the example, is all. In fact, on those grounds alone, I find it rather disappointing that you blithely accuse me of hypocrisy, saying I’d call it a ‘forgery’. You can’t forge the factorization – it either works or it doesn’t – and I’ve already pointed out how we reliably know the ‘descent tree’ of the Bible.

    And your examples from #62 again forget the very simple fact that the resurrection is a *singular*, *particular*, *Historical* event

    You miss the context (though I won’t insult you by suggesting you do it deliberately). SteveK asked me, quite explicitly, why the problems I’ve outlined for historical deductions don’t apply to scientific papers, and I answered that question. If you want to ask a different question, go ahead.

    Oh wait, you also want a road-to-Damascus experience.

    Why shouldn’t I? God loves me less than Saul? (Do you not want a road-to-Damascus experience? Would you refuse one if offered?)

    See, I have some experience with being pursued. The woman who became my wife pursued me (until I realized how wonderful she was and things switched, of course). But here’s the thing – I knew she existed first. Before I got that first flirty email, I’d met her a couple times before. I knew it wasn’t just a con in some spam.

    it is nothing more than a paraphrase for a “personal, subjective, arbitrary standard[s] of evidence”.

    I grant that it does require some notion of what’s likely or unlikely, but… er… very few people argue that miracles and resurrections are likely. Can’t recall anyone here who’s done so.

  73. It’s important to remember that “undesigned” (or uncontrived*) coincidences are not necessarily related to anything supernatural or miraculous, rather an uncontrived coincidence between separate, independent accounts merely helps demonstrate the historical veracity of the documents in which they occur. For example, if an account were intentionally fabricated by one author, how would a second or third (even fourth) author know about trivial, incidental details that allows a modern reader or scholar to understand the meaning of the text better? This only makes sense if there is a genuine historical occurrence behind the account. These coincidences, by the way, appear dozens of times throughout the NT. In other words, the coincidences are more than “just coincidence.”

    However, there are a few places where these uncontrived coincidences are intertwined with a miraculous event. The feeding of the five thousand which is recorded in all four gospels is an example of this… Another is the resurrection. Not only is the resurrection mentioned in all four Gospels and Acts, but the apostle Paul discussed it in his epistles. For example, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians Paul writes:

    15 Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (I Cor. 1-11)

    Notice the portion that I have italicized. A majority opinion among NT scholars is that this section is a creed that Paul had translated from Aramaic. Paul more than implies in his introduction that it is not something that he originally authored but received and was now passing on to the Corinthians. But from where and from whom did he receive it?

    Paul gives us some clues in another epistle. In Galations 1 he writes:

    11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.[c] 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born,[d] and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to[e] me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;[f] 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

    18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

    So it appear that he received the creed from Peter and/or James, or perhaps even Barnabas, but wait! Barnabas is someone we learn about from yet another source.

    The Book of Acts fills in some further details (like meeting Barnabas). We find a parallel account, written by Luke (Acts 9: 26-32), which appears immediately after the account of Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion. So we’re talking very early in church history, probably within five years of the crucifixion. Scholars date the creed at least a couple of years earlier than that.

    Why is this important? According to Gary Habermas:

    With regard to the historical Jesus, any material between 30 and 50 AD would be exemplary, a time period highly preferred by scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar.

    Reports from such an early date would actually predate the written Gospels. A famous example is the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD.

    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/gary-habermas-explains-the-earliest-source-of-resurrection-facts/

    It could also be argued that any theory that the belief in the Resurrection was the result of a long gradual evolution and accretion of legend is no longer tenable. Clearly it’s not. Skeptics will have to come up with another theory to explain the early Christian belief in the Resurrection.

    (*Note: I think uncontrived fits better than undesigned– agree/ disagree?)

  74. SteveK –

    In the case of the NT resurrection reports, Ray would like us to think that the sum total of the evidence rises only to the lowest levels

    Actually, no. I’m not trying to “deconvert” anyone. I’m explaining why I find the evidence not to rise to the ‘confirmed’ level.

    JAD –

    Historians are a lot like detectives working with clues which one may put together puzzle like to give us a clearer picture what actually happened historically.

    And there’s a certain amount of subjective judgment that necessarily comes into play there. (Unless you can point to an objective standard that, say, historians or police detectives should use?) But ‘subjective’ is not the same thing as ‘arbitrary’.

    If nothing else this approach lends veracity to the NT text.

    Nor have I disputed that. The disputation is about how much veracity it lends, that’s all.

  75. Ray,

    I’m explaining why I find the evidence not to rise to the ‘confirmed’ level.

    I don’t see you doing this – at least not here. Citing reasons why you think 19th century reports aren’t convincing isn’t the same thing as explaining why 1st century reports aren’t convincing.

    Every time we give you reasons to think the 1st century reports are accurate and true – and thus, convincing – you run off to tell us why Mormonism isn’t very convincing.

    I have a suggestion, Ray. Let’s skip to the part where we all agree that Mormonism isn’t convincing so that we can focus on discussing why Christianity is.

