Response to Selective Sources 2

Deacon Duncan (DD) has responded to my previous post. Unfortunately he misunderstands my position, misrepresents the evidence, and avoids seriously interacting with the evidence at all.

He writes:

He talks about taking a neutral approach towards miracles, but he wants to begin by declaring that anyone who observes the lack of verifiable miracles is merely assuming that miracles do not happen. . . . In this case, we do not assume that miracles cannot happen, we simply observe that they do not.

The problem with this response is that the atheist’s argument is invalid. The argument appears to be: I personally have not observed a miracle, therefore no one has observed a miracle. If this is not obviously fallacious reasoning to you then consider another argument of the same form: I have not personally observed a volcano erupting, therefore volcanoes do not erupt. Recall from the last post that hundreds of millions of people claim to have directly witnessed or experienced a miracle. One person’s experiences do not dictate the experiences of others or what is possible.

Moving on, he writes:

Since we are comparing the stories in the Gospel with real-world observations, he can easily debunk the observation that the long-dead are not raised and the congenitally-blind are not supernaturally healed by simply providing us with the name, address, and phone number of a modern day individual who was brought back to life after having been lifeless (no heartbeat, respiration, or brain activity for 72 hours or more), or who was born blind and then in early adulthood was miraculously (and documentably) restored to full vision. He does not do so, despite his desire to debunk the skeptical observation and despite the effectiveness with which this would indeed revolutionize the whole discussion.

In the last post I included a few quotations of modern miracle accounts. It is true that I (really Keener) did not provide addresses and phone numbers, but I did include names and Keener personally contacted many of the people mentioned in his book. There is nothing stopping the atheist from from reviewing Keener’s sources. For the interested, Keener documents numerous cases of the blind gaining sight and the dead rising (although I only recall the one cited case of someone dead for more than 72 hours but brain damage should set in a few minutes after death anyway).

Thus, it is fairly obvious that he himself is among those who, if they were truly neutral, would have to admit that they do not observe such miracles happening in real life.

Let me be clear that my neutrality towards miracles in the last post was done to prevent the post from straying too far off course. The main point I was making was that the kinds of miracles narrated in the NT are narrated by credible, modern eyewitnesses and, therefore, the presence of miracle accounts in the NT is not sufficient reason to doubt that the NT documents are rooted in eyewitness testimony. DD is drifting into a discussion of whether miracles actually happen but not addressing the thrust of my post. What the neutral observer must admit is that strange (for lack of a better term) healings have occurred and been documented even in modern times. Skeptics who ignore this fact and blithely assert miracles do not happen are shielding their readers from relevant evidence.

What he does offer is hearsay: unverifiable stories that some third party (or fourth party, or nth party) has reported about certain situations that “might” be miraculous (or else just urban legends—there’s not enough information given to allow fact-checking).

If you read Keener’s book and have the desire to investigate individual miracle claims contained inside you certainly could. Many of the stories have been verified first-hand by Keener himself and there is no reason, in principle, that the skeptic could not do the very work Keener himself did. DD should just admit he has not read the book and has not attempted to investigate any of the miracles.

In the process, he kindly documents for us just how low Christian standards are when it comes to what kind of “evidence” they’re willing to accept as a basis for believing in miracles.

What kind of evidence is Keener providing? While each case varies, there are healings that: (1) are witnessed by multiple individuals, including skeptics; (2) documented by medical professionals; and (3) inexplicable given our current understanding of science and medicine. Perhaps the skeptic will insist that this is still too low a bar to accept miracles, but I think it is clear that it is not a particularly low standard. Again, keep in mind the main purpose of the previous post mentioned above.

Jayman himself will only commit to the possibility that these stories claim miracles that “may still happen today” (emphasis his). He can’t verify them either, but other Christians still report them as true.

What I actually wrote was: “Craig S. Keener catalogs modern eyewitness testimony that suggests, at the very least, that the healing of those blind from birth and the raising of the dead (among other miracles) may still happen today.” I intentionally stuck with a conservative claim so that the post would not go off course as noted above. Anyone can verify the accounts (directly if the witnesses are still living or through earlier documentation) but they have to do some work. It is much easier to assert miracles don’t happen than to explain well documented cases in a purely naturalistic manner.

But if we’re truly neutral, we ought to admit that such fanciful speculations do not change the fact of our real-world observations. And that fact is simply that we do not see miracles happening in the real world.

Who is “we”? As noted in my previous post hundreds of millions of people would vehemently disagree with DD and state that they have witnessed miracles. He doesn’t examine a single claim and just dismisses them all out of hand. A witness to the miraculous could make a basic argument like so: I have witnessed a miracle therefore miracles are possible. Unlike the atheist argument above, this is at least valid (though the skeptic will doubt the first premise is true).

P.S. He also ignores other points I made in regard to his previous post. Perhaps he is saving them for another post but you may want to check my previous post if you have not already read it.

