Friday, January 28, 2011

The Waning of Materialism

Edited by Koons and Bealer.

Lydia McGrew on the Trilemma

John H., I would take C.S. Lewis's view (not just taking it from him as some sort of authority, merely referring to him as someone who has put the point particularly well) that it "won't do" as an historical matter to hold Jesus to have been merely a prophet or teacher. He did claim divine prerogatives and hence was not merely presenting himself as a prophet. This argues some form of insanity if he was not who he said he was, unless he thought he could get something out of making the claim fraudulently. People who say that they are God used to get locked up, and now they at least require, shall we say, assistance to live their lives normally.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Buddhist critiques the New Atheism

I think this guy was a graduate student at Northern Illinois when I had a one-year appointment there in 1988-1989.

HT: Bob Prokop

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cranes, Skyhooks, and the Intentional Stance

Here are some comments by Michael Shermer on the distinction between cranes and skyhooks. 

Third, as for your comments on ID and questions for evolutionary biologists, I offer this one general response: in his 1996 book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, the philosopher Daniel Dennett presents a clever metaphor of skyhooks and cranes. Skyhooks are top-down devices to build complex machines when you can't think of how they could be built by ordinary bottom-up cranes. Skyhooks are always snuck in when one cannot figure out what crane did the job and how. IDers, like their creationist brethren before them (and the natural theologians before them all the way back to William Paley and his watchmaker argument), turn to the skyhook because they cannot think of how the crane of evolution did the job. 

But how do we decide who is using a skyhook? People like ID advocates, and anti-materialists like me, obviously have to plead guilty. My claim, though, is that even when it is couched in brain-talk, you can still have skyhooks, so long as you have a mentalistic explanation, and you don't explain it in non-mentalistic terms.

I happen to think that Dennett's own Intentional Stance is, in the last analysis, a back-door skyhook.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Atheist tracts?

When I was interviewed for the radio station, the interviewer told me that he goes down to Mill Avenue (one of the main thoroughfares going through Arizona State University) to spread the Gospel, and when he does so he often runs into activists atheists who engage in atheist evangelism there. I asked him if they passed out tracts, and he told me they did.

I always thought the Outsider Test for Faith was eminently tract-able. You could even make it look like the Four Spiritual Laws. Then you could walk up to some unsuspecting believer reading their Bible and ask them "Have you taken the Outsider Test for Faith?"

Remember when atheists used to say they weren't trying to convert anybody?

A conversion to....agnosticism?

Robin Le Poidevin's book is an introduction to agnosticism, in which he defends agnosticism not only against theism, but against the New Atheism. What is interesting is that, a decade or so ago, he wrote a book entitled Arguing for Atheism, which is reviewed by Keith Parsons here.

So, in one more decade.......

HT: Steve Hays.

Does Natural Selection support Veridical Perceptions?

One claim that is used to rebut some forms of the AFR, including Plantinga's EAAN, is that natural selection selects for truth. According to this paper by Mark, Marion, and Hoffman, maybe not.

Feser contra Neurobabble

This post, which was first brought up by Ben Yachov, has some exchange between Feser and Blue Devil Knight.

I will be interviewed this Sunday night

On Backpack Radio, a local apologetics program aimed at a younger audience. It will be 9pm this Sunday night on KPXQ. There will be a podcast available if you are unable to listen live.

Always be prepared to give a reason for the atheism that is in you

There is some discussion on Christian CADRE on whether atheists are closed-minded and angry. Here is my response: 

I have sometimes wished that atheists had some sort of authoritative statement in their writings equivalent to I Pet 3:15, which says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

We've all seen people on the internet with Angry Atheist Syndrome, who can't find any room in their minds to acknowledge any point made by Christians, however legitimate it might be. Some people abandon their faith and then go on a crusade against what they once believed in. But that is by no means universal. Blue Devil Knight, a staunch atheist, has a reputation for fair-mindedness on Dangerous Idea. On the other hand, Christians fight dirty, sometimes, too. 

All of us get angry from time to time, myself included. I think some people feel angry and betrayed if they were Christians once and then found it all unbelievable. I think the "delusion" rhetoric is also partially to blame.

Darek Barefoot's new book, Gospel Mysteries

Darek Barefoot is perhaps best known to this audience as the one who published a response to Richard Carrier's critique of my book on Internet Infidels. In my estimation, that response goes beyond simply rebutting Carrier's mistakes to making a positive contribution to the development of the Argument from Reason. He also had some good discussions with Blue Devil Knight and Doctor Logic during the heyday of Dangerous Idea 2, mostly back in 2007.

His new book, Gospel Mysteries, defends the inspiration of the Bible by arguing that the typological connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament strongly indicate that the claim that the Old Testament prefigures Christ is not something that the early Christians just made up. The Amazon page I link to here includes a detailed review by J. D. Walters, a sometime commentator here and a contributor to Christian CADRE, which should give you a more detailed account of the argument than I can supply here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

chronological snobbery

This is a wikipedia entry for Chronological Snobbery, a logical fallacy noted by C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Barbara Forrest on Naturalism

A redated post. 

Is it just me, or is this a paper a gigantic exercise in begging the question? She wants both methodological naturalism and an argument that science refutes religion. But if the methodology of science couldn't have supported religion, how could it undermine religion?

For further discussion of the McGrew-Babinski post

There are complaints about what Blogger does after a long thread, so I am setting it up so that the discussion can continue here.

Mapping dualism and materialism

This post is redated and expanded.

Sometimes, when I hear discussion of dualism vs. materialism, I have to wonder how, exactly, the map is being drawn between those positions. What exactly is going to count as dualism or materialism. Just as materialists wonder if defenders of dualism have read or understood the major figures in materialist philosophy, so I sometimes wonder if defenders of materialism are familiar with the different varieties of dualism that have been defended in recent years.

