Defending the Historical Credibility of the Gospels and Acts

In a talk originally presented to the Reasonable Faith chapter in Belfast, Timothy McGrew, Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, explores five tests for the historicity of ancient works and applies these to the Gospels and the book of Acts.

Download the audio here and the powerpoint slides here.

Source: Brian Auten

32 replies
  1. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    ….or LEGEND.

    As a skeptic it doesn’t matter to me how historically evidenced the gospels are. I feel no more compelled to believe them than I do the ancient texts of any religion. It may well be that christianity is the best evidenced religion. But so what if it is? One of them has to be.

    In the early AD it is well recognized that texts galore were written by deceivers or dupes. People just seemed to write what they wanted. Probably the legends grew, as they are wont to do, and people thought they were writing truth.

    Is it more likely that only orthodox christian religious texts are true, or that these texts are just part of the landscape? Should christian religious texts be categorized along with the texts of the likes of Hippocrates, or with other religious texts? The answer is obvious. Blindly following how ‘historical documents’ are treated is a ruse. A bit of perspective sees that these documents should be treated as religious documents – that is, completely differently to Hippocrates. Is it likely that there was a man who believed and wrote that which is attributed to Hippocrates? Yes. Is it likely that the events in the gospels took place? No. Completely different category.

  2. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Is there any reason for treating religiously significant texts like the gospels as categorically different to other historical texts other than your skepticism of their content?

  3. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Ive no doubt the gospels contain supernatural claims. But I’m at a loss as to why you think that disqualifies them as historical, or renders the content unlikely. Do you have an overwhelming argument as to why naturalism is true, or one that proves miracles are impossible? Absent these surely we have to look at what the evidence indicates.

  4. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    To be sure it’s possible that only Christianity’s claims to the divine are true, and that we don’t observe supernatural occurrences like those in the Bible anymore. I just think there are far more likely explanations.

    In the video – not that I watched it all – it is mentioned that the writings of one gnostic writer was biased towards gnosticism. I think it just as likely that the ‘orthodox’ writing that make up the Gospels are biased towards orthodoxy.

  5. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hi Peanutaixs,

    Hold on. I don’t agree that we don’t observe supernatural occurrences anymore. I expect you say this because you have never, in your experience seen or heard of anything beyond the realm of natural possibility. But this backdrop to assess the probability of the supernatural claims in the gospels is wholly insufficient. All you have to do is step outside the small purview and cast your net wide into the vast sea of human experience to find a world is rife with the miraculous like that which is in the Bible. Do this and the probability of the biblical accounts wouldn’t seem so unlikely to you.

    You think there are far more likely explanations. Well, offer the explanations as an historical hypothesis and we’ll assess the evidence for and against them with suitable criteria. This type of activity was popular for a brief time in the nineteenth century. People stopped doing it however, because they quickly realized the explanations being offered entailed even larger miracles than what were recorded. Also, the large amount of miracles with the wide variety of types of miracles made the whole project ad hoc. These are just two of the reasons why something of consensus among scholars today in the relevant fields accept that Jesus’ ministry was characterized by what he and his followers believed were miracles.

    If the gospel writers believed they were communicating the truth, then of course they were biased. The chief question is not whether they were biased, but whether they were communicating truth. So let’s look at the evidence instead of ruling out explanations.

  6. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Hi Stuart,

    There is just no evidence of supernatural events occurring today. If miraculous events were happening in today’s world with today’s technology and freedom of information, you would expect to have some pretty good evidence of miracles. Lourdes, France is a good example. Despite all the claims there is not one good piece of evidence that any miracle has occurred there.

    I don’t know what explanations you are asking for. I don’t understand why you say that claiming that there were no miracles requires larger miracles!?
    I have no problem that Jesus’ ministry was characterized by what he and his followers believed were miracles. People believe that they have seen miracles today! completely wrong-ly. People back then were far more credulous due to their relative ignorance of how the world works.

    p

  7. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Let me get this straight. Your argument that there is no evidence of miracles is because they are not reported on CNN or in The New York Times or the like? Is that it? Well, I don’t see any reason to expect that the miraculous would be more reported it is. And since I know of some amazing miracles, and well evidenced ones, and I know that almost every church has someone in it with their own miracle story or at least knows someone with a personal miracle story, my guess is you haven’t actually looked far or wide enough – if at all.
    If your going to be a naturalist (i.e. an anti-supernaturalist), then you have to offer an alternate explanation for what the Gospels, Acts, etc., record. But then you have to deal with evidence, don’t you? And thats exactly what you don’t what to do, is it?
    Theres a new book out by Craig Keener on this topic, which tells some well evidenced miracle stories, some of the difficulties involved in evidencing them, etc. You should get it this Christmas – a day which celebrates probably the biggest miracle of all. And you should read it so next time you approach this topic you come a little more prepared and informed.