About these ads

26 thoughts on “Response to Selective Sources 2”

  1. “The argument appears to be: I personally have not observed a miracle, therefore no one has observed a miracle”

    Then you should probably re-read his article again because that’s not what he was saying.

    “Recall from the last post that hundreds of millions of people claim to have directly witnessed or experienced a miracle.”

    Well then it should be rather easy to point to the reliable documentation and reports of these verified miracles occurring and to not have to rely on a mountain 3rd,4th and Nth hand reports.

    How many babies are born in hospitals every day in the US? It should be rather easy to find one with certified damage to the optic nerves or brain and the corresponding reports of their miraculous recovery of their sight.

    It should be even easier to find examples of Amputees miraculously having their limbs restored.

  2. Sunny Day:

    Then you should probably re-read his article again because that’s not what he was saying.

    How do you understand his argument?

    Well then it should be rather easy to point to the reliable documentation and reports of these verified miracles occurring and to not have to rely on a mountain 3rd,4th and Nth hand reports.

    I already addressed this in the post: “While each case varies, there are healings that: (1) are witnessed by multiple individuals, including skeptics; (2) documented by medical professionals; and (3) inexplicable given our current understanding of science and medicine.” There’s nothing stopping you from delving into the material.

    It should be even easier to find examples of Amputees miraculously having their limbs restored.

    Keener does note multiple cases of body parts re-growing inexplicably.

  3. The evidence gathered through Nth hand reports from 3rd world countries is hardly compelling.

    Consider there is a wealth of similar reports of various Hindu gods and tribal witch doctors performing the same healing miracles. Do consider those stories compelling evidence for their beliefs?

    Funny how god seems to be restricted from performing miracles in locales with 1st world medical care.

  4. Meh, Christians:

    The evidence gathered through Nth hand reports from 3rd world countries is hardly compelling.

    As already noted, Keener includes first person accounts from around world. I won’t bother guessing what bigotry lies behind objecting to accounts because they are from the third world.

    Consider there is a wealth of similar reports of various Hindu gods and tribal witch doctors performing the same healing miracles. Do consider those stories compelling evidence for their beliefs?

    First, each account needs to be judged on its own merits. Second, verified accounts are evidence that the average atheist/naturalist has false beliefs. Third, my belief in a religion is based on factors other than (but including) miracles so that I try to examine the totality of the evidence for/against a religion. Fourth, a so-called Hindu miracle might be a piece of evidence in favor of Hinduism but, based on the the totality of the evidence, I think Christianity is more likely to be true. I’ll try to fit the evidence into a coherent belief system instead of just denying or ignoring evidence contrary to my current beliefs.

    Funny how god seems to be restricted from performing miracles in locales with 1st world medical care.

    Funny how you make this statement when I included some accounts from the first world in my last post.

  5. “The problem with this response is that the atheist’s argument is invalid. The argument appears to be: I personally have not observed a miracle, therefore no one has observed a miracle.”

    Nope. The argument is that when it comes to evidence that is reliable, verifiable, and objective, we have no evidence for miracles. Do you understand the difference yet?

    “If this is not obviously fallacious reasoning to you then consider another argument of the same form: I have not personally observed a volcano erupting, therefore volcanoes do not erupt. “

    I have never personally witnessed a volcano erupt. The chances are quite good that neither have you. Yet neither of us (unless you want to surprise me) concludes that volcanoes do not erupt. So, one might ask, what is it in the nature of evidence for volcano eruptions that is different from miracles? The answer, it seems, is that the evidence for things like volcano eruptions is objective, verifiable, and reliable, and the evidence for miracles is not. So you see, it is not the nature of the argument (as you falsely suggest), but the nature of the evidence that we observe.

    You then go on (blah blah blah, NT witnesses credible, atheists lazy, blah) in a demonstration of the fact that you do not somehow understand that the evidence for miracles you cite is not objective, reliable, and verifiable.

  6. Tony Hoffman:

    The argument is that when it comes to evidence that is reliable, verifiable, and objective, we have no evidence for miracles. Do you understand the difference yet?

    I understand what you’re trying to say but it rests on a false premise. When a doctor documents someone born blind gaining sight that is reliable, verifiable, and objective evidence. It’s the exact same kind of evidence you rely on when judging natural cures.

  7. “When a doctor documents someone born blind gaining sight that is reliable, verifiable, and objective evidence. It’s the exact same kind of evidence you rely on when judging natural cures.”

    No. You appear to still not understand basic science, which is the same thing as saying that you don’t understand what it means for evidence to be reliable, objective, and verifiable.

  8. Tony, a miracle is an historical event so the scientific method is not much help in determining whether a miracle happened or not. If you have a suggestion for how a miracle should be verified then feel free to suggest it.

  9. “Tony, a miracle is an historical event so the scientific method is not much help in determining whether a miracle happened or not.”