For example, William Hasker's defense of dualism, found in The Emergent Self, is certainly far from insensitive to the developments in neuroscience, and is attentive to the close correlation between mental states and brain states that have been mapped by neuroscientists. In fact, neuroscience provides the primary basis for Hasker's defense of an "emergent" dualism as opposed to a traditional Cartesian dualism. See especially the discussion on pp. 153-157 and 197-198, and there is even a footnote reference to D. Frank Benson's The Neurology of Thinking (Oxford 1994).

I have yet to see anyone grapple with Hasker's book from a materialist perspective, which is too bad. I guess I've done more to solicit materialist response than he has, but he really does offer an across-the-board case against materialism and a well-developed anti-materialist theory to challenge it, and I really didn't do that.

It isn't clear to me that we know, without further clarification, what is meant by terms like "materialism," "substance dualism," "property dualism," and other terms that have been used so often that we are lulled into thinking that we know exactly what they mean.

I provided a typology of positions in the philosophy of mind in my review of Kevin Corcoran ed. Soul, Body and Survival (Cornell, 2001). (Faith and Philosophy July 2004, 393-399.

Standard or Cartesian dualism is committed to these four claims:

1. The mental is sui generis, existing independently of the physical and not in any way reducible to it.
2. Mental states inhere in a thinking thing or substance, not in a bundle.
3. Mental states do not have a location in space.
4. Souls are created individually by God ex nihilo,; they do not emerge from pre-existing material states.

However, I would consider myself a dualist and have some doubts about both 3 and 4. William Hasker and Brian Leftow would be examples of non-standard dualists whose views are represented in the Corcoran volume. Hasker is an emergent dualist and Leftow is a Thomistic dualist.

Standard materialism requires three theses:
1. Physics is mechanistic and is to be described in purely non-mental terms.
2. Physics is causally closed.
3. All states that are not physical supervene on physical states.

Typically a materialism, for example, should not maintain that there is such a thing as libertarian free will, because libertarianism requires the existence of fundamental purposive explanations. But Peter van Inwagen, for instance, calls himself a materialist in the philosophy of mind but also is a defender of libertarian free will. Lynne Baker calls herself a materialist but her first book on the philosophy of mind was an attack on physicalism. So there are nonstandard forms of materialism, as well as nonstandard forms of dualism, and many "Christian materialists" actually reject one of more of the central theses of standard materialism. Good examples would be Lynne Rudder Baker, who calls herself a materialist but whose first book on the philosophy of mind was an attack on physicalism, and Peter van Inwagen, who believes in libertarian free will, (See his book An Essay on Free Will, from which is inconsistent with strict physicalism.

I keep having to say this over and over again, especially when Babinski keeps pointing out that there must be something wrong with my arguments against physicalism because there are Christian philosophers who believe in a materialist philosophy of mind. First of all, if this were true then you could refute any argument for materialism on the ground that some atheist philosophers, like C. J. Ducasse and J. McTaggart believed in life after death, and that atheist existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was a Cartesian dualist, or that my college metaphysics teacher, Ted Guleserian, is both and atheist and a mind-body dualist. Now any of these may have good arguments for what they believe, but merely pointing out that they exist does not provide evidence for anything at all.

In my book there is a detailed definition of physicalism, and a slightly broader defintion for naturalism. My arguments are directed against just those positions. Until I get a clear idea of what a person holds, it will not be clear to me if that person is a materialist or a dualist, or maybe a little of both. I keep pointing out, but apparently some people choose not to pay attention, that I could qualify as a materialist on some definitions. (In fact I once heard a paper by a dualist accusing C. S. Lewis of being a non-reductive materialist!)

The kind of dualism William Hasker defends in his book The Emergent Self is called Emergent Dualism. I would appreciate it if people would kindly refrain from stereotyping my positions.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lewis v. Anscombe: The Documents that Might be Hard to Find in Borders

This doesn't include the revised Lewis chapter which is in everyone's copy of Miracles these days, (not when I first heard about the AFR in 1972, when the copy of Miracles at my local library was the original edition), but that's here, and Tim McGrew has told me he just cleaned that one up, here.

Cleaning Up an Old Paper of Mine

My Infidels Argument from Reason paper, which started the ball rolling back in 1998 toward C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, (though I did write my Anscombe paper in 1989 and wrote a dissertation on the argument at the University of Illinois), had several typos in it, but Tim McGrew has done me the service of cleaning it up and putting it on his site. Thanks, Tim.

Though that paper doesn't really have the definitional analysis of naturalism/materialism that I developed later.
A slightly different version appeared in Philo in 1999.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Plantinga on Types of Scripture Scholarship

HT: Steve Hays

On defining the brain

Depending on how you define the brain, I have no trouble with the idea that the mind is the brain. But the brain, or parts of it, have to have characteristics that are atypical of ordinary matter, otherwise thinking would not be possible. It would have to have intentionality as a property at the most fundamental level, purpose at the basic level, subjectivity at the basic level, and normativity at the basic level. Good luck getting that by the skyhook police.

C. H. Dodd on late-dating the New Testament

For much of this late dating there is little real evidence. This point was made by C. H. Dodd, arguably the greatest English-speaking biblical scholar of the century. In a letter that serves as an appendix to Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament, Dodd wrote: “I should agree with you that much of the late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton, the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic’s prejudice that, if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church, he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud.”5

Hostility bias, anyone? 

Levenson's definition of what it is to be a critical scholar

I went looking for a quote that Loftus used a few times about what it means to be a critical scholar. 