  8. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    That reply is like the blind man who says there’s no evidence that there’s such a thing as colour. Open your eyes. Is it surprising that people who have seen a miracle would believe they’ve seen a miracle? Get the book I’ve told you about, read it and once you are informed a fraction then feel free to comment. Until then, you have to deal with what evidence there is, not the evidence you blindly insist isn’t there.

  9. Al
    Al says:

    Stuart,
     I look in on this site occasionally because I find you and Bnonn generally argue well, and it helps me clarify my own thoughts.  But in this case, don’t you think you’ve “damned with faint praise” the idea that miracles exist nowadays?   To say, as you did, “I know that almost every church has someone in it with their own miracle story or at least knows someone with a personal miracle story” surely means that even you are really struggling to come up with evidence for miracles. “Almost” every church, and “at least knows someone”.  Well, surely this just doesn’t make the grade.  I would expect everybody in every church to be full of miracle stories, but, even according to you, they are indeed rare things.   To my way of thinking, two thousand or so years is but the blink of an eye, and if miracles existed over that last two thousand years, there’s no reason to expect any diminution in their frequesncy in the 20th century.  But if, even by your own admission, they generally don’t happen these days, even for those who believe firmly in miracles, the occasional one could too easily be dismissed as from an individual’s overactive imagination.  The following argument may be a red herring to you, but if we look at the type of miracle that I am aware of supposedly still happening occasionally, such as someone being cured of cancer, or being able to walk again, these can be too easily explained away.  Why do we never see a show-stopper, such as the healing of a person whose face has been melted by fire beyond recognition, or the growth of a brand new leg where one was ripped off in a car smash?  It seems to me that we mustn’t have high expectations of our miracles these days. 

  10. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    The frequency of miracles I don’t consider very relevant. I only said that to Perterpieman to point out that there are miracles stories out there to find, if he’d only look. What matters is finding them, and seeing how well they are attested.

  11. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    I agree that there are miracle stories out there, but conveniently nothing even like proof. If we were talking about just about any other subject, Stuart and Bnonn – all of us – would agree that the evidence is pathetic.

    There are miracle stories in any religion, too. And a-religious stories like ghosts, alien encounters, astrology etc. These are all attested to similarly, and all of them conveniently have no hard evidence – the conclusion is obvious. No doubt though, Stuart would just insist that you haven’t looked hard enough until you come up with the answer that christianity is true. This is no different to an astrologer, which is not surprising because the standard evidence is exactly as poor.

  12. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Also. Stuart, you should get the book “The Believing Brain” by Michael Schermer, so that next time you can approach this topic a little more prepared and informed.

  13. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    It’s interesting Peanut brings up alien encounters. Christian scholars like Hugh Ross have investigated UFO phenomena extensively, and found that although up to 95% of them have plausible natural explanations, at least 5% cannot be explained in natural terms.

    So Christians, at least, are inclined to grant that the evidence is very good that at least some UFO sightings are genuinely unexplained phenomena.

    I’ve never known an atheist to actually investigate the evidence for unexplained phenomena before dismissing them out of hand. It must be nice to know something is impossible before even investigating it (and thus not having to).

    Seems oddly unscientific though.

  14. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    It may well be that 5% of UFO phenomena cannot be explained by our understanding of natural phenomena. But what is more likely? That UFO’s really have visited us, or that there are natural explanations for that 5% for which we don’t yet have a complete understanding (e.g. of atmospheric phenomena) or for which there is scant information or missing information. You’d have to be pretty credulous to go with the 5%.

    I’m sure that a good percentage of disease is not understood. Fibromyalgia and ME are a couple of examples. The equivalent of the UFO scenario is to insist that these will never be understood as natural phenomenon. That would be pretty stupid. And a lot of people are.

    It is the same with you Bnonn, nice to know that other religions are false before investigating them. The difference is that the skeptic is more consistent and can see, for instance, that there is nothing special about one religion in particular.

  15. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Except that is rare indeed to find a skeptic that is truly consistent; being skeptical of their own skepticism.
    You for instance, as a skeptic, are saying it’s not likely and stupid to think that the unexplained phenomena we do have (for miracles, UFO’s, etc.) is not natural, while the Christian can be truly open to an alternate explanation.

  16. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Peanut, as Stu points out, I can turn around exactly that kind of objection against you. You’re pretending that the only reasonable position is to think that naturalistic explanations are the only explanations. So even in cases where all the evidence is AGAINST naturalistic explanations, you just have to hold to your blind faith that there is such an explanation.

    Btw, UFO phenomena just ain’t in the same league as viruses. We might not know exactly how a virus works, but we don’t see it appearing to violate the laws of physics, as we do with some UFO phenomena. Your worldview simply can’t cope with some of the facts of the world. Which shows that it is a failure.