    Everything is a historical event (happens in time). When those events are shown to be reliable, objective, and verifiable, we find their occurrence to be credible. This does not even require what most people call a scientific method – it only requires examination, in a process that is objective, reliable, and verifiable.

    If I were you I wouldn’t get hung up on scientific practice, per se. I think that objectivity, reliability, and verifiability are bigger than science, for instance.

    “If you have a suggestion for how a miracle should be verified then feel free to suggest it.”

    Isn’t it obvious?

    All that has to be done is 1) establish that an event actually occurred in a way that is objective, reliable, and verifiable, and then 2) establish why it is that the actions of a supernatural agent are the most likely cause of the event.

    The problem that I see you stalled at (after perusing your OP here) is the first one, and I all it the “mirage problem.” The problem with mirages isn’t that they do not occur – they clearly do. No, the problem with mirages is that although they are interpreted as evidence for water, every time a mirage is closely examined (by approaching it) it is revealed to be a common visual misinterpretation instead of what it is hoped to be. So, I’d suggest to you that you stop picking at the equivalent of mirages among the miraculous, and find something that doesn’t evaporate on closer examination.

  10. There are many equivalent books documenting alien abductions, another phenomenon that is claimed to happen to thousands of people all over the world. And many people do have unusual, perhaps inexplicable experiences. But no one has produced anything more than anecdotal evidence that these unusual experiences were genuinely the result of abduction by aliens, to a plausible standard of evidence. Most of us therefore feel justified in concluding that such claimants were not in fact genuinely abducted by extraterrestrial beings.

    I’m not trying to belittle the notion of miraculous cures by comparing them to UFOs, only to point out that when we lower the standard of evidence sufficiently to admit miracles we necessarily open the door to countless similar dubious claims. This is a perilously thin thread on which to hang a defense of Christianity.

  11. Tony, I’m glad to see you are not an adherent of scientism as I had feared. What is not clear is whether we are on the same page when it comes to what makes historical evidence reliable, objective, and verifiable.

    I would define reliable evidence as evidence that: (a) comes from a person known to tell the truth; (b) comes from a person in a position where he would be unlikely to lie (i.e., a position where telling the truth would put him in danger of some kind); and/or (c) comes from an impersonal source (e.g., archaeology, X-ray scan) known to be reliable.

    I would define verifiable evidence as evidence that, in principle, can be examined by anyone. This might involve the ability to interview witnesses directly or to examine publicly available documentation.

    What makes historical evidence objective is a little harder to define. The existence of multiple witnesses suggests that the event in question is objective in the sense that it is not in the mind of an individual. Evidence could also be considered objective if it is open to examination by multiple people.

    These definitions could probably be nit-picked but they are a start.

    Now it appears to me that we might be able to agree that certain healing events happened. For example, in at least some cases, I think we could agree that: (1) a person was diagnosed with a disease/sickness; (2) the person was healed in a relatively short period of time after a prayer or some other religious ritual; (3) that the healing was later confirmed medically; and (4) that the disease/sickness in question is not known to heal by natural means in the time it did, in fact, heal.

    Where the difference of opinion will probably lie is whether the above 4 facts are enough to believe that the actions of a supernatural agent are the most likely cause of the event. You are correct that I stopped before this point in my first post. That’s because an atheist could, in theory, agree that the Gospels accurately transmit eyewitness accounts of healings but still differ over the interpretation of those events. For that purpose, it’s enough to show that the accuracy of the Gospels cannot be doubted merely because they include miracle accounts.

    I’ll leave it here for now to see how much agreement we really have up to this point. Is my definition of reliable, objective, and verifiable evidence reasonable? Do you think we could agree, at least in some cases, that the 4 kinds of events I outlined did happen (even if we can’t agree that it justifies belief in the supernatural)?

  12. Hazzard:

    There are many equivalent books documenting alien abductions, another phenomenon that is claimed to happen to thousands of people all over the world.

    Let’s note the numerical difference between the hundreds of millions of people who claim to have witnessed a miracle and the thousands of people (assuming your numbers are correct) who claim to have been abducted by aliens.

    And many people do have unusual, perhaps inexplicable experiences.

    I admit I have not looked into alien abductions much. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some cases that are inexplicable. I won’t rule out the possibility than an alien abduction has happened.

    But no one has produced anything more than anecdotal evidence that these unusual experiences were genuinely the result of abduction by aliens, to a plausible standard of evidence.

    An alien abduction would be an historical event so the evidence for the event would be, by definition, anecdotal. Pointing that out is not an argument against the abduction.

    Most of us therefore feel justified in concluding that such claimants were not in fact genuinely abducted by extraterrestrial beings.

    Is it merely because the evidence is insufficient or is it also because you can explain most cases naturally? From the few cases I’ve heard they mostly occur at night to a single person. These could be explained as night terrors. I imagine the difficult cases to explain would involve multiple witnesses or physical evidence of some kind.