Jon D. Levenson, Professor at Harvard Divinity School in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Civilizations, offered a great definition of what a critical scholar is when he wrote they “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”

I like this definition, but I have trouble seeing how you can apply it to other people in any way that doesn't beg the question. I think we humans have a natural tendency to think that someone has done this when they agree with us, and if they disagree with us, they are following their preferences and traditions. I am thinking of people like Eta Linneamann, who went from a very liberal scholar to a very conservative one. Preferences and traditions could and should include prevailing winds in scholarship. Those can exercise as much peer pressure on scholars as can the religious tradition in which one grew up. Assuming that we call the more skeptical view left-wing, and the more believing views right-wing, can we call any move to the left a sign that one is a critical scholar, while any move to the right is a sign that one has become uncritical? That sounds a tad question-begging. 

Another example would be John A. T. Robinson, the Anglican bishop who shocked conservatives with Honest to God, then shocked conservatives with Redating the New Testament. 

I love intellectual honesty, so there is something appealing about this definition. I am just afraid that it is likely to be applied in a question-begging manner, to disenfranchise and marginalize conservative scholars. 

Mental Causation and the Case for Dualism

An interesting blog here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Martin Rees on the Conflict between Science and Religion

"I don’t see any conflict between science and religion. I go to church as many other scientists do."

However, he's not a believer in the traditional God.

A quote from my Blackwell piece on the Argument from Reason on Gaps and Fudging Categories

A redated post. 

Part of my most recent defense of the argument from reason, in response to the "God of the Gaps" charge.

So, I would maintain that there are gaps and there are gaps. It is not just pointing to an unsolved engineering problem in nature. First of all, the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality, or aboutness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis. ¶ Let us consider the gap between the propositional content of thought and the physical description of the brain. My claim is that no matter in how much detail you describe the physical state of the brain (and the environment), the propositional content of thought will invariably be undetermined. ... As I see it, it is not a matter of getting a physical description that will work. In my view, the logicoconceptual gap is always going to be there regardless of how extensively you describe the physical. As I said earlier, bridging the chasm is not going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. ... [T]he "God of the gaps" or even a "soul of the gaps" response to the argument from reason does not work. I am not saying that we just cannot figure out right now why the mental states involved in rational inference are really physical, I am suggesting on principled grounds that a careful reflection on the nature of mind and matter will invariably reveal that there is a logical gap between them that in principle cannot be bridged without fudging categories.

Kenneth Kitchen supports the conservative view of the OT

Exegeting the Book of Science

John: First, can the Mormon comparisons. Mormons for the most part avoid claiming that historical evidence supports Mormonism. Their apologetics consists of arguments to the effect that their religion isn't refuted by counterevidence, and that their beliefs are positively confirmed by one's own personal "testimony." What Mormons have been doing with the DNA claim has been to retreat from the historic Mormon position where contemporary Native Americans are identified as Lamanites, that is, descendants of people who were written about in the Book of Mormon. I think it slightly preposterous to suggest that the epistemic situation of Christianity is really no different from Mormonism.

I don't see anything in archaeology that suggests that the Exodus can be disproven in the same way that the historical Mormon claim that Native Americans are Lamanites has been disproven. At most, perhaps we don't have the confirmation we wish we had. It would be nice if you have the kind of archaeological confirmation for the whole Bible that you have for the second half of Acts of the Apostles (a confirmation that, of course, gets pooh-poohed whenever it is mentioned), but alas, we don't have anything that good for the Exodus. It is interesting how, when archaeology confirms the Bible, it is not important, but when archaeology fails to confirm the Bible, it's important. Heads I win....).

I would say that I do agree with the writer of this critique in that I think that you show a lack of discernment in perceiving wider implications for scientific discoveries. My favorite example was where you grabbed onto an ABC News article about the genetic basis for infidelity, and treated it like established science, not noticing that it's too early in the game to be making those sorts of pronouncements. As an example of someone, also an atheist and a practicing scientist, who is far better than you are at drawing careful implications from scientific developments, I would mention Blue Devil Knight.

Your mention of years of study is simply an appeal to your own authority, and for reasons I noted above, I am less than impressed. Going from science to broader implications involves two steps which have to be done carefully. First, you have to be sure that this is really good science, and you have to have a sense of how wide of support it has within the scientific community. Second, you have to be able to see how much real support the science actually provides to the claim you want to defend. Even fundamentalists insist that you have to exegete Bible passages if you want to use them. The same holds true, surely, for the Book of Science.

Tim McGrew replies to Ed Babinski's Critique of his Discussion of Undesigned Coincidences

Tim McGrew has asked me to publish his response to Babinski's rebuttal of a sermon he presented in Keener, La.  I am linking to Babinski's rebuttal, and you can follow a link he provides to the original sermon.

TM: “When the only tool you have is a hammer,” runs an old saying, “everything looks like a nail.” Ed Babinski’s attempt to address the arguments I raised in a recent sermon provides a striking illustration of the proverb. Ed misunderstands (at best) the nature of the argument I was making, inadvertently illustrates my point in trying to deal with six examples I laid out, and goes off on a variety of tangents about the synoptic problem and the nature of the fourth Gospel. There is in all of this a great deal of sound and fury. But does it signify anything?

At the outset, Ed notes alertly that the synoptic problem is not the subject of my sermon. It is, however, one of Ed’s own personal hobby horses, one that he rides with a frequency and frenzy calculated to attract the unfavorable attention of the SPCA. His reaction to an unfamiliar argument is to leap upon his favorite steed and flog it mercilessly in an effort to keep up. It is hardly surprising that the poor beast collapses under this mistreatment.

The thesis of Marcan priority comes in varieties. At the moderate end of the spectrum it consists in the position that our second gospel was the first of the four to be completed, at least in Greek, and that the authors of the first and third gospels had access of some kind to the text of the second before they wrote up their own gospels. Though one can find qualified people who are unconvinced by the arguments brought forward in its favor, this is the position of a majority of contemporary scholars. It says, in itself, nothing about the authorship of any of the gospels, nothing about the credibility of their writers, and nothing about the factuality of the events they report.