  17. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Hi guys. Good Xmases? Great weather here!

    Stuart I think it is quite possible to be skeptical of one’s own skepticism in the same way that you probably think it’s possible to objectively evaluate your religious worldview.
    I do think it silly to believe that the 5% unexplained phenomena is not natural, but that is an incredibly warranted conclusion based upon the complete lack of evidence or proof of anything supernatural to have ever existed.
    You have also mistakenly aligned the idea that because a christian might be open to either explanation, that they are therefore more objective. Going back to skepticism, it is objective evidence that matters, and there just is NONE. Therefore, being open to either explanation is wrong!

    Bnonn, I think that the only reasonable position toward unexplained phenomena is that none of these phenomena will be of supernatural origin. This is the only sensible inductive conclusion given all relevant evidence. I’m not sure what cases you mean when you say that all the evidence is AGAINST naturalistic explanations. Let’s say that a whole plane load of people observe oval lights that travel at tremendous speed. Is it more likely that these are virtually the only people in history who have seen real UFO’s or is it more likely that it was some unexplained light effect. I suppose it’s possible that these are virtually the only people in history to have seen UFO’s but it would be silly to pay much heed until there is more definitive evidence. Like an all-to-see UFO crash or something. It’s not so much that I am dead against UFO’s or supernatural phenomenon, it’s that I follow good evidence!! And ignore bad evidence!

    You say that I have blind faith that there is a natural explanation. There are two problems with this. One, it is not blind faith. It is the most sensible conclusion given the evidence. Two, it takes far, far more blind faith to believe that that plane load of people actually saw UFO’s, and far more blind faith to believe that someone was cured of cancer by god.

    I’m not sure why you mention viruses. Perhaps you think the conditions I mentioned involve viruses. They don’t. That’s the point. If they were caused by viruses we’d have an explanation!

    Obviously my worldview can cope with the facts of the world better that yours. I can treat all religions the same – I don’t have to convince myself that one is special. I can explain the lack of evidence for things as those things not really existing – I don’t have to make excuses for a god who would be purposefully hiding and not letting miracles be obvious for all to see. I can explain UFO sightings as not UFO sightings until sensibly obvious evidence is found. I can claim that naturalistic explanations are the only explanations because I am attune to objective evidence and not emotive and wishful thinking, and I can justify this because of the evidence which shows that whenever there is something that can be objectively observed it turns out to be not supernatural.

  18. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Peanut, I had a good Xmas thanks.

    I do think it silly to believe that the 5% unexplained phenomena is not
    natural, but that is an incredibly warranted conclusion based upon the
    complete lack of evidence or proof of anything supernatural to have ever
    existed.

    Question for you: what do you think evidence for the supernatural would look like?

    What I mean is, we’ve given a couple of examples of prima facie evidence for the supernatural. UFO phenomena which violate the known laws of physics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8vGzOProVY Eyewitness accounts of miracles, such as those documented by Craig Keener: http://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Credibility-New-Testament-Accounts/dp/0801039525 And other well-studied kinds of supernatural phenomena, such as the mediumship of Leonora Piper.

    In terms of inference to the best explanation, these all clearly qualify as evidence for the supernatural. If you want to claim that the opposite inference is “incredibly warranted”, you have a pretty heavy burden of proof. Time for some ‘splainin’!

    I can treat all religions the same – I don’t have to convince myself that one is special.

    Not to point out the obvious, but since all religions are worldviews, what you’re really saying is that you can treat all worldviews as the same—you don’t have to convince yourself that one is special. The problem is you clearly do believe that one worldview is “special”: yours—in the same way that Christians believe theirs is.

  19. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Sorry for the ridiculously late reply!

    To answer your question I think that Evidence of the supernatural would only appear within the correct supernatural worldview. If there is only a christian god I would not expect other religions to have the same evidence of miracles or answers to prayer that christianity does. But they do.
    Now I think by your question you are suggesting that god might purposefully not fully reveal His work for all to see. I guess this is begrudgingly possible but it does seem a little silly. The problem is, though, that god must be hiding his work even to the extent of allowing other religions the same level of evidence of miracles as the correct religion! This seems very silly.

    In response to the prima facie evidence of UFO’s, eyewitness accounts, and Lenora Piper:
    There will be far more people out there who claim that they have witnessed miracles from within Hinduism than people who claim to have seen UFO’s. And so your standard of evidence leads to a contradictory position.