    I’m not trying to belittle the notion of miraculous cures by comparing them to UFOs, only to point out that when we lower the standard of evidence sufficiently to admit miracles we necessarily open the door to countless similar dubious claims.

    Whether a claim is dubious has to be decided on its own merits. And I don’t think it’s just about the standard of evidence but also about the interpretation of the evidence. You and someone who believes in alien abductions might both agree that UFOs, in the simplest sense of the term, exist. Where you differ is on the interpretation of what the UFOs are and where they come from. Likewise, we might both agree that some astounding healing took place while disagreeing over whether it was an act of God or not.

  13. jayman777: Obviously the analogy isn’t perfect, but I think it remains apt in a couple of ways. For instance, both phenomena (alien abductions and miraculous healing) by their nature are impossible to study under controlled conditions. Alien abductions happen rarely and unpredictably and can’t be filmed or otherwise documented in progress; miraculous healing is likewise too sporadic and unrepeatable to allow the kind of of placebo and statistical testing we routinely use to confirm the effectiveness of more conventional medical interventions. That disproves neither, but it does make them far more difficult to evaluate.

    More fundamentally, the names we’ve given to both phenomena — “miraculous healing” and “alien abduction” — conflate an event with its purported explanation. Uncanny experiences and unexpected healing do occur, but the step from there to “actual abduction by extraterrestrial beings” or “miraculous healing by supernatural intervention” is an extraordinarily long one when simpler explanations that require no such assumption are available. Some of these simpler explanations (suggestibility, deception) overlap in both cases.

  14. Hazzard:

    [B]oth phenomena (alien abductions and miraculous healing) by their nature are impossible to study under controlled conditions.

    True, but that goes for every historical event. The lack of controlled conditions does not stop us from learning historical facts in general so it does not rule out the possibility in the case of apparently miraculous events.

    Alien abductions happen rarely and unpredictably and can’t be filmed or otherwise documented in progress; miraculous healing is likewise too sporadic and unrepeatable to allow the kind of of placebo and statistical testing we routinely use to confirm the effectiveness of more conventional medical interventions.

    Some people and places do seem to be associated with miracles more than others. There are miracles documented by medical professionals or video-taped. But this doesn’t settle the matter. You can doubt the authenticity of physical evidence just as easily as you can doubt the words of a person.

    As a personal agent God cannot be tested like a medicine. But I think medical science can still be very relevant. It tells us what is not possible. When we are confronted with a healing that contradicts what the body is capable of doing on its own or with medical assistance we are going to have to come up with something new to explain it.

    More fundamentally, the names we’ve given to both phenomena — “miraculous healing” and “alien abduction” — conflate an event with its purported explanation.

    I think it’s kind of unavoidable as they bleed into each other but I see your general point.

    Uncanny experiences and unexpected healing do occur, but the step from there to “actual abduction by extraterrestrial beings” or “miraculous healing by supernatural intervention” is an extraordinarily long one when simpler explanations that require no such assumption are available. Some of these simpler explanations (suggestibility, deception) overlap in both cases.

    But we only accept simple explanations when they truly explain all the facts. If you were convinced that someone was cured of organic blindness immediately after someone prayed for them, what simple explanations would you propose?

  15. Jayman77, I think your last question gets to the heart of the matter. But it also makes some assumptions. Perhaps I can restate it without prejudicing the matter: What simple explanations might I offer, if an apparent recovery from organic blindness followed a prayer from a second party?

    Well, I might have been deceived. I suggest that possibility because I’m as easy to fool as any other mortal, and because numerous cases of fraudulent spiritual healing have been exposed in the past. “Faith healing” (like its secular cousin, the patent medicine business) has a well-known and notorious history.

    Or the connection between the recovery and the prayer might be coincidental, since vastly more prayers for healing are offered than are ever (even apparently) answered.

    Or I might acknowledge that I don’t (and perhaps can’t) really know what caused the recovery.

    What I could not say with any certainty was that the cure resulted from the intervention of a supernatural entity. If nothing else, humility would oblige me to acknowledge that there’s no way to establish such a causal link. We have no test for divine intervention. I can’t take the healer’s word for it, since apparently successful spiritual healers come in all stripes and make all sorts of claims about the entities or forces they’re channeling. And even if believe such beings exist and that they’re capable of curing disease, how could I be sure that’s what happened in this particular case?

  16. “What is not clear is whether we are on the same page when it comes to what makes historical evidence reliable, objective, and verifiable.”

    Don’t confuse the issue by trying to draw a distinction between evidence and historical evidence. As I tried to explain earlier, evidence is either reliable, objective, and verifiable (ROV), or it is not.