On the other end of the spectrum we have what for lack of a better term we may call the immoderate position. Taken in this sense, Marcan priority is not simply a thesis about the chronological order of the Gospels and the direction, in consequence, of any literary dependence among them. It is, rather, a sweeping thesis about the evolution of the Gospels from the most primitive narrative (which is Mark) to the most spectacular (which is whatever other Gospel one is trying to explain away at any given time). All passages in the other three Gospels are categorized as The Same as Mark or Different from Mark. If they are the same, then they must be simply copying Mark; if they are different, they must be embellishing Mark with pious legend or theological fancy. The idea that they might here or there be providing independent testimony to events mentioned in Mark is peremptorily dismissed when it is noticed at all.

Moderation, in this respect, is not one of Ed’s vices. It is painfully obvious even on a cursory reading of his post that his faith is heavily invested in the immoderate version of Marcan priority. He employs it everywhere, to do everything; it is a universal anti-apologetic prescription. One comes away with the impression that his failure to mention its virtues in getting crab grass out of one’s lawn is a mere inadvertence.

Ed does a pretty good job summarizing the first undesigned coincidence that I note:

Tim raised concerning what he called the “undesigned coincidences” in the Gospels is that the Gospel of Matthew mentions Jesus being struck and the guards saying “prophesy, who struck you?” Tim says this makes no sense, striking a person and asking “who struck you,” without adding that Jesus was blindfolded. And then we read in Luke that indeed, Jesus was “blindfolded.” McGrew thinks this constitutes an undesigned coincidence between those two Gospels, possibly even evidence of separate eye witness testimony to the same event.

Just so. And as I point out explicitly, someone can quibble about the level of strength of this bit, taken by itself. Ed is bolder: eschewing mere quibbling, he complains that I am not talking about the synoptic problem:

But McGrew neglects to mention the mainstream explanation that both Matthew and Luke reproduce over 90% of Mark, the earliest Gospel. And Mark mentions, “they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy’!” Therefore all that McGrew has demonstrated via his first example is that Matthew and Luke both reproduced a great amount of Mark’s story but in this one case Matthew sloppily forgot to add mention of the “blindfold,” while Luke did include that bit from Mark and added the phrase “...who struck you?”

Here, then, is Babinski’s alternative explanation: Matthew was trying to copy Mark, but he “sloppily” omitted a detail; Luke copied accurately; hence the coincidence. As I said in my talk, one can try to brazen it out by postulating this sort of thing. It is not the way to bet; it is a little too curious that the item Matthew omits is just the piece we need to explain what he retains. But it is possible. This piece of evidence tips the scales a bit in favor of authenticity and (at this point) independence but not, by itself, dramatically so.

Ed, however, wishes to draw another moral: he takes this coincidence as evidence for his favored resolution of the synoptic problem:

So Tim has demonstrated yet another reason to accept that Mark was the earliest Gospel written, followed by Matthew and Luke that built their stories on Mark.

By “built their stories” I take it Ed means “elaborated their stories without any further source of facts.” Well, no. The evidence of the first undesigned coincidence is logically consistent with that view, but it does not sit well with it unless we add the further premises that Matthew was doing nothing but copying Mark and that, in his copying, he was careless enough to omit the relevant detail about the blindfold. And these additional premises have nothing in their favor except the fact that they are necessary to square the data with Ed’s version of Marcan priority.

Here is the second undesigned coincidence, again in Ed’s words:

Tim mentioned the story of sick people whom Matthew says came to Jesus “when it was evening,” without explaining why they waiting till eventing to come to Jesus for healing. But the earlier Gospel, Mark, contains the same story and explains “it was the Sabbath,” and that’s why the sick waited “till evening” to come to Jesus in Matthew’s version.

Right: Mark provides the detail that explains Matthew’s narrative. Ed does not even try to explain this connection, but he does take the opportunity to speak from the heart once again about how this coincidence supports his version of Marcan priority:

Therefore, Matthew assumed Markan priority and the first two examples that McGrew discussed both demonstrate Marcan priority.

Matthew assumed Marcan priority? Come again? Matthew mentions no such thing. This isn’t a response at all. The coincidence exists, and provides evidence that both accounts are truthful and in this respect at least independent, regardless of who wrote first. But for Ed, anything will do as a demonstration of Marcan priority, and it will do as nothing else. Ed offers nothing but chance as an explanation. And chance has less explanatory power here than truth does.

Ed wraps up incongruously:

They demonstrate nothing miraculous.

A careless reader might infer that the point of the argument from undesigned coincidences is to demonstrate the miraculous directly. But of course that is not the point of the argument from undesigned coincidences at all. Its purpose, as I explained quite carefully, is to show that the authors of the gospels know whereof they speak and that they are giving independent testimony to the same actual events.

Having come this far, Ed feels the need to indulge in a bit of psychologizing:

At this point, based on Tim’s first two examples, I began to suspect that Tim got hold of a book so old that its author still assumed MATTHEAN PRIORITY, namely that Matthew was the first Gospel composed, not Mark. But most scholars agree today that Mark was the first Gospel composed, NOT MATTHEW.

I am tempted, perversely, to pretend that he is right. But that would not be fair. Ed has made no secret of where he is coming from, and I will not do so either. So let me say here explicitly what I said on Monday when I gave an expanded talk on this same material at NOBTS: the interesting thing about this argument is that it is completely independent of the ordering of the synoptics. It matters not one whit whether you take the position of Streeter or of Griesbach or of Wenham or of Lindsey and Bivin. The undesigned coincidences provide evidence for the authenticity of these documents and the veracity of their contents no matter who came first.