  76. And there’s a certain amount of subjective judgment that necessarily comes into play there. (Unless you can point to an objective standard that, say, historians or police detectives should use?) But ‘subjective’ is not the same thing as ‘arbitrary’.

    Correct. The judgement that NT scholars and historians use is not arbitrary. There is a range of subjective latitude in that judgement, just like there is in any situation. Consider this though…

    Suppose you were on a jury panel tasked with judging the evidence on a very complex circumstantial case. And suppose that the most knowledgeable people on that jury (with respect to the key subject matter) concluded that the evidence rose to the preponderance level – and they gave you their reasons as to why.

    Would you take their judgement under serious advisement and consider looking into their specific reasons, or would you continue to bring up some previous circumstantial case you were asked to judge (Mormonism, Islam, etc) as your way of telling them they are wrong about this particular case (Christianity)?

    This is what you are doing, Ray.

  77. Couple thoughts:

    JAD –

    For example, if an account were intentionally fabricated by one author, how would a second or third (even fourth) author know about trivial, incidental details that allows a modern reader or scholar to understand the meaning of the text better? This only makes sense if there is a genuine historical occurrence behind the account.

    Which makes the muddle of the reports of the resurrection more or less likely?

    G. Rodrigues – Another potential “authentication” – how come none of the divine revelations included some simple medical advice like washing hands before working with the injured, or boiling bandages before application? It’s sobering to realize how much suffering and death that could have alleviated throughout history. Yet it’s as if the existence and nature of microorganisms was a closed book to those with divine connections.

    I grant that the simplest disinfectant to make for most of history, distilled alcohol, would be a mixed blessing at best. But other sanitation measures are much less fraught with potential abuse.

  78. Tom Gilson –

    Ray, you might want to ask yourself, What kind of “Jesus” would have done all these kinds of things you suggest he might have done? Why would he have done it?

    Because there are many different kinds of people in the world, and 2 Peter 3:9. What convinces one person won’t convince another, and vice versa. So adding some unique information along with miracles and moral teaching seems – to me, at least – perfectly reasonable, even obvious.

    Some of them even have the advantage of having a delayed payoff. The factorization, for example, would simply become more impressive with time, as mathematics developed and appreciation grew for just how hard a problem it is.

    (And the medical info and sanitation tips that I noted seem to be the kind of things that anyone who loved people and wished to alleviate suffering would impart, if they knew them.)

    And most importantly, can you yourself conceive of any possible reason he would have decided to do it the way he did instead?

    None that are flattering to Jesus, I’m afraid.

  79. SteveK –

    Every time we give you reasons to think the 1st century reports are accurate and true – and thus, convincing – you run off to tell us why Mormonism isn’t very convincing.

    First-century reports about non-supernatural stuff, sure. Supernatural stuff is a different story, and y’all don’t seem to want to address that.

    Correct. The judgement that NT scholars and historians use is not arbitrary.

    Of course, not all “NT scholars and historians” are Christian, either. So the situation isn’t quite as you put it in your analogy.

  80. Ray,

    History is messy and complicated. It’s messy because people are messy. They lie, they deceive, they exaggerate or they are mistaken about what they have seen or what they remember. Even witnesses to an event who are are completely honest differ in their perceptions and memories with other honest witnesses. A classic example is the sinking of the Titanic. A number of the survivors testified that they saw the ship break in two. Others swore they saw it go down in one piece. Which account was true? How do you get something like that wrong? (In 1985, oceanographer, Robert Ballard, confirmed that the Titanic had indeed broken in two.)

    Another example, is the account of a 10 minute confrontation, documented in the book, Wittgenstein’s Poker, which took place in a small room at Cambridge University in October 1946 between Karl Popper and Ludwig von Wittegenstein– two philosophers with two diametrically opposed views.

    Popper who was there as a guest lecturer, states in his autobiography that Wittgenstein “‘had been nervously playing with the poker’, which he used ‘like a conductor’s baton to emphasize his assertions’, and when a question came up about the status of ethics, Wittgenstein challenged him to give an example of a moral rule. ‘I replied: “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers.” Whereupon Wittgenstein, in a rage, threw the poker down and stormed out of the room, banging the door behind him.'”

    Peter Geach, who at the time was a graduate student and was among the thirty or so other students and faculty attending the lecture that evening, claims that Popper in his account was lying. According to Geach, Wittgenstein did not throw down poker and did not storm out of the room after Popper told his joke about threatening “visiting lecturers with pokers.” (A couple of witnesses remember Popper telling the joke after Wittgenstein left the room.) Rather he dropped the poker after he sat down in a chair apparently exasperated by the argument he gotten into with Popper. He then leaves the room in a huff quietly shutting the door after him.

    Two British journalists, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, decided this would make a great real life detective story, and it was their investigation that led them to write their book, Wittgenstein’s Poker. However, as they began interviewing nine of the surviving men who witnessed the confrontation that night, they discovered that the already murky details got even murkier.

    One witness, for example, remembered philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was also there in attendance, intervening after someone said something that annoyed Wittgenstein (Popper’s joke, perhaps?). “Wittgenstein says, ‘You misunderstand me, Russell. You always misunderstand me…’ Russell says, ‘You’re mixing things up, Wittgenstein. You always mix things up.'”