    I feel like you (and Stuart etc.) have a split personality when in comes to evidence. On the one hand you know what objective evidence looks like, and you claim that there is all of this objective evidence out there to be seen, and you firmly believe that you have arrived at christianity objectively, but when it comes time to fronting up with it it is all just the confirmation bias. How is this different to any other religion?
    And I feel that my worldview REALLY is testable. All I need is to witness God or a miracle or a UFO crash for all to see. But all I ever get is a standard of evidence for which one has to be already committed to a worldview to see. Come to think of it, that is the salient nature of evidence, I think. That you can see it no matter your worldview. And miracles and UFO’s fall well short.

  20. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

    “Come to think of it, that is the salient nature of evidence, I think.”

    That is, of course, total and utter nonsense. Worldview can very much determine the reliability of evidence. I’m sure you have never looked into the reliability of miracle claims within Hinduism and compared them to those found in Christianity. Your worldview – presumably an atheistic naturalist one – precludes all possibility of miracles being true. They are very odd natural occurrences at best and fraudulent at worst.

    It’s gone very quiet around here these last few months. What’s up, guys? 

  21. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Bsquibs,

    I’m not sure why you think that evidence is not worldview independent. If it is not then how are we ever to evaluate our worldview?

    I have not looked in depth at miraculous claims within hunduism, or within christianity particularly. But any and all that I have read or heard about have poor evidence. If I were to tell you that I could levitate using my mind, you would demand a level of evidence for my claim which your own claims of miracles fail to meet.

    My worldview does not does not preclude miracles being true at all. Like I always say, if I saw a miracle tomorrow I would be a believer. Or if there were video evidence of a limb growing back or if everyone visiting a religious site had their cancer healed that would be good evidence. But this conveniently never happens.
    My worldview simply has a consistent standard of evidence. Things that really exist have good repeatable, accessible evidence.

  22. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Peanut, no worries about the late reply. I’ve only just got my internet back after moving (cough*Telecomincompetence*cough) so I’m not in a position to talk :)

    You say that…

    If there is only a christian god I would not expect other religions to have the same evidence of miracles or answers to prayer that christianity does. But they do.

    I can’t say I’ve heard of any very remarkable miracles or answered prayers in other religions. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but did you have any particular examples in mind?

    Mind you, if we’re taking this kind of scientific approach, I don’t think Christianity does predict a lack of miracles or answered prayers in other religions. On the contrary, I’d expect to find at least miracles. The Bible explicitly indicates that black magic is real and that the power behind it is demonic. So I’d be more concerned for the truth of Christianity if I didn’t find miracles in other religions.

    The problem is, though, that god must be hiding his work even to the extent of allowing other religions the same level of evidence of miracles as the correct religion! This seems very silly.

    Well, I don’t think this is happening at all. In fact, this really proves my point that evidence is just data interpreted according to your worldview. I interpret miracles in other religions as evidence that Christianity is true and that demons really exist. You interpret it as evidence that Christianity is false. So we obviously aren’t making any headway here.

    Btw, I don’t think God “hides”. I think people hide God; not the other way around. The Bible seems to indicate in Romans that all people have faculties designed, when properly functioning, to make God’s existence obvious to them. The problem is that because of sin, we suppress that proper function until our perception is so warped that the opposite conclusion actually seems more reasonable to us.

    There will be far more people out there who claim that they have witnessed miracles from within Hinduism than people who claim to have seen UFO’s. And so your standard of evidence leads to a contradictory position.

    Not sure why you think either of these things. Why think more people will claim to have seen miracles in Hinduism than UFOs? And why think that if they do, that’s evidence against Christianity?

    On the one hand you know what objective evidence looks like, and you claim that there is all of this objective evidence out there to be seen

    But I don’t. I’ve explicitly said there is no such thing as “objective” evidence. Evidence is only data which we’ve interpreted. And how we interpret it varies wildly depending on our precommitments. That’s why taking a so-called “evidential” apologetic approach with more educated people is typically very fruitless. That’s why I’m a so-called “presuppositionalist” :)

    and you firmly believe that you have arrived at christianity objectively

    I’m not sure how you’re using the term “objectively” here? Could you explain what you think it means?

    Incidentally, re your comment to Bsquibs…

    If I were to tell you that I could levitate using my mind, you would demand a level of evidence for my claim which your own claims of miracles fail to meet.

    I think that’s quite provably false. If someone I trusted told me that he had personally witnessed you levitate, had checked for wires and magnets, and he believed it was the real deal, then I would believe that you had levitated. That’s not an extraordinary standard of evidence—and most serious Christian miracle claims seem to meet it just fine.

    My worldview does not does not preclude miracles being true at all. Like I always say, if I saw a miracle tomorrow I would be a believer.

    A believer in what? A miracle is not self-interpreting. What would you conclude was different about the nature of reality, based on that miracle?

  23. Bsquibs
    Bsquibs says:

    I’m not sure why you think that evidence is not worldview independent.
    If it is not then how are we ever to evaluate our worldview?