We move on now to the third example, and again, I’ll give Ed’s summary:

Tim’s third example involved the Gospel story about three apostles going up a mountain and seeing Jesus transformed, glowing, along with great Hebrew prophets. The story has been named the transfiguration, and it’s hard to imagine anyone remaining silent about seeing such a miracle. That’s why Tim said Luke’s ending of the story (“they told no one”) made little sense, and why he claimed that by an “undesigned coincidence,” Mark explained Luke, since Mark’s version of the story ends with, “Jesus charged them that they tell no one [until later].”

Well, yes; that is curious, and it does make better sense if the accounts are both truthful and to some degree independent than if one is copied from the other. But Ed sees here—wait for it—nothing but Marcan priority.

But this is not an undesigned coincidence it’s a third example of Marcan priority in action, since Mark was the earlier Gospel and the others followed Mark, sometimes with little explanation.

This is not an argument: it is a bare unargued assertion that the ordering in time eliminates the undesigned coincidence. It does not. Accepting (as I am happy to accept) that Mark wrote before Luke and that Luke was aware of Mark’s gospel and even had read it, it does not follow that Luke simply copied Mark—indeed, he cannot have copied Mark here, nor Matthew either, as neither of them says what he does, nor does he say what they do. An ordinary reader would take this as some evidence of independence, and the fact that Matthew and Mark explain Luke’s comment would make that evidence stronger. But not Ed. Secure in his developmental hypothesis, he does not need to offer any actual argument; it suffices to say that the others followed Mark “sometimes with little explanation.” How they contrive to make Mark explain them, he does not say.

At this point, Ed’s chronic parallelomania is triggered by what really is a bare coincidence. Having noticed that Not Saying Something is a Theme that Reappears in Mark 16:8, he cannot resist trotting out the idea that Mark 16:8 is a clue that nobody really knew about the resurrection and the empty tomb.

So such amazing miracles might be later legendary accretions, not part of the earliest stories about Jesus. Also in both the case of the transfiguration and the empty tomb tale, only three people are mentioned as having seen either: “Three male apostles” in the case of the transfiguration, and “three women” in the case of the empty tomb. In both cases according to Mark, “no one was told” about such miraculous tales until some time later.

Mmm hmm. And “God” spelled backwards is “dog.” Makes you think. Never mind the fact that many scholars hold that the original ending of Mark is lost; never mind the fact that Mark regularly uses “no one ... but” constructions; never mind the fact that the story makes no sense if ended here; never mind the fact that ephobounto gar is deuced awkward as the ending even for a sentence. Why should little things like that get in the way of the grand metanarrative of legendary development, the glorious pottage for which Ed has sold his birthright?

Ed’s description of the fourth undesigned coincidence is disappointingly weak.

Tim points to the story about “the feeding of the five thousand,” which appears in both Luke and John, and which both agree took place around “Bethsaida.” John, a later Gospel than Luke, added that the apostle “Philip” was from “Bethsaida,” thus adding an apostle’s name and some words from “Philip” to the story in Luke.

But this is misguided. John does not say that the feeding of the five thousand took place in Bethsaida—that is, in fact, the whole point of the undesigned coincidence. Having missed the point, Ed hastens to assure his readers (and perhaps himself) that there is nothing to see here:

There is no mystery in that case, just later legendary accretion. The story of the feeding of the five thousand has been embellished.

Funny, that the “embellishment” just happens to have mentioned Philip, and that this dovetails, quite indirectly, with the description in Luke and a detail from the first chapter of John. Ed wants to say that this is just an example of “amalgamating names and details from earlier Gospels in order to create new stories peculiar only to the Gospel of John.” But that sort of undesigned coincidence is precisely the sort of thing that a hypothesis of legendary accretion, amalgamation,  and embellishment does not explain.

It does not help to point out, as Ed does, that most scholars agree that the fourth gospel was written after the other three. Yes—but what of it? It does not follow that the author of the fourth gospel had no independent sources of information. We look for the evidence of that independence precisely where one story differs from another. If the new material explains or is explained by some detail in the old, that is a mark of authenticity.

The air now grows thick as Ed drags a couple of his favorite red herrings across our path. I have already engaged a bit with some of these; interested readers may consult the discussion here:

Nothing Ed says has the slightest relevance to the evidence of undesigned coincidences. Most of his substantive claims are false.

Eventually, Ed seems to realize that he has wandered far from the original argument. He does not even bother to summarize the fifth undesigned coincidence from my talk, saying simply that

Tim’s fifth example involves the ending of the Gospel of John wherein is found a scene that’s indebted to something in an earlier Gospel, Matthew. No mystery there, not when you consider the chronological order.

But there is a mystery, for John gives us the same scene (13:31-38), but he does not include, in his own telling of it, the detail required to explain what we find in John 21:15. I cannot tell whether Ed misunderstands this point or is simply deaf to its implications.

Ed’s attempt to explain the sixth undesigned coincidence is not very helpful, so at this point I will give it in more or less the words I used in my talk. Luke 23:1-4 reads:

Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

As it stands, this sequence of events is completely baffling. The Jews make a grave accusation, Pilate questions Jesus on this very point, Jesus admits to the charge—and Pilate promptly declares him to be innocent. Ed wants to cast doubt on this characterization by pointing to the Anchor Bible Commentary, where the Greek idiom is treated as more enigmatic. I find more persuasive the arguments that his answer was understood as affirmative, and many translators apparently agree. But for the sake of the undesigned coincidence, it hardly matters; for Jesus to give even a coy and enigmatic answer in response to a charge this direct and grave would hardly be grounds for declaring him to be innocent.

