CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Fellow Cadrist Chris "Layman" Price has a fine article from a few years ago about the meaning of Good Friday which also traces the linguistic origins of the term.

This article is about historical harmonization issues with the timing of events on the first Easter weekend. There are a number of weirdities, among which is the question of whether Jesus died on a Friday or some other day!

The standard account (which I will eventually argue in favor of, by the way) is that Jesus holds what we call the Last Supper (instituting the first Lord's Supper) on Thursday night; is arrested outside Jerusalem later that night (or very early Friday morning around or after midnight); is run through an informal trial early Friday morning before sunrise; is taken to the Temple to be officially charged at first dawn Friday morning; then is crucified a little later Friday morning (after bouncing around between Herod and Pilate in close proximity while the Sanhedrin tries to get a ratification of the execution), dying sometime mid-afternoon Friday and entombed before sunset.

My reader may observe that there is no way to get "three days and nights" out of this account, even on the most generous reckonings of partial days; but that phraseology only occurs once in the Gospels, specifically in a scene of GosMatt, which in GosLuke's parallel account of the scene (Luke 11:29-30) doesn't feature that saying.

(My reader might also observe that Matthew, or whoever finally authored/edited/redacted our canonical Gospel According To Matthew, must have thought for whatever reason that that phraseology was historical to the scene, because GosMatt features the shortest dead-time of all the Gospel accounts, far less than what Jesus is reported predicting earlier at Matt 12:38-40. We'll be getting back to that oddity, too, later.)

If your mind isn't reeling yet over the idea that Jesus didn't properly predict how long He'd stay "in the heart of the earth" and/or that Matthew got the timing hugely wrong -- and we haven't even gotten to the first main topic of this article yet! -- and if you still happen to care about the historical issues involved here, click on down the rabbit hole! (Or down the sheep shute rather!)

I've been having an interesting discussion with Dr. Keith Parsons, an old friend, roommate and sparring partner of a friend of mind (Dr. Victor Reppert of Dangerous Idea) over at the Secular Web channel of Patheos, specifically in the comments of Bradley Bowen's article "This Knee Won't Bow".

Because Disqus (the comment engine at Patheos) gets kind of screwy trying to keep track of the threads of a conversation, and doesn't always indicate when a comment has been properly posted (leading to inadvertent double-posts), I'm going to try to collect our side of the commentary discussion (there are several threads) here for further reference. (Although Blogger's comment system has an intrinsic wordcount limit now, so we probably won't be able to continue in our own comments below, even if Dr. P wants to.)

This isn't my Easter "sermon" this year (I never really know if I'm going to do one of those beforehand), but a much more technical discussion, although on a very (and very properly) emotional topic. So unless you want to chew through a bunch of technical mulch from me, DON'T CLICK HERE ON THE JUMP!! {g}


There weren't any actual new goofy theories to trot out this year for disparaging Easter, so they had to settle for this?

"They", this year, are Hal Taussig (a Visiting Professor at the Union Theological Seminary and a founding member of the now defunct Jesus Seminar) and a group of liberal/sceptical scholars and "religious leaders" (some of them nominally Christian, others vaguely or just outright not, many of whom are JSem alumni), who have decided that the only way to cash in on controversy this year is to propose and release A New New Testament. Never let it be said that I haven't done my part to market them now!

I fraternally anticipate questions. Let the FAQ commence.

 His part 2 answer to mine is here

....Before getting into specifics I think it's important to understand the basic difference between the orientation of a believer and a skeptic. The kind of skeptics that tend to make up most of the atheist ranks on the net are scientifically inclined people who view the world through the lens of some kind of scientific orientation. Believers tend to be more "liberal arts"oriented in that their top concerns are not scientific proof. I have observed time after time the atheist constantly a mistake in thinking that the reason to believe in God is because one needs to explain that world. That is catered to by God argument, but God arguments are attempts to reach out to others so they embody the concerns of non believers. The reason for belief in God is not to explain the world. Atheist think this so they always oriented things in those terms. This is will be important in the discussion below becuase Mr. Lowder is constantly saying things about hypothesis. one of my major arguments is that belief is not an hypothesis. It' snot an attempt to explain the world, at least not in the same kind of scientific terms. Thus the arguments he makes taht embody the idea of competing explanatory power are non applicable.
 ....Lowder never comes to terms with my core reason for assuming that Bayes can't deal with God. He seems to understand the basic reason itself but rather than answering it he puts it into a frame work that tries to cast aspersions on it then uses red herrings and white rabbits to divert attention form the inadequacy of not answering the issue:

Again, Metacrock claims that we can’t use BT to measure the probability of God’s existence. Why? Because BT is not good
for determining the answer to questions about reality that are philosophical by nature and that would require an understanding of realms beyond, realms of which we know nothing.
In other words, Metacrock seems to embrace a kind of so-called “skeptical theism,” according to which we don’t have sufficient knowledge in order to measure the probability of certain items of evidence on theism (such as, but not limited to, evil). That position is a double-edged sword, however, for it implies that we also don’t have sufficient knowledge to conclude that certain items of evidence (such as, say, fine-tuning) are more probable on theism than on naturalism.

 I'll accept that assessment provisionally for now. In response to it Lowder argues that we can use Bayes to undrstand God's existence. In so saying he's already lost becuase he doesn't understand where I'm coming from, which Tillich, and that means we can't speak of God "existing." So it sounds like he's got hold of the actual argument but really he doesn't deal with it. He's right that I think Bayes can't used to access the reality of God becuase God is beyond our understanding and not subject empirical data. He says this is wrong but then instead of proving other wise he shifts to a bait and switch. He says:

As Doug Hubbard writes, “We use probabilistic methods because we lack perfect data, not in spite of lacking it. If we had perfect data, probabilities would not be required.”[1] Furthermore, “It is a fallacy that when a variable is highly uncertain, we need a lot of data to reduce the uncertainty. The fact is that when there is a lot of uncertainty, less data is needed to yield a large reduction in uncertainty.”
 But that's in a different sense really. It's true that probability is used becuase we don't have specifics and we trying to find a general range by extrapolating inductively. That is not a guarantee that we can find it. Probability can only pertain to that which is within our grasp empirically. If we do not have empirical data of something we can't make a probability for it. On the other hand, if we have other reasons to see it as a certainty then it has no probability. A certainty is not probable. These are two separate reasons why BT can't tell us about God's reality. Especially since the certainty can't be understood in the empirical way that scinece demands. Just becuase we say we are getting at something doesn't' mean we really are. How can we know if we are, if it's beyond our understanding?
....O yes and here Lowder tries to play off Bayes using apologists and philosophers of religion:

Again, Metacrock argues that we don’t have empirical evidence about God and, again, Bayesian philosophers of religion (including theists, agnostics, and atheists) must disagree with him. Metacrock needs to study Richard Swinburne’s classic, The Existence of God.[3] Although I disagree with his conclusions, I largely agree with his overall Bayesian approach.

 No doubt I should study Swinburne. I know I'm missing a lot by not knowing his works. That's a real failing on my part. That doesn't mean that he's right here. It also doesn't mean that Lowder isn't sort of pulling a fast one by assuming Swinburne really thinks he has a certain method of proving God's "existence." Not know more about how he does it he could just be setting up co-determinate as I spoke of in the part. I'm not opposed to that method at all. Find a reason to think some aspect is a trace of God, such as religious experience, then use that as the indicator that you are dealing with God. That's not "proof" but it's "warrant for belief." The problem is if these philosophers of religion really think Bayes is just a direct root to proving God exists then that actually proves we can't be certain though Bayes. Lowder disagrees. Two schools are squared off, they both use this amazing mathematical miracle that's suppose to guarantee scientific truth for us and yet the results are broken down long ideological lines. Doesn't that really kind of indicate that people just see what they want to see and there's scientific precision there?
....Then he quotes me about the prior:
Where we set the prior, which is crucial to the outcome of the whole thing, is always going to be a matter of ideological assumption.
then he says:

With all due respect to Metacrock, this statement reveals that he simply doesn’t know what he is talking about. He needs to study the philosophy of science and specifically confirmation theory. According to the epistemic interpretation of probability, the probability of a statement is a measure of the probability that a statement is true, given some stock of knowledge.
 I'm glad he has such respect for me.I'm not sure what it's based upon. what it should be based upon is this: I did 10 years of Ph.D. work and half of that was in history ideas studying the history of scinece. He doesn't understand he history of scinece. He doesn't know what he's talking about because he's playing bait and switch. Look what he's done. He assumes that because he has a phony "confirmation theory" it aims at doing something that's proof that it does. Are we still talking about getting new information God. I don't think so. He's assuming we don't need new information because there's no God there to get info on so we know all about God we need to know. So he's just substituted the way the prior works in Bayes actual thinknig for an quick ideolgoical fix. He totally abandons the new information issue and asserts that because he has theories they must be true. He goes on:

 In other words, epistemic probability measures a person’s degree of belief in a statement, given some body of evidence. The epistemic probability of a statement can vary from person to person and from time to time (based upon what knowledge a given person had at a given time).[4] For example, the epistemic personal probability that a factory worker Joe will get a pay raise might be different for Joe than it is for Joe’s supervisor, due to differences in their knowledge.