    “I would define reliable evidence as evidence that: (a) comes from a person known to tell the truth; (b) comes from a person in a position where he would be unlikely to lie (i.e., a position where telling the truth would put him in danger of some kind); and/or (c) comes from an impersonal source (e.g., archaeology, X-ray scan) known to be reliable.”

    People are subject to a multitude of mistakes in perception, cognition, and prejudice. We call these things biases. Even reliable, well-intentioned people cannot escape the fact that we are subject to these mistakes.

    “I would define verifiable evidence as evidence that, in principle, can be examined by anyone.”

    Yeah, I think you are confusing the terms reliable and objective. As I understand the terms, objective would be the same for everyone. Reliable would be more similar to predictive success.

    “What makes historical evidence objective is a little harder to define. The existence of multiple witnesses suggests that the event in question is objective in the sense that it is not in the mind of an individual. Evidence could also be considered objective if it is open to examination by multiple people.”

    Yes, I understand objective evidence to mean that it is available and apprehendable the same way among different people.

    “These definitions could probably be nit-picked but they are a start.”

    Thanks for the start. I don’t know if you consider my comments nitpicking, but I think you are possibly still fundamentally understanding what it means for evidence to be ROV.

    “Now it appears to me that we might be able to agree that certain healing events happened.”

    This is the basis for all historical study; without this agreement, there can be no exercise of History, which is the creation of the most plausible story / explanation for the agreed upon facts.

    “For example, in at least some cases, I think we could agree that: (1) a person was diagnosed with a disease/sickness; (2) the person was healed in a relatively short period of time after a prayer or some other religious ritual; (3) that the healing was later confirmed medically; and (4) that the disease/sickness in question is not known to heal by natural means in the time it did, in fact, heal.”

    Yes on 1, yes on 2 in that the two things occurred, no on there being a causal link between the two events (that is what the miracalist would be trying to establish), 3 seems fraught with ROV problems, and 4 depends heavily on 1 and 3 as well, with it’s similar ROV problems.

    “Where the difference of opinion will probably lie is whether the above 4 facts are enough to believe that the actions of a supernatural agent are the most likely cause of the event.”

    I’m not at all sure that the 4 kinds of facts can be sufficiently established. Medicine is an imperfect science, practiced by people susceptible to mistakes and biases, on subjects known for considerable physical anomalies and variablilty.

    “You are correct that I stopped before this point in my first post. That’s because an atheist could, in theory, agree that the Gospels accurately transmit eyewitness accounts of healings but still differ over the interpretation of those events.”

    In theory, the Gospels may objectively transmit hearsay accounts (none of the Gospel writers were witnesses), and they may objectively transmit legends. Those are, I believe, the only issues on the table.

    “For that purpose, it’s enough to show that the accuracy of the Gospels cannot be doubted merely because they include miracle accounts.”

    That’s exactly wrong. The inclusion of miracle accounts in the Gospels is the primary reason why the 100% accuracy of the Gospels should be doubted.

  17. Hazzard:

    – Deception is a possibility in anything but we can do our best to try and rule it out. In the case of the healing of organic blindness the medical examinations before and after the healing should be pretty conclusive.

    – If the human body does not have the inherent potential to heal organic blindness then we can rule out coincidence. The most impressive miracle accounts will involve events that run counter to the known laws of nature. If the healing runs counter to the laws of nature then we have a reason to posit a supernatural explanation.

    – Admitting you don’t know is a possibility. I could come to that conclusion in some cases too. But this admission would lead a hard-line atheist towards agnosticism. It would no longer be obvious that miracles don’t happen.

    – I think we should work for the best explanation given the evidence we currently have. Certainty, in the strict sense, is rarely achievable. This goes for the supernatural just as much as it goes for the natural.

    – The word of the healer may not be the final say on the matter but I think it would be a good starting point (along with the entire religious context around the healing). Of course religious claims can be examined from other angles. You would have to fit the healing in among your other beliefs.

  18. Tony:

    – I know people can make mistakes but this is not necessarily more of a problem in the case of miracles than in other cases. All knowledge passes through humans in some form or another. You define “reliable” as similar to predictive success. I would consider the cases I noted (testimony from a truth-teller or testimony from someone unlikely to lie) as able to “predict” that such people are telling the truth (this fact might be confirmed later by other evidence). If you have a different idea in mind please explain what reliable evidence would consist of. Can human testimony ever provide reliable evidence?

    – It seems we agree on what objective evidence is. I’m not sure if we agree on what verifiable evidence is. Please elaborate on what you take it to mean.

    – My second point (the person was healed in a relatively short period of time after a prayer/religious ritual) was not intended to imply that we would agree on the causal link. It was merely meant to suggest we could agree that the two things occurred (correlation).

    – I am not sure why you agree on 1 and 2 but not 3 (that the healing was later confirmed medically). The third point was meant to say that, after the alleged healing, the person was not diagnosed with the disease/sickness from the first point. Did you misunderstand me or do you think we can’t tell if someone is free of disease/sickness?