    Because humans aren’t composed of 60% water and 40% rationality. I can see it with YEC’s when they approach the evidence that challenges the notion of a very young universe. I’m sure that I’m no different in my own way. But I wonder what makes you, the atheist, immune? IS there something within atheism that grants the non-believer some power?

    I suggest that your participation on this thread demonstrates that you aren’t immune. Why else would you spend so much time arguing against something you admit to never having investigated beyond visiting whywontgodhealamputees.com and the like.

    My worldview does not does not preclude miracles being true at all. Like
    I always say, if I saw a miracle tomorrow I would be a believer.

    By definition a miracle is an act of God. Stating that you would become a believer if you saw a miracle would be natural for anyone not burdened with staggering depths of intellectual dishonesty. It’s like saying “if I knew something to be true then I would believe it to be true”. Well, yes, I would expect so.

    Now if you became a believer tomorrow (and I’m not sure what that would get you – Satan believes in God) that is qualitatively different from being an atheist. You actually haven’t addressed my post. Rather, you have given an example that requires you to switch worldviews – even if only hypothetically speaking – and have written like this is of significance to my post.

    Does atheism either entirely or alomost certainly dismiss the possibility that God interceeds in the world (AKA a miracle)?

    Or if there were video evidence of a limb growing back or if everyone
    visiting a religious site had their cancer healed that would be good
    evidence. But this conveniently never happens.My worldview simply
    has a consistent standard of evidence. Things that really exist have
    good repeatable, accessible evidence.

    You see, peanutaixs, there are claims that cancers have been healed, just as there are claims that people have been brought back from the dead, and that any number of prayers have been answered. (A book by Craig S. Keener chronicling but a few of the countless contemporary miraculous claims was mentioned above, I believe.) You apparently dismiss any claim to the miraculous by first dismissing the evidence. To compound matters you haven’t even bothered to investigate these claims.

    You should listen to the recent debate between Louis Wolpert of the BHA and Edgar Andrews on Unbelievable. It was amusing to hear Wolpert repeat his mantra “Where is the evidence?” while also refusing to believe that any could exist.

    If you are fully convinced that there is no God, and, therefore, miracles are impossible, that is all well and good. But that does lead me to believe – based upon your posts – that your worldview very much colours how you interpret the evidence.

    My worldview simply
    has a consistent standard of evidence.

    Well, that’s really the crux of the debate, isn’t it? Asserting that atheism is based upon a “consistent standard of evidence” (and I’ll make a bet here that this is an attempt to co-opt science to try and make it output atheism) doesn’t really do anything to back up your claim. You’ve not elaborated on what this evidence is, nor have you told us how it promotes atheism. You may as well tell us that you are, in fact, Boudica.

    And, no, not everything that exists has good, repeatable and accessible evidence. What ever gave you such a notion? And how, pray tell, would you go about giving evidence to back such a clam up?

  24. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Bsquibs,

    I’ll try to hit the…..more seminal points:

    ” IS there something within atheism that grants the non-believer some power? ”

    You seem obsessed with Atheism. The skeptic has consistent standards of evidence, and such a person does not believe in the supernatural realm any more than they do astrology. You have inconsistent standards of evidence and so you believe in miracles but not astrology.

    ” Rather, you have given an example that requires you to switch worldviews”

    Exactly. My worldview is falsifiable – I am listening to the world around me, and I will inform my views from what the real world looks like. Your worldview is unfalsifiable – it doesn’t matter what data the world spits out you will not change your worldview.

    ” You apparently dismiss any claim to the miraculous by first dismissing
    the evidence.

    No. I have merely built a standard of evidence which doesn’t force me to believe any old claim that comes along.

    “If you are fully convinced that there is no God, and, therefore,
    miracles are impossible, that is all well and good. But that does lead
    me to believe – based upon your posts – that your worldview very much
    colours how you interpret the evidence.”

    You have it backwards. In all my life I have never seen a miracle despite being a christian until my mid twenties. I realised that the standard of evidence I had for miracles within christianity was the same as that for miracles within other religions and the same as astrology etc. So rather than believe in just about every silly worldview – many of which would be cpntradicting – I formed an epistemology which is informed by the world around me. That things have to attain a decent standard of evidence before they are worth believing. So, it is observation which has led me to a worldview, and not a worldview which has led me to believing observation1 and disbelieving obsertvation2 despite both of these observations having the same amount of worldview-independant evidence.

    “And, no, not everything that exists has good, repeatable and accessible
    evidence. What ever gave you such a notion? And how, pray tell, would
    you go about giving evidence to back such a clam up? ”

    It is the only consistent worldview.