 That's pretty useless. Epistemic probability is a measure of the degree of belief. I believe my stuff so I guess it's real probable.  None of this is a guarantee that we are going to get new info about God.
....Here he pulls an even more deeply seated bait and switch. He substitutes the assertion of rival explainations, where as they are not rival explain at all. They do not seek to explain the same things. Religious belief doesn't' seek to explain Newtonian physics or the reason for expansion of the singularity. When was the last time you heard a scientist try to explain sanctifying grace, or supererogatory merit? The only reason he can try to make them seem like rivals is through the reductionism of atheist ideology where all knowledge is reduced to the level that the reductionist can control. There's only one form of knowledge in that view, not scientific but only the exact science that supports atheist assertions. Thus anything else we just lose the phenomena then it doesn't exist it need not be considered. This part of the same tendency that reduces God to just one more fact in the universe. He thinks if he disbelieves God his universe is just like mine except minus one thing, God. When God is being itself the very fabric of the universe is altered if God is taken out. God is not just another fact but the basis of the whole. Since that can't be accessed through empirical means but must be experienced we are talking apples and oranges in a huge way on a huge scale. To then assert that we can stretch out knowledge over into this realm that is beyond us merely because we wish to is ridiculous. it's obvious what's really being done is the reductions hatchet job. Whatever aspects of reliability we can't subject our methods of truth regime building we just hack off and pretend like it doesn't' exist.
....Inside the deeper level bait and switch (the switch is the reductionist move the bait is talk about rival hypthesies) the quotes Drapper again:

The degree of modesty of a hypothesis depends inversely on how much it asserts (that we do not know by rational intuition to be true). Other things being equal, hypotheses that are narrower in scope or less specific assert less and so are more modest than hypotheses that are broader in scope or more specific.
 See the problem?  "other things" are not equal. We are comparing empirical data to "the heart" we are comparing scientific domain to philosophical, religious, and mystical domains, we are comparing objective to subjective, physical to spatial. There is no equal footing not epistemological, not noetically, no ontologically, not in any way. Then further he's speaking as everything is a hypothesis. Every aspect of knowledge and experience has to spindled, folded and mutilated and made to fit into the realm of science as a "hypothesis." I don't remember Madame Guyon every referring to sense of God's presence as "an hypothesis." I don't recall Dōgen Zenji calling satori "hypothesis." By the time you make the step to reduce reality to competing hypotheses you've already lost the phenomena and reduced away the mystical. To even formulate the issue in those terms is to create a palimpsest on the topic that has ruled out the very methodology through which new information about God could come. The other quotations he makes form Draper suffer form the same limitations. To put them into the form of competing hypotheses means a prori one is writing off through which the new information of God would come. This goes back to my observation at the top, the reason to believe in God is not explain the universe.

 The next quote form Drapper brings this home:

The degree of coherence of a hypothesis depends on how well its parts (i.e. its logical implications) fit together. To the extent that the various claims entailed by a hypothesis support each other (relative only to what we know by rational intuition), the hypothesis is more coherent. To the extent that they count against each other, the hypothesis is less coherent. Hypotheses that postulate objective uniformity are, other things being equal, more coherent than hypotheses that postulate variety, either at a time or over time
 There's no way one can make a rational comparison of God experience to objective data in those terms. They are going to work together and since the requirement is for an alien state of affairs from the point of view of new God info, that's going to be ejected up front. So you have two clashing world views and one has to subdue the other. The one you favor is going to bias the whole outcome. The only logical answer is not to seek God in scientific terms. Seek God on the terms has given us to seek him; in the heart. Either you are in or you are out. If you are out just say "I am out." don't try to pretend like "I have triumphed beaten the other side."
....Yet human nature will persist in it's insatiable quest to triumph and vanquish the foe. Lowser says:

The upshot is that the intrinsic epistemic probability of a hypothesis is entirely objective, not “a matter of ideological assumption” as Metacrock claims.
Holy proclamation Batman! What he really means is "we don't want it to be that way!" Maybe it will be?  Look at what assumptions have to be made to read the point of that statement: He thinks he can just declare that it's not ideology and it wont be because he says its not. If it is of course that statement is pure propaganda. Epistemic probability is entirely objective. That may be but objectivity itself is a pretense. There is no objectivity form a human standpoint. Obviously this bares the marks of a truth regime to just declare that it's objective. That is not grantee that it is. Moreover, just becuase the philosophical move he terms "epistemic probability" is objective doesn't rule out the bait and switch that got us to this point in the first place. It's based upon comparing world views as though they compete to explain the same things when they don't. That means the one he values is lauded as the better explanation becuase it's per selected to explain that which he deems should be explained. The reality the "competing" explanation explains are not not what he wants explained so he deems those "unimportant. non existence. imaginary, wrong," assumed this is their disproof.
....In effect here's what he's doing, it's really circular. He asserts that the only valid explanation is his becuase only his explains what he wants explained. That gives them the false ground to assume it's better when in reality it's not competing. Now the bits of his world view that actually conflict with God belief are not science, they are either philosophy or ideology. Those are not the same things but I'm sure his view, like mine, contains both. So he sets up this truth regime that assumes there's only one form of knowledge and of cousre that's the one he feels he has going for his view because it explains what he wants to explain, the other stuff is not there.
....He pulls the Drapper hypothesis idea in arguing against my statement hat a prior at 50-50 would yield a high probability of God. I documented those how have done the work to show it's possible. He's already undermined his own argument. He has this whole group of philosophers who argue for God with the BT. Of cousre he would argue he can beat them but all that proves is that it's not as cut and dried as scinece, it's not precise it's not a done deal, it depends upon your assumptions. Notice he sort of guides us away from the admission that where you set the prior is going to deterine things and that setting the prior is going to involve ideology and opinion and bias. To avoid that admission he sticks ins this propagana about Draper and how great certain kinds of hypothesis are. Yet he has to make the kinds of assumption I'm indicting to get tot tha point where he can assert the objectivity.
....Here's another form of the switch, what's being swtiched is differing domains and differing aims of the explainations:

This is refuted by Draper’s objective criteria explained above. Since metaphysical naturalism and (metaphysical) supernaturalism are equally modest and equally coherent, it follows that they have equal intrinsic epistemic probabilities. Since there are other options besides naturalism and supernaturalism, however, it follows that the intrinsic probabilities of both naturalism and supernaturalism are less than 1/2.

 The fact that they they are both modest and coherent so they must be the same, the fact that explain different aspects of reality is totally left out. They don't compete. Of if they do compete it's in areas more directly empirical than belief in God. The insertion of "other options" is also bogus because at this point we have been doing this switch to comparison of apples and oranges. now there's a possibly that other fruit is involved. This really can't be the way to go about it.  He pulls the rug out from underhimself:

Unlike naturalism and supernaturalism, however, naturalism and theism are not symmetrical claims. Theism entails supernaturalism but is not entailed by it; theism is one of many variants or more specific versions of supernaturalism. Thus, theism is less modest than supernaturalism. Furthermore, theism is not epistemically certain given supernaturalism. So metaphysical naturalism has a higher intrinsic epistemic probability than theism
 This is really problematic he's just juggling labels. first of all I'm not a theist. I'm a panenthiest. Secondly, in making his admission he sort of undoes what he did above. He has supposedly equal hypothesis even though explain different aspects of reality, now he brings the comparison into the range of unequal hypothesis. All red herring becuase none of it get's around the fact that they explain different things, they use different methods, they do do not share the same domains of magisteria, there's no reason to compare them to each other. One can be scientific and use materialist analysis of economic and society and biology and phsyics without being an atheist or refusing belief in God.
....Not to even mention the issue about the meaning of the term "supernatural." In the enlightenment "supernatural" because a pejorative to be little chruch dogma. That's even more the case today. It's a way for atheists to make a king's x on their views because they are sanctioned by science, naturalism, hard concrete the fortress of facts, and to cast aspersions on Christian beliefs as 'magic.' Chrsitains can be labeled as silly and unreal because they are "supernatural" which is like wave a red flag to a bull; read "stupid, pretend, made up, unprovable." The term was employed by  Pseudo-Dionysus in around 500AD it refereed to the power of God to raise human nature to the higher level of spiritual wisdom and moral perfection. It did not mean magic, it did not mean psychic powers or unseen realms. The upshot of this is that the materialist bifurcates reality so God can't work in the natural. Anything of God is automatically supernatural becuase for the atheist it is "imaginary." The believer understands that God is working in the ordinary world all the time. The prevalence of "naturalistic" evidence in connection with God sign (such as brain chemistry with religious experience) is not proof of a purely naturalistic origin becuase God works in the natural and through the natural. Yet that labeling of natural/supernatual is the atheist way of dismissing evidence that's not convenient and cant be denied. That means when it comes to setting the prior the atheist never has to accept any prior set by a believer because it's automatically tainted just being about God. Being about God makes it "supernatural" that translates to "pretend, unreal. stupid."
....Never does he disprove he notion that where you set the prior is crucial to the outcome. Moreover, there  is no fair UN-baised way to set it. He does the bait and switch with reductionism to get around that by trying make them be about the same thing then ruling that which doesn't' explain what he wants explained. That's not actually a disproof of my original argument. Philosopher Victor Reppert says:

How in blazes do you calculate probabilities? Probability theory tells you how you get from a prior probability to a posterior probability. What it does not tell you is what prior probabilities are correct. Hence I can begin with a probability of 1 for the Resurrection and end up with a probability of 1 for the resurrection. Ditto for a probability of zero. So telling me to think exclusively in terms of probabilities tells me squat. Probability theory does tell you how, given enough evidence and a small enough split between probabilities, we can come to an agreement about whether something is true or not. But if there is a large split between antecedent probabilities, we can easily have rational people taking opposite beliefs to their graves.

I happen to think that there are no right or wrong antecedent probabilities. We start with the probabilities we have and go from there. My view is that a Bayesian-rational person can conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.[1]

 That essentially backs what I've said. If you don't have new information (the kind of new info one has available on God is not the kind that Lowder will accept as information) the end result is going to be biased. What does he say that actually disproves this? He says a bunch of theoretical stuff about making hypothesis that assume that you can treat religious belief and mystical experience the same way you would an hypothesis about mockingbird feeding habits in the south. Obviously that's not the case. Bringing different kinds of fruit into it (other ideas that are neither Christian or atheist) doesn't help any because they are going to have the same split. Bodi Darma never refereed to enlightenment as "hypothesis." Spiritual reality is experienced but it is not empirical in the scientific sense.
....At this point he deals why my statements about Unwin's book. I present several "topics" that he uses to illustrate the kinds of thing one would use to set the prior. Here we have an example of how Athiests slay me. Here's a guy who not read the book, admits he has not, he's trying to lecture guy who has read the book how he's wrong about what he read.

I say:
Stephen Unwin tries to produce a simple analysis that would prove the ultimate truth of God using Bayes. The calculations he gives for the priors are as such:

Uwin says:
Recognition of goodness (D = 10)
Existence of moral evil (D = 0.5)
Existence of natural evil (D = 0.1)
Intra-natural miracles (e.g., a friend recovers from an illness after you have prayed for him) (D = 2)
Extra-natural miracles (e.g., someone who is dead is brought back to life) (D = 1)
Religious experiences (D = 2)[10]

Lowder says:

Metacrock’s article reminds me that I need to add Unwin’s book to my list of books to read. Since I haven’t read it, I cannot yet comment on how he justifies these values. I do, however, have one nitpick. Metacrock refers to these values as “priors,” but that is obviously wrong for the simple reason that probability values, regardless of one’s philosophical interpretation of probability, are by definition always real numbers between 0 and 1 inclusive. It would appear that the D values quoted by Metacrock are what is known as “Bayes’ factors.”
I read the book and Lowder didn't. Unwin says, I quote from the book:

The inconvenience of employing any kind of systematic approach to analysis is that it demands the establishment of a system. Let's begin by establishing our system. We have Six evidentairy areas to consider:

(1) the recognition of Goodness
(2) The existence of moral evil
(3) the existence of natural evil
(4) intro-natrual miracles[2]