    – I agree that, depending on the disease/sickness in question, we might not know if the healing could be natural or not (point 4). However, since some atheists imply that being healed of blindness or rising from the dead would be good evidence for a miracle it seems that at least some atheists could agree with me even if you don’t. Perhaps the main difference between us, then, is that I think science can tell us that some things are naturally impossible while you do not.

    – I am not and was not defending the inerrancy of the Gospels. I was merely defending their general historical (not theological) reliability.

  19. “I know people can make mistakes but this is not necessarily more of a problem in the case of miracles than in other cases.”

    Correct. It is always a problem. Pretending that it is not is where you run into a problem.

    “I would consider the cases I noted (testimony from a truth-teller or testimony from someone unlikely to lie) as able to “predict” that such people are telling the truth (this fact might be confirmed later by other evidence).”

    I agree that some people are more likely to provide reliable testimony than others. This does not alter the straightforward Bayesian approach which acknowledges that all people have a known difficulty reconstructing reality based on known biases.

    “If you have a different idea in mind please explain what reliable evidence would consist of. Can human testimony ever provide reliable evidence?”

    That depends on the nature of the thing for which testimony is being provided. You seem unaware of the problems associated with defects in human perception, cognition, and memory. Pretending these problems don’t exist just makes you seem eager to be deluded.

    “It seems we agree on what objective evidence is. I’m not sure if we agree on what verifiable evidence is. Please elaborate on what you take it to mean.”

    By verifiable I mean capable of being investigated or “checked out.” Otherwise, with regard to personal testimony, we’re just taking somebody else’s word for it. And when it comes to testimony that runs counter to our own experiences, accepting someone’s “because I say so” is just gullible.

    “I am not sure why you agree on 1 and 2 but not 3 (that the healing was later confirmed medically). The third point was meant to say that, after the alleged healing, the person was not diagnosed with the disease/sickness from the first point. Did you misunderstand me or do you think we can’t tell if someone is free of disease/sickness?”

    Medical diagnoses can be notoriously haphazard. A study has shown that 20% of radiologists disagree with their diagnoses when provided the same x-ray at a different time. In other words, mistakes in diagnoses are common, so I would attribute differences of medical opinion to statistical noise.

    “I agree that, depending on the disease/sickness in question, we might not know if the healing could be natural or not (point 4).”

    Define “unnatural” healing. Do you understand the fallacy of the argument from ignorance?

    “However, since some atheists imply that being healed of blindness or rising from the dead would be good evidence for a miracle it seems that at least some atheists could agree with me even if you don’t.”

    Rising from the dead or curing blindness (or restoring an amputated limb) were done in a way that was ROV, then we would have good evidence that something that defied natural explanations had occurred. Whether or not this would then constitute a miracle would then require some kind of definition for a miracle. Do you have one? Because it appears to me that your definition of miracle is also the same as the definition for the fallacy of the argument from ignorance.

    “Perhaps the main difference between us, then, is that I think science can tell us that some things are naturally impossible while you do not.”

    I think that science can help us define those things that are so highly improbable that it is virtually equivalent to impossible. But as I have said above, you seem to have fooled yourself into thinking that the argument from ignorance is not a known fallacy.

    “I am not and was not defending the inerrancy of the Gospels. I was merely defending their general historical (not theological) reliability.”

    Don’t be so coy. By “defending their general historical reliability” you mean to say that because the Gospels reflect the obvious fact that they were written around 70 to 140 AD, their accurate reflection of mundane facts counts toward their accurate reflection of supernatural occurrences. This is a massive blunder.

  20. Tony:

    Pretending that it is not is where you run into a problem.

    I’m not pretending that mistakes by witnesses are not a problem. But I don’t bring them up just because they are possible. I need a reason to believe it is plausible that a certain kind of bias is relevant to the discussion of a specific piece of testimony.

    That depends on the nature of the thing for which testimony is being provided.

    That doesn’t explain what you mean by “reliable” evidence in relation to human testimony. It also is not clear what you mean by “the nature of the thing for which testimony is being provided.”

    You seem unaware of the problems associated with defects in human perception, cognition, and memory. Pretending these problems don’t exist just makes you seem eager to be deluded.

    But one’s views of biases and defects can lead one in the opposite direction too. One could appeal to possible biases to deny any claim they disagree with. This could result in a form of hyper-skepticism where I believe very, very little.

    By verifiable I mean capable of being investigated or “checked out.” Otherwise, with regard to personal testimony, we’re just taking somebody else’s word for it.

    We take other people’s words for it all the time. It’s unavoidable.

    And when it comes to testimony that runs counter to our own experiences, accepting someone’s “because I say so” is just gullible.