  25. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Bsquibs,

    I’ll try to hit the…..more seminal points:

    ” IS there something within atheism that grants the non-believer some power? ”

    You seem obsessed with Atheism. The skeptic has consistent standards of
    evidence, and such a person does not believe in the supernatural realm
    any more than they do astrology. You have inconsistent standards of
    evidence and so you believe in miracles but not astrology.

    ” Rather, you have given an example that requires you to switch worldviews”

    Exactly. My worldview is falsifiable – I am listening to the world
    around me, and I will inform my views from what the real world looks
    like. Your worldview is unfalsifiable – it doesn’t matter what data the
    world spits out you will not change your worldview.

    ” You apparently dismiss any claim to the miraculous by first dismissing
    the evidence.

    No. I have merely built a standard of evidence which doesn’t force me to believe any old claim that comes along.

    “If you are fully convinced that there is no God, and, therefore,
    miracles are impossible, that is all well and good. But that does lead
    me to believe – based upon your posts – that your worldview very much
    colours how you interpret the evidence.”

    You have it backwards. In all my life I have never seen a miracle
    despite being a christian until my mid twenties. I realised that the
    standard of evidence I had for miracles within christianity was the same
    as that for miracles within other religions and the same as astrology
    etc. So rather than believe in just about every silly worldview – many
    of which would be cpntradicting – I formed an epistemology which is
    informed by the world around me. That things have to attain a decent
    standard of evidence before they are worth believing. So, it is
    observation which has led me to a worldview, and not a worldview which
    has led me to believing observation1 and disbelieving obsertvation2
    despite both of these observations having the same amount of
    worldview-independant evidence.

    “And, no, not everything that exists has good, repeatable and accessible
    evidence. What ever gave you such a notion? And how, pray tell, would
    you go about giving evidence to back such a clam up? ”

    It is the only consistent worldview.

    ” IS there something within atheism that grants the non-believer some power? ”

    You seem obsessed with Atheism. The skeptic has consistent standards of
    evidence, and such a person does not believe in the supernatural realm
    any more than they do astrology. You have inconsistent standards of
    evidence and so you believe in miracles but not astrology.

    ” Rather, you have given an example that requires you to switch worldviews”

    Exactly. My worldview is falsifiable – I am listening to the world
    around me, and I will inform my views from what the real world looks
    like. Your worldview is unfalsifiable – it doesn’t matter what data the
    world spits out you will not change your worldview.

    ” You apparently dismiss any claim to the miraculous by first dismissing
    the evidence.

    No. I have merely built a standard of evidence which doesn’t force me to believe any old claim that comes along.

    “If you are fully convinced that there is no God, and, therefore,
    miracles are impossible, that is all well and good. But that does lead
    me to believe – based upon your posts – that your worldview very much
    colours how you interpret the evidence.”

    You have it backwards. In all my life I have never seen a miracle
    despite being a christian until my mid twenties. I realised that the
    standard of evidence I had for miracles within christianity was the same
    as that for miracles within other religions and the same as astrology
    etc. So rather than believe in just about every silly worldview – many
    of which would be cpntradicting – I formed an epistemology which is
    informed by the world around me. That things have to attain a decent
    standard of evidence before they are worth believing. So, it is
    observation which has led me to a worldview, and not a worldview which
    has led me to believing observation1 and disbelieving obsertvation2
    despite both of these observations having the same amount of
    worldview-independant evidence.

    “And, no, not everything that exists has good, repeatable and accessible
    evidence. What ever gave you such a notion? And how, pray tell, would
    you go about giving evidence to back such a clam up? ”

    It is the only consistent worldview.

  26. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Peanut.

    My worldview is falsifiable – I am listening to the world around me, and I will inform my views from what the real world looks like.

    Okay, so your worldview is built on the scientific method?

    How do you solve the problem that science is always wrong then? (It may become increasingly accurate, but any scientific theory is just an approximation. And you have no way of knowing how approximate until you’re proven wrong.)

    And how do you solve the problem that science can’t prove truths? (Only falsehoods. Science does not discover how things are. It discovers how they are not.)

    I don’t understand how you can know that miracles don’t happen, given the way you say your worldview works. Surely the best you could say is that miracles have yet to be conclusively disproven?

    I have merely built a standard of evidence which doesn’t force me to believe any old claim that comes along.

    Do you think Christians are “forced” to believe any old claim that comes along? If so, why?

    I formed an epistemology which is informed by the world around me.

    Since you’ve obviously put some thought into this, I’d like to know a bit more about your epistemology. For example, do you hold to an internalist or an externalist view of knowledge? Are you a realist or an anti-realist? How do you solve the problem of induction? And most importantly, how do you find warrant or justification, since it seems like a purely scientific epistemology would furnish almost no knowledge at all?

    That things have to attain a decent standard of evidence before they are worth believing.

    Could you show us the evidence that supports this claim?