Ed doesn’t even try to deal with the double undesigned coincidence between this scene and the parallel scene in John 18. Instead, he tries to claim that the real explanation for Luke 23:4 can be found by an appeal to—wait for it—Marcan priority. But does this even make sense? Here is Mark’s account of the trial before Pilate (15:1-5):

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Since it is a postulate of Ed’s faith that the roots of the other Gospels must be found in Mark, he feels honor bound to say that this somehow explains the report in Luke that Pilate found Jesus innocent. But how? Ed does not tell us. He notes that Matthew, Luke, and John all have details not found in Mark, but that fact alone provides no traction for the hypothesis of legendary embellishment. Certainly Pilate’s amazement at Jesus’ silence, as recorded in Mark, does not provide nearly as good an explanation either of the fact of Pilate’s saying that he found no guilt in Jesus (if we take Luke’s account to be factual) or of the development of Luke’s story (if we take it to be mere fancy) as John’s account gives.

I also note that Luke supplies a detail missing in John’s account of this same scene, but Ed does not bother to mention it.

It is, I will admit, gratifying to see Ed taking refuge in these sorts of misdirections in an attempt to evade the force of the argument from undesigned coincidences. It suggests that he can find nothing better—that is to say, nothing relevant—to say with respect to the argument itself.

A critique of the Loftus' argument that science debunks Christianity

I was going to do this myself, but CL beat me to it.

On the "minimalist" debate concerning the Hebrew Bible

One scholar gives some reasons for rejecting minimalism with respect to the Hebrew Bible.

HT: Steve Hays

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Has Archaeology Disproven the Exodus?

This is a Jewish source that suggests that, at the very least, the case is controversial, and not an assured result. And this is a companion essay.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reply to Landon Hedrick

Could I be misinterpreting Price? Well, here's what he says.

[…] Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them – much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of the original manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so tell million photos would not help. (98-99)

VR: I don't see how you get around it. He seems to be saying that it follows directly from the fact that we don't have the autographa, that we can have no good reason to believe that any of the copies are accurate, which leads to disastrous consequences in the Lincoln case. You can patch the argument up by saying that since the likenesses of Lincoln had to have been viewed by people who had seen him before he died, we have a connection to the original person that you don't have in the case of the NT manuscripts. But you're patching.  I didn't present the Lincoln case as proof that the we have a reliable text, (although I think that, for all practical purposes we do, for reasons given in Daniel Wallace's essay on Ehrman in Contending With Christianity's Critics), but simply that Price had produced a very weak argument against that claim. 

Pedantic? Maybe. But insofar as we are expected to trust Price as an authority on the Bible, I think such pedantry is worth engaging in.  

What Makes Science Possible? Polkinghorne on Science and the Rationality of the Universe

We are so familiar with the fact that we can understand the world that most of the time we take it for granted. It is what makes science possible. Yet it could have been otherwise. The universe might have been a disorderly chaos rather than an orderly cosmos. Or it might have had rationality which was inaccessible to us...There is a congruence between our minds and the universe, between the rationality experienced within and the rationality observed without. -John Polkinghorne Science and Creation

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Loftus on Punting to Science

Vic, I have made several good comparisons here under this post and in my books. I have made good arguments too. Part of making these arguments is in also explaining why believers would want to believe despite the overwhelming evidence. It's part of the case I make based upon the sciences, especially psychology, anthropology and sociology, but also neurology. In these arguments I'm not telling you that you are wrong about Exodus or the Nativity stories. I do that elsewhere. What I'm doing is offering some very good arguments why people are not reasonable about such things. Hell, we're not reasonable about much at all, especially when we have a vested interest in what we believe. In fact it's been shown that to the degree someone has a vested interest in some belief then the contrary evidence will actually convince that believer he is even more right than he realized. That is a proven fact.

Now work with me here so you can understand me. If you are deluded then the evidence to the contrary, even if it is overwhelming, with not convince you otherwise. So, in order to help complete my case I must also show you from the sciences that you are not being reasonable with the evidence.

The sciences conclusively show that this is how we all think for the most part. Except that there are people who are better critical thinkers than others because they understand this about themselves. For once someone understands what the sciences tell us then that person will question what he claims to know. Such a person will be more demanding of hard evidence before concluding much of anything. Such a person will, in the end, be a skeptic.

The major implication is this: We are all in the same boat THEREFORE we should all be skeptics. It's the only reasonable position to take based on the sciences. The only way to escape this conclusion is to reject the sciences. Good luck with that.

This is at least one of the basic Loftus arguments that deserves some attention. Although it melds into the OTF I think it's really a distinct argument. I am going to call it the Punting Argument. In giving it this name I am not attempting to denigrate it, but simply to understand it.
Let me start by explaining an argument that I think bears some similarity to Loftus', though it reaches a very different conclusion. Protestants argued that you could doubt the Catholic Church because of what we find taught in the Bible. Some Catholic apologists argued that if you doubt the Church based on the Bible, you could doubt the Bible based on something else, and doubt whatever you used to doubt the Bible, etc. etc. etc. until you end up not believing anything. So, just accept the Church, because you won't do any better by doubting it.

Of course, I don't think John would like this argument at all, but his argument has something of a similar structure. The first part of it points out that we are not very rational people, who don't typically think critically very much or very well. He raises questions as to how anyone can reasonably reach any conclusion.

Now, we could react to this part of John's argument in various ways. We could just throw up our hands and believe whatever we prefer to be true. We're going to end up doing this anyway, so why not just do it openly and honestly and be done with it. Why would this not be the right moral to draw?