    Isn’t this reliance on my personal experience anti-thetical to the search for objective evidence? There are plenty of things that I have not experienced but this hardly means reality conforms to or is restricted by my experiences. It also leads to the strange case (from an atheist viewpoint) that it is not (as?) gullible to believe in the miraculous healings of others if I have experienced my own miraculous healing!

    In other words, mistakes in diagnoses are common, so I would attribute differences of medical opinion to statistical noise.

    Is there any ROV evidence that would convince you that the diagnoses in both 1 (before the healing) and 3 (after the healing) were most likely accurate? What if a team of doctors looked the evidence both before and after the healing and reached a unanimous decision?

    Define “unnatural” healing. Do you understand the fallacy of the argument from ignorance?

    Good question on the definition. I would define an unnatrual healing as a healing contrary to the final causes of the human body. I understand the argument from ignorance to be an argument that claims X is true because X has not been proven false.

    Whether or not this would then constitute a miracle would then require some kind of definition for a miracle. Do you have one? Because it appears to me that your definition of miracle is also the same as the definition for the fallacy of the argument from ignorance.

    I would define a miracle as an act of an immaterial agent. The Skeptic’s Dictionary (I would not want to be accused of bias) states: “A claim is proved true if its contradictory is proved false, and vice-versa.” So if a healing can have either a material cause or an immaterial cause and we rule out a material cause we are justified in positing an immaterial cause. Likewise, if a healing was either caused by an agent or caused by a non-agent and we rule out the cause as coming from a non-agent then we can conclude it was caused by an agent.

  21. “I need a reason to believe it is plausible that a certain kind of bias is relevant to the discussion of a specific piece of testimony.”

    Um, okay. Miracles. Wishful thinking. Relevant every time.

    “That doesn’t explain what you mean by “reliable” evidence in relation to human testimony. It also is not clear what you mean by “the nature of the thing for which testimony is being provided.” “

    I consider human testimony regarding a number of sensory perceptions to be fairly reliable. Humans can provide reliable testimony, for instance, if something tastes bitter, if something feels hot or cold, etc. Regarding internal awareness (“how do you ‘really’ feel about this topic, etc.), and events stored in memory, I think that humans are far less reliable than it is popularly considered.

    “One could appeal to possible biases to deny any claim they disagree with. This could result in a form of hyper-skepticism where I believe very, very little.”

    No. The Objectivity part of ROV removes this problem. You appear to be caviling.

    “We take other people’s words for it all the time. It’s unavoidable.”

    No, not about those things that are not ROV. We take people’s words for it all the time ABOUT THOSE THINGS THAT ARE ALSO ROV, but we do not (unless we are gullible) take people’s words for it about those things that are NOT ROV. You seem incapable of understanding this distinction.

    For instance, we don’t trust in GPS only because we have decided to trust the words of physicists who tell us why it works, we also trust GPS (and the words of the physicists who explain why it works) because it works in a way that is ROV. You seem to be suggesting that ROV potentially hampers our understanding of reality, but in fact without it we’d be adrift without the capacity to “know” anything. ROV is what arbitrates the words of others.

    “Isn’t this reliance on my personal experience anti-thetical to the search for objective evidence?”

    I now wonder if you actually even understand what objective means. Reliance on personal experience alone would be a form of subjectivism. Reliance on your own and others’ experiences is a form of objectivism. In other words, objectivism does not mean throwing out your own internal experiences in favor of others’, it means evaluating your internal experiences in relation to others’.

    “There are plenty of things that I have not experienced but this hardly means reality conforms to or is restricted by my experiences.”

    And I didn’t say otherwise. In fact, I am basically saying the opposite.

    “It also leads to the strange case (from an atheist viewpoint) that it is not (as?) gullible to believe in the miraculous healings of others if I have experienced my own miraculous healing!”

    Why should it be a strange case for miracles to occur objectively? Have you entirely ceded that criterion?

    Also, atheists do not contend that miracles do not occur because they personally have not experienced one. Atheist contend that miracles do not occur in reality because it seems they are not ROV and they appear be better explained as the product of misperceptions and biases. Do you understand the distinction?

    “Is there any ROV evidence that would convince you that the diagnoses in both 1 (before the healing) and 3 (after the healing) were most likely accurate? What if a team of doctors looked the evidence both before and after the healing and reached a unanimous decision?”

    R = reliable. If a team of doctors were to achieve near perfect accuracy, much more so than is common in many medical diagnoses, then there would be reliability. Unanimity without accuracy is meaningless. But I think there is no such thing as unanimity in medical diagnoses, nor near perfect reliability of those diagnoses. Far from it. (And this imperfection is one reason why those who want miracles to exist favor medical diagnoses in their examples.)

    “I would define an unnatrual healing as a healing contrary to the final causes of the human body.”

    Oh, great, Aristotle. Now there’s a guy who had a handle on biology. But to be fair, please give me an example of how an unnatural healing would defy the final causes of the human body.