  27. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    Not to interrupt, but I was reading this conversation with some interest. It
    really reminded me of the movie ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats,’ except that in
    reality, McGregor would not run through the wall at the end…

     

    Bnonn you said ‘So even in cases where all the evidence is AGAINST
    naturalistic explanations, you just have to hold to your blind faith that there
    is such an explanation.’

     

    To that, given I agree with Peanut, I would just say that you would
    expect  there to be a natural explanation for unexpected events, or
    ‘miracles.’ In the absence of an obvious explanation, it would be a
    fantastically interesting process to find out what the actual cause was.

     

    However, while the atheist is free to take a step back and review the
    evidence, I don’t really think the responsibility is on the atheist. If a pious
    Christian is unexpectedly cured of cancer, the Christian faith still has all
    their work to do in order to prove cause and effect. But the crux is probably
    this – let’s say an apparently miraculous event were to occur (cured of cancer,
    for example). Christians might subsequently attribute this miracle to God, in
    part as an affirmation of his existence. But what happens if subsequently it is
    found that this pious person had rare genetics that allowed their, lung cells,
    say, to attack the cancer and eradicate it? Science probably then takes a sample
    of the cells, experients, and develops a new method of curing lung cancer. I
    would wager that for 99% of Christians, this disproof of a supposed miracle
    would do nothing to dissuade their faith. ‘Oh, well this time it wasn’t a
    miracle, but miracles do still happen, and God is real.’ Or worse, as with
    evolutionary biology, they might manipulate the evidence to say ‘oh well God has
    intervened by giving us this remarkable human being with special genetics’ (a la
    ID theory). On the flip side, if, as an atheist, you could definitively
    demonstrate that pious Christians could pray for and receive miracles from God,
    or simply receive miracles, and that God could be demonstrated as the cause,
    then of COURSE i would reconsider my faith. I am not bound by the strained
    desire to defend a position in spite of the evidence.

     

    Unless you happen to disagree, and would lose your faith in God were a
    miracle to be disproven, then my point is simply that arguments over the
    existence and cause of miracles are moot, because you won’t change your mind and
    will hang on tenuous evidence, and further even if miracles do exist, you still
    have all your work ahead of you to prove they have a designer.

     

    In my life, including through the many hours spent in Churches in 5 different
    countries, some of them as a child Christian, I have never witnessed or been
    presented anything convincing regarding miracles. Granted, my non-exposure
    doesn’t prove or disprove anything, but I would ask God why he does such a good
    job of concealing himself. Flipside – I have seen many, many supposed miracle
    ‘faith’ healings which have amounted to exactly nothing. I have also, in
    Australia, heard of the stories of Christians, sometimes at the head of their
    church, faking a cure of their own cancer at the hands of God, to the temporary
    joy of their congregations. The lie in these miracles never seems to shake the
    faith of the deceived. On top of all that, and like Sam Harris, I find the kind
    of faith that thinks God shows preference and introduces miracles to the lives
    of some but not others, gifting health to westerners  in the form of miracles
    but no miracle for aids in africa, to be a moral obscenity.
     

  28. Peanutaixs
    Peanutaixs says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Hmmn, I did post a response to you, but it seems to have disappeared. Oh well.

    I don’t think I really base my worldview on science, it’s more that I think that observation of the world leads to ideas like falsifiability. For instance, I observe that religious people have contradicting ideas on how the world works, and that they have similar bases for their beliefs – usually long ago historical claims which are very at odds with the world which I observe today. When one incorporates these contradicting worldviews into one’s own I think it inevitable that falsifiability is a conclusion.

    I agree with you that science is emotionally unsatisfying (“science is always wrong”). So is maths and logic. I can even remember the events which built up to me realizing this while I was at university. It really was quite a lot like giving up religion. Discovering a vacuum where you once ‘knew’ such emotionally fulfilling ‘truths’.
    I would argue even stronger than you have that while the Results or Output of scientific theories become increasingly accurate, the abstract Concepts which those theories postulate seem completely irreverent to the idea that they might be heading to some sort of asymptote/conclusion.

    I’m not really sure what you mean about science only proving falsehoods. That Newton’s theory of gravitation is falsifiable does not take away from how very correct it is. It has predictive properties, and so it is True. It very much describes how things are. Perhaps you could illustrate your point by explaining how you think that Newtonian gravity only describes how things are Not??

    “Surely the best you could say is that miracles have yet to be conclusively disproven?”
    “Do you think Christians are “forced” to believe any old claim that comes along? If so, why?”