That response isn't very appealing to me, however. I want to know the truth. I majored in philosophy because, if there were good objections to Christianity, I wanted to hear about them sooner rather than later. I was aware that there were people who thought Christianity was just wishful thinking, and I wanted to be sure that wasn't just believing because I wanted to. What I would like to say is that I remain a Christian because I've looked hard at the reasons on both sides, tried my level best to be fair, and have concluded that Christianity is the most reasonable conclusion. If I have erred, I think I can say it's not because I haven't tried. And I have run into various people like myself, from C. S. Lewis, to Joe Sheffer, to Al Plantinga, to Bill Hasker, etc. I know it's difficult to be rational, but the only reasonable antidote is simply to try very hard. I have received the best intellectual training I could possibly get, I have had my beliefs grilled by numerous skeptical philosophers, but here I am, still Christian after all these years. I could be mistaken, but it's hard for me to believe that I've blundered in some obvious way, or that I have rejected evidence that is clearly overwhelming.

Scientific evidence that people, as a whole, aren't great at thinking critically isn't going to move me, unless it can really be shown that people who put a lot of effort into thinking critically, and who did not have the kind of upbringing that discouraged the questioning of my beliefs.

But Loftus thinks that even a critical thinker like me needs to punt. By punting, he maintains that given the intellectual malaise of the human race, the best any of us can do if we are interested in the truth is to punt to a scientific, and therefore a skeptical point of view. He suggests that a skeptic is someone who won't believe much of anything without hard evidence. Such skepticism will, it seems save us from the adoption of false beliefs, but might lead us miss out on the opportunity of believing truths. The question I have is whether this is really rationality, or whether it is just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" at the top of your lungs. Is being tough-minded the same as being rational? Does it really protect us from wishful thinking and all the other malaises of the mind?

Here's where I get skeptical of the skeptic. First, if there is something religiously true, shouldn't I make sure I don't miss it? Someone looking for a contact lens needs to look it the most lighted areas in hopes that the contact is in that area, even though it is just as likely to be in the darkened area. Is the greater danger, from an existential standpoint, missing spiritual reality, as opposed to believing in it falsely?

Second, how good are we laypeople in drawing the right lesson from science, at seeing what science really has successfully shown, and what has less than the full authority of science. I watch a Nova show on string theory and think that string theory is pretty cool. Then I start looking around and find that there are serious science debates going on about string theory. Not being a practicing physicist myself, what are I warranted in thinking? Hard to say.

Loftus has representatives of the sciences, such as Eller and Tarico, present evidence to support his overall agenda. But are they top of the line sociologists and cognitive scientists, respectively? Jason Long is a pharmacist by occupation. Reading those chapters of The Christian Delusion should raise in one's mind the question as to whether these people actually represent the best science available on the relevant topics. I think we need a lot more information about these claims, to survey the literature on the subject, before concluding based on something that, say, Tarico says, that it deserves a "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" response. Lest anyone think that I am denigrating science here, let me just point out that I am just saying that science isn't as easy to read as Loftus makes it sound. Remember, Loftus isn't a practicing scientist, either.

As another example of the "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" attitude, consider this post. OK, scientists have come up with this idea of a gene for promiscuity, but is this established science??? Is this going to stand up when other scientists try to repeat the results? Is it going to be debated in the scientific community? I sure hope so. It sounds like we need skepticism for something other than religion here.

Does skepticism save us from bias? We have seen the case of Richard Carrier, who has been shown to know a whole lot less about Bayesian theory than he thought he knew. We have Robert Price, who presents an argument that, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to the conclusion we all have no idea what Abraham Lincoln looked like, since he's no longer around to inspect.

In short, I don't see that skepticism solves the malaises of the human mind. We have to try our best to be rational, consistent with having to live a life that includes a lot more than being rational, and then rest, if we can, in the knowledge that we have done our best. There are no privileged "skeptical" or "scientific" positions to which we can punt. Science meanders its way toward the truth, but what lessons we can draw from science outside the narrow specialization of science is not a matter of science itself, or of accepting science.

So I say, don't punt. Just try your best. 

Why the Moon Isn't Made of Green Cheese: Uncommon Descent on Parsons and Herrick

Herrick has responded to Keith Parsons' Secular Web essay.

HT: Steve Hays.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Hostility Bias

I want to separate two questions. My main claim is that even if we have reasons to believe that there is a substantial difference between the content of the original text and the earliest manuscripts, Price's argument for that is a nonstarter, since it seems to be arguing that whenever you have one copy or a million copies, and you can't get your hands on the original, you don't have any reason to believe that the copy resembles the original. That's what I took from his argument. What I take from that is that this is another instance where hostile critics of Scripture are so hostile that they will accept any argument that undermines anything an apologist might say, no matter how bad the argument. In other words, I am suggesting that skeptical scholars can. and often do, suffer from a hostility bias toward Scripture. That was the main point of my post. The only way to rebut that would be to argument that I was taking Price out of context, (since I did just lift the post out of Arizona Atheist's response to me), and that if you read the rest of what he says, he isn't really making the claim I am attributing to him. If there are other ways of argument for doubt about the manuscripts we have, that doesn't alter the claim I was making about Price. Ehrman's arguments, I take it, are better, though I don't buy them by any stretch of the imagination.

I think a lot of "movement atheists" put confidence in people like Price and Carrier on the grounds, presumably, that they are "outsiders" (and in Price's case, he's an exbeliever), and not subject to a Christian bias. Such confidence is, I believe, unjustified. It is also possible to be biased against Christianity, a concept that is hard for some people to digest.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

On Bible Manuscripts, Bad Arguments, and Honest Abe

This is from Robert Price's "The Case Against the Case for Christ." It was used in response to a discussion of the textual adequacy of the Bible in comparison to the Qur'an by Arizona Atheist. 

[…] Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them – much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of theoriginal manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so tell million photos would not help. (98-99)

I am not claiming that rebutting Price on this point refutes AA's overall response to me, which I have been slow to respond to, even though I have meant to post on it for a long time. However, may I point out that this is a horrendous argument. I have never seen Abe Lincoln in person. I can't dig him up and see what he looked like. But his picture is on the penny and the five dollar bill, there's a statue in the Lincoln memorial, and plenty of other likenesses. By Price's logic, however, I have no idea what he looked like. In fact, since I've never seen George W. Bush, but only TV images and pictures, I have no idea what he looks like either. 