    Another witness sees Wittgenstein pulling the poker red hot out of the fireplace “and gesticulate with it angrily in front of Popper’s face.” This witness claims that “Russell says firmly, ‘Wittgenstein, put down that poker at once!'”

    Peter Geach remembered Wittgenstein sitting down at one point during his confrontation with Popper, however, other witnesses believed that Wittgenstein and Popper remained standing.

    Still another witness “sitting only six feet away from Wittgenstein [remembers] nothing at all out of the ordinary… occurring; nothing that in hindsight would merit the term ‘incident.'”

    Incredibly, nine honest, well educated and intelligent witnesses to what happened that night came up with very widely divergent accounts: Did Wittgenstein threaten Popper with the poker or not? Did Popper tell his joke before Wittgenstein left the room or not? Did Wittgenstein throw down the poker in anger or not? Did he sit down in a chair or remain standing? When Russel became involved was his voice shrill and high pitched, like a couple of witnesses claimed, or booming and “godlike,” as another witness remembered? What did he say? Did he tell Wittgenstein to put down the poker or not? When Wittgenstein left the room did he slam the door after him or not?

    Yes, history is messy which is why it is complicated for journalists, historians and others who want to, so to speak, get behind the scenes to figure out what really happened. If recent history, based on the accounts of living witnesses, is a complicated task, the challenges of reconstructing what happened in ancient time is absolutely daunting.

    Our primary sources for the life, teachings and death and resurrection of Jesus are the four New Testament Gospel accounts and the book of Acts. How reliable are they from an historical perspective? Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) says that the Gospels are hopelessly contradictory. Are they? Other scholars would argue that Ehrman is exaggerating.

  81. Here’s a few points I’d like to make about my post #86:

    1. Despite the contradictions, apparent and otherwise, between the eyewitness accounts, in Wittgenstein’s Poker, no one doubts that there was a real confrontation between Karl Popper and Ludwig von Wittegenstein at the University of Cambridge in October 1946.

    2. IMO the alleged discrepancies between the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection is no where as serious as what we find in Wittgenstein’s Poker. So the apparent discrepancies by themselves should not disqualify the Gospel accounts as being considered authentic historical accounts.

    3. I think we can at least partially harmonize the four Resurrection accounts. BTW I do not agree with apologists who claim that they can be completely harmonized. We just don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle.

  82. Ray,

    First-century reports about non-supernatural stuff, sure. Supernatural stuff is a different story, and y’all don’t seem to want to address that.

    We don’t? Then what are all the metaphysical and philosophical discussions about? It’s within the context of those discussions that we are able to determine which reports are false. How else could we come to rationally conclude that some reports are accurate and true, but not all of them?

    If there were no rational way to sort through the details of reports then we’d have to accept them all as accurate and true, or dismiss them all for the same reason. Here are a couple of examples:

    1) If someone reported that a supernatural being told him that God was subject to some external moral rule, then we’d be wise to think that report was false.

    The supernatural encounter could have occurred as reported (we’d have to judge that part too), but the supernatural aspect regarding God couldn’t be accurate and true. Why? Because there’s a defeater. If God is subject to some external moral rule then that being would be God*, not God.

    2) If someone reported they had an encounter with a supernatural being, and the totality of the evidence fits pretty well with the details of that report, with no obvious defeaters, we’d be justified in thinking the supernatural aspect of the report was accurate and true despite claims by some that insist we cannot know what happened. Why? Because there’s a defeater for those doing the insisting. Keep reading.

    3) Then there are faulty and often anti-realistic philosophical claims dressed up to look like genuine historical reports. Claims like ‘naturalism sufficiently explains our universe’ and ‘there’s no evidence for God or miracles’ and ‘science is the best pathway to knowledge’ and ‘every report must be verified’ and ‘humans created morality’.

    Why do we conclude these are faulty? That requires a longer answer than I can give here, but we’ve discussed it.

  83. JAD –

    Despite the contradictions, apparent and otherwise, between the eyewitness accounts, in Wittgenstein’s Poker, no one doubts that there was a real confrontation between Karl Popper and Ludwig von Wittegenstein at the University of Cambridge in October 1946.

    Well, they were also known to disagree, and to have been there at that time. And neither one was accused of levitating!

    The fact that eyewitness testimony is so unreliable does put some limits on what can be concluded from it, doesn’t it?

  84. SteveK –

    It’s within the context of those discussions that we are able to determine which reports are false.

    Which, er, just reinforces my point. Reports of supernatural phenomena themselves are not dispositive.

    Tom Gilson –

    But there are limits to the limits on what can be concluded from it.

    Clever phrasing, but I’ve been making a case for the limits I see. 🙂

  85. Ray,

    Which, er, just reinforces my point. Reports of supernatural phenomena themselves are not dispositive.

    It proves no point that you’ve made. It aligns well with your claims about the supernatural, but we’ve been discussing where your claims have been faulty for a long time now. I’m not going to repeat everything when, if you cared, you could go back and read.

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