    Okay but you, then, can only say at best that Krishna has yet to be conclusively disproven. I guess that you would claim positive knowledge of a worldview that excludes Krishna and so you therefore know that Krishna doesn’t exist. I would claim the same – that I have positive knowledge of a worldview which shows that miracles don’t occur. As I think I have mentioned earlier it is theoretically possible that god is hiding and so doesn’t meet my expectations of what a miracle looks like. But I don’t buy this. If I lowered my incredulity towards miracles then to be consistent I would have to believe in a plethora of other beliefs, many of which would be contradicting. This is why I claim that a miracle-believer should also believe in astrology etc. Objectively both have similar standards of evidence. Subjectively however….

    I can well imagine a christian claiming that they know that astrology is false because of other things. Maybe a bible verse or something, and they would sincerely believe that astrology is false and miracles are true even though they can’t show astrology to be different at an evidenciary level. But how is this different to what the astrologer would do? When pushed into believing miracles just as they do astrology the astrologer will reach into other parts of their worldview to explain why astrology is true and christianity not.

    This dancing around is something that I don’t think I have to do. I think my worldview is much simpler, my standard of evidence is far more consistent.

    Since you’ve obviously put some thought into this….”

    Forgive me as I familiarize myself with the terms things are given………… I’m not sure I acknowledge the distinction between internalism and externalism. When individual human beings consider the concept ‘tree’ they are considering and manipulating internal ‘abstract’ objects. But those internal abstract objects are obviously totally informed by external stimuli, for if a human was born and raised without any exposure to ‘tree’ then they would be completely at a loss when asked to consider the concept, and also, everyone’s abstract concept ‘tree’ is slightly different owing to different experiences, upbringing, and genetics. I don’t believe in a set of universals somewhere. We are products of the universe and so we understand it. Understanding the universe is done by recognizing patterns – what some call ‘universals’.

    I think that there is a real external world out there, but that it is accessible only through our minds which can interpret the same things differently – and there’s the rub. The only way to know if your interpretation actually reflects the real world is to make falsifiable statements. To not do so is at once the act of being lost in the anti-real.

    The problem of induction. In one sense I really don’t understand the problem with induction. We all have to use it, and it works rather well. The only problem that I can see people might have with it is when they wish that knowledge was the way they want it to be – many would like it to be absolute and deterministic. To me this is like wishing that an electron behaved like a macroscopic particle. It might help people with their mental health but it is a willful refusal to accept the reality with which we are presented. When confronted with an electron which goes through Both slits at the same time we simply have to drop our previous model of how the world works, and build a more complete one. The person who has a problem with induction is the analogue of the person who proclaims that because the electron went through both slits that all is lost and there is no such thing as knowledge. Nonsense! Come to peace with having to let go of the way you Want the world to work and build a model of how it Actually works.

    “That things have to attain a decent standard of evidence before they are worth believing.”
    “Could you show us the evidence that supports this claim?”

    Again, the contradictory beliefs that one must hold with a lower standard.

  29. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Peanut…

    For instance, I observe that religious people have contradicting ideas on how the world works, and that they have similar bases for their beliefs – usually long ago historical claims which are very at odds with the world which I observe today. When one incorporates these contradicting worldviews into one’s own I think it inevitable that falsifiability is a conclusion.

    Let’s start here.

    1. What do you mean by saying that religious people have contradicting ideas on how the world works? Do you mean they have contradicting beliefs about scientific issues? Or are you referring to more philosophical questions, like the existence and nature of God?

    2. What makes you say that different religions have similar bases for their beliefs? Isn’t that begging the question against, say, my claim that the historical proof for Christianity is much stronger than competing claims from religions like Islam or Mormonism?

    3. Moreover, why focus purely on historical claims? For example, while Christianity is a religion that ultimately revolves around historical claims, there are many other forms of evidence to support its truth. There are many arguments which show beyond reasonable doubt that theism—and especially Christian theism—is the only reasonable worldview. For example, arguments which show that the cause of the universe must be something with attributes only God has. Or arguments which look at the preconditions of knowledge. Etc.

    4. Why is it important that historical claims are at odds with what you observe today? For one thing, what you observe is only a tiny fraction of what has ever happened. So, by what principle do you get from “I do not observe this” to “Therefore, this never happened”? For another thing, aren’t you presupposing the regularity of nature—that the world works the same way now as it did in the past? Why think that? Have you observed it to be true? For a third thing, your own worldview is based on the same standard of evidence. For it’s not as if you have observed most of the scientific facts you lay claim to. You talk about the double-slit experiment, for example—but have you performed it yourself? Or are you relying on the testimony of others? If the latter, how can you non-question-beggingly dismiss claims that contradict your worldview while accepting claims that support it?

    5. How does the fact that people disagree about things suggest we need falsifiability? Wouldn’t it be much better to work the other way? Find proof for one set of claims, so we can know the others are false? That way we’d have positive knowledge, rather than just knowing what isn’t true.

    Just some basic questions that spring to mind.

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