Really. This is a much-admired Bible scholar in the Infidel community, and a contributor to The Christian Delusion. How does he get away with such arrant nonsense?

Richard Carrier Replies on Lydia's Blog

With some concessions and apologies. The fundamental disagreements, of course, remain.

Less Wrong on the McGrews' Essay

Luke, at Common Sense Atheism, thinks that the these criticisms of the McGrews' Essay are more substantial than those put forward by Carrier.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Pride Goeth

Here's what Carrier says about his chapter of The Christian Delusion. 

Two of The Christian Delusion's fifteen chapters are mine. The first is Why the Resurrection Is Unbelievable, which is the most definitive refutation of warranted belief in the resurrection I have ever composed. It's a deliberate tour de force, such that I doubt I'll ever have to write another. It even takes down recent attempts to use Bayes' Theorem to argue for the resurrection, and it contextualizes everything so there just isn't any rational basis left for claiming the resurrection is historically proven.

In the next paragraph he refers to both of his contributions as tours de force. 

When you talk like that, you had better be able to take out the McGrews. In my brainwashed opinion, that's a chess game he has no chance of winning. 

Two Sides of the Bayesian Analysis of the Resurrection

I see two major issues with respect to the Bayesian analysis of Resurrection history. One has to do with the left side of the theorem. Is there some way of showing that everyone ought to go into the discussion with such a low prior for any miracle that we can virtually guarantee that nothing coming out of the ancient world will be sufficient evidence.

The usual approach to getting that result is via some form of frequentism. There have been 96,100,000,000 persons who have ever lived, there has only been a very few resurrection reports that have so much as surface credibility, so therefore the one in 96.1 billion, and therefore resurrection has to lose even to the swoon theory. But these lead-footed methods don't work for various reasons that have been pointed out quite often. Earman is, I think, the guy you have to get around if you think you can prove something like this about the prior for miracles.

If you say "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," (which invariably implies evidence that you're never going to be able to get out of the ancient world), then you have to figure out how do define extraordinary in this context. Does it mean historically unique? In that case you have Indian Prince worries, and there's even a problem believing media reports that Obama won the election. If you think it means contrary to the laws of nature, then why do you presume that every event has a natural cause? Doesn't that beg the question from the beginning? Whether a miracle-working God exists is part of what's at issue here. The skeptic needs an account of extraordinariness that doesn't beg the question and pins an unmanageable prior on all miracle claims for everyone.

The other issue looks at the right side of the theorem, and asks if the evidence surrounding the resurrection is more like what we should expect if the miracle happened or more like what we should expect if it didn't happen. My approach on this is to say that prior probabilities on the matter are certainly going to vary, and that nevertheless we can see if the evidence confirms the miracle story of disconfirms it. Unless you have an argument that shows that no one should have a manageable prior for miracles, you can and should ask this question.

Now notice that I have nowhere said that there is some definite conclusion that everyone will come to, that it is 94% likely that the Resurrection happened based on historical evidence. I am interested in whether the case for the Resurrection confirms it, even if many unbelievers fail to find such evidence "extraordinary" enough.

Abortion and Relevance

Most people agree that killing a newborn is a criminal act, not a mother's choice, (although there have been a few people who have defended infanticide). The question in the abortion controversy is whether a fetus is relevantly different from a newborn. Of course there are differences (a fetus is in the womb and a newborn is out of the womb), but the big question is whether that difference is a morally relevant difference, a difference that gives us grounds for thinking that while a newborn has a right to life that should be backed up by the protection of the criminal law, a fetus has no such right.

This is mostly by way of trying to spell out the issue clearly.

Another Depoe paper on miracles and Bayesianism

John DePoe on Witnesses and Miracles

HT: Patrick Chan.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Lydia McGrew rebuts Richard Carrier.

I understand that the current atheist meme on this, which shows a rather striking lack of understanding of probability, is to say that if one does not argue for a particular prior probability for some proposition, one literally can say nothing meaningful about the confirmation provided by evidence beyond the statement that there is some confirmation or other.

This is flatly false, as both the second of the quotations above from the paper and my rather detailed explanation to Luke M. show.

Richard Carrier on Bayes' Theorem

I don't know if Tim McGrew is going to call this crappy. But he has told me he has numerous objections to it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Christian Physicist Polkinghorne on Dawkins

"Debating with Dawkins is hopeless, because there's no give and take. He doesn't give you an inch. He just says no when you say yes."

I have just linked to the essay on Polkinghorne where I got that information. I'm becoming rather a Polkinghorne fan.

Was the McGrews' article on the Resurrection Not Even Worth Citing?

Richard Carrier thinks so, calling it "crappy." Rumor has it that Tim and Lydia disagree. I will tell you this much. If I could get Richard Carrier or anyone else to raise their probability for the resurrection from 1% to 10%, I'd consider it an enormous accomplishment.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

God, Science, and Metal Detectors

A redated post.

This is from my response to the Carrier-Wanchick debate.

Carrier relied on an argument from displacement, but it is the nature of science not to look for supernatural causes, or if so, to accept them as a last resort. It is like saying that the $100 bill you lost at the beach must have been stolen because after scouring the area with a metal detector, you didn't find it. Science is extremely good at telling us some things we need to know; there are other things it is not so good at, and it is far from proven that we ought to make science the measure of all things.

Jan 1, 2011 addendum: Methodological naturalism in the sciences actually weakens the argument for atheism based on science. The only way scientific evidence could possibly undermine religious belief would be if scientific evidence could have gone the other way and confirmed religious belief.