    “I understand the argument from ignorance to be an argument that claims X is true because X has not been proven false.”

    That’s what Wikipedia says, but I think the first part of their definition (first paragraph or so) fails to capture how it seems to be most often employed (it does a better job further down the page). The argument from ignorance, in my experience, most commonly come sinto play where an explanation B defaults to being correct when an alternate explanation A is not available. Think of “we don’t know how all these species could have come about, therefore design!” The fallacy comes about because of the “unknown unknowns” problem – very often people rule out the possibility of an explanation A for a lack of imagination or knowledge, and come to a premature (faulty) conclusion as a result.

    “I would define a miracle as an act of an immaterial agent.”

    Well, right away we can rule out your definition because it is a contradiction; miracles occur in the material world, but you have defined your agents as being outside the material world (how can an immaterial agent remain immaterial but act materially?). So your definition fails on itself.

    “ ‘A claim is proved true if its contradictory is proved false, and vice-versa.’ So if a healing can have either a material cause or an immaterial cause and we rule out a material cause we are justified in positing an immaterial cause.”

    Except that it’s not really possible to rule out a material cause for a healing. And an immaterial cause for a (material) healing is, again, a contradiction. Again, we can rule this out by definition. And I think if you read up a bit more on the problems of the Argument of Ignorance, and it’s history, you’ll see where you’re tripping up with the above.

  22. Tony:

    (1) It is clear we disagree on the accuracy of human testimony and medical science. I don’t see that issue being resolved here.

    (2) I obviously think miracles are objective. It just seems that skeptics determine miracle accounts are not ROV on the flimsiest of grounds. As long as the healing is natural, agreement over what happened seems easy to come by (between skeptics and believers) and the evidence is considered ROV. But if the healing appears contrary to nature, then agreement is impossible. The evidence, even though it is analogous to a natural healing, is considered to not be ROV. The believer suspects the skeptic is using a double standard.

    (3) You already agreed that a rising from the dead would probably be a miracle so I will use that as an example of an unnatural healing. A final cause of a corpse is to decay and decompose. Rising from the dead is contrary to this final cause and therefore would suggest a miracle.

    (4) My definition of a miracle only fails if you assume that the immaterial cannot interact with the material. Obviously I don’t hold to that assumption.

    (5) I’m not claiming we can rule out a natural healing in an alleged miracle in an absolute manner. But even you seemed to admit that a natural healing is highly improbable for certain kinds of healings (e.g., organic blindness, rising from the dead).

  23. “It is clear we disagree on the accuracy of human testimony and medical science. I don’t see that issue being resolved here.”

    Okay. It seems obvious to me that you choose to believe something that is patently, objectively false. I will leave it to you consider why you remain stubborn in regards to the facts regarding the fallibility of human testimony and medical diagnoses as I’ve described.

    “I obviously think miracles are objective. It just seems that skeptics determine miracle accounts are not ROV on the flimsiest of grounds.”

    Really? After all this you still think that miracle accounts are objective, reliable, and verifiable? It seems that you are determined to maintain an untenable position under the guise of having a reasonable difference of opinion. And you seem to have done that by ignoring what it means to be reliable, objective, and verifiable.

    “As long as the healing is natural, agreement over what happened seems easy to come by (between skeptics and believers) and the evidence is considered ROV. But if the healing appears contrary to nature, then agreement is impossible. The evidence, even though it is analogous to a natural healing, is considered to not be ROV. The believer suspects the skeptic is using a double standard.”

    Hearsay stories about mis-diagnoses are not ROV. This is not a double standard; it is the standard. You should seriously try and wrap your head around that fact if you want to avoid being a star exhibit of what someone looks like when they cannot escape their own biases.

    “ You already agreed that a rising from the dead would probably be a miracle so I will use that as an example of an unnatural healing. A final cause of a corpse is to decay and decompose. Rising from the dead is contrary to this final cause and therefore would suggest a miracle.”

    I already said that something like that (a person who was truly dead coming alive again after 3 days, for instance, or an amputated limb growing back, etc.) would represent the 1st of two criteria for a miracle; such a thing would defy natural explanation, and it would certainly be a fine candidate for a miracle. But without a case that’s ROV, you have established nothing except a hypothetical.

    “My definition of a miracle only fails if you assume that the immaterial cannot interact with the material. Obviously I don’t hold to that assumption.”

    I don’t “assume” that the immaterial cannot interact with the material; that is the definition of the word “immaterial.” You can’t say that you accept X and ~X without escaping the laws of logic, and if you are going to make an argument on your behalf I do, however, assume that you will be subscribing to the rules of logic.

    “I’m not claiming we can rule out a natural healing in an alleged miracle in an absolute manner. But even you seemed to admit that a natural healing is highly improbable for certain kinds of healings (e.g., organic blindness, rising from the dead).”

    As explained above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s