These are the issues Unwin uses to do the calculation to set the prior. These are the issues he uses for the whole busienss of the BT in relation to probability of God. Who is to say this is the exhaustive take on issues? The formulation I quoted with the numbers is the result of the palimpsest. It's the understanding of goes into that that is at issue. The assertion that final result is valid and it proves soemthing is not a done deal merely becuase it's blessed by mathematics. Unwin himself says his numbers are subjective.
 ....My argument, which Lowder does not deal with, is simply that these are not done deals. Many skeptics want to see these issues as done deals, there's evil in the world, therefore there can't be a God." if that's true than the whole busienss of making a probabilistic calculation is a farce. If it is true that if evil is in the world there can't be a God we don't need to quantify how much of life invovles evil to disbelieve God. If that's all there is to it why even bother with the math. evil exits, therefore, there is no God. These are not done deals they are issues for theologians. Is it true that "if Evil, then no God?" I think few theologians would have some things to say about that. The standard atheist dismissal would the Dawkinsian refusal to accept theological answers on the grounds that "since they are stupid I don't have to know what they are." Of cousre the miracles, trying to put a number on that would be sheer stupidity. That's going to be the most contentious arguemnt of all. In part one I talk about he circular reasoning of atheits in dealing with miracles. Lowders wants to believe they don't think that way but I've been doing this internet atheist war stuff for 15 years I've dealt with thousands of argumetns with atheists about miracle I know do think that way. "We have never accepted it before so we can't accept it know" rather, "we don't have to." They create a false history of no miracles by pretending all the claims of the past have been over turned, when in reality many of them were merely assumed to be untrue based upon dismissal of the past. One can probably trace that back and back an back to the first miracle claim.[3]
....They can't accept that there could be miracles if they did they wouldn't be atheist any more. To have miracles in the first place there must be some form of the divine. So that's like asking a creationist to make open ended findings that might prove evolution is real. It's like saying "would you please be willing to be booted out of your club to day and to admit that your world view is wrong?" A lot of people find that a tough one. Looking back over the issues he has never answered or even come to terms with my most basic argument: belief in God is about obtaining scientific proof of a new fact in the universe, the addition of God to that universe. It's a phenomenological of reality as a whole such one comes to understand noetically one's place in being. That is a journey one takes inside one's self, it is not lined with road markers from the world of scientifically empirical data but with road markers not accessible to those outside one's head. Naturally there touchstones in reality in the form of inter-subjectivity that make it possible for us to share aspects of the journey with the link minded. There's no way to share it with those who will not accept even it's existence. My argument has been that you can't base a mathematical probability for a reality of something that is only apparent though phenomenal apprehensions and world views that are only shared inter-subjectively. The atheist's game is one of reductionism. They want to reduce all knowledge to one thing, that which they control. They can never control the world of the phenomenological.
....If we had the empirical evidence of God we need to make calculations of probability we would not need calculations of probably. The fact that we don't have it cannot be construed as a low probability for God  any meaningful way because it's not meaningful that there is a low probability in those terms. For those who have experienced the reality of God it's a certainty need to probablizing. For those who refuse to find God God's way and who demand that methods under control are the only form of knowledge and the way to know the certainty of God's reality si a close book. It was at one time a closed to me as well, I was an atheist. It doesn't have to remain one but it' snot a book that will be opened by mathematics. One one guy who opens cosmically sealed books.

[1] Victor Reppert, "how shall we follow probabilities" Dangerous Idea Blog. oct 28, 2012
[2] Stephen D. Unwin, The Probability of God a Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth.New York, New York: Three Rivers Press,2003, 93.
[3] Unwin doesn't argue about miracles he merely assumes them as a matter of course for the sake of the calculation: "I will decline to speculate as to weather not authentic extra-natural miracles have occurred I have no way of knowing the answer..." (122) he then assumes based upon the reports for the sake of the calculus. I think that's fair but that much signifies the subjective nature of the issues, as one might also argue the evidence is better than skeptics are willing to admit. There are skeptics who might not accept this appraoch at all.

 Jeff Lowder wrote an article attacking my criticisms of the use of Bayes theorem to plot the probability of God. "Is It a Crock to Use Bayes’ Theorem to Measure Evidence about God? Part 1
March 3, 2013." The point of my original article is that you can't apply scientific probably to something as basic and metahpysal as God, the ground of being, the basis of all reality. The nature of Bayes theorum is such that it only works where new information is obtainable. The sort of new information one can have about God is not available to scientific scrutiny and thus there is no new information. That means the "prior" (the prior probability that must be obtained tom make the theorem work) wont be accurate and thus the whole project is dubious. Lowder never actually comes to terms with this argument. Most of the arguments he makes are red herrings or white rabbits.
.... Lowder summarizes what he thinks I'm saying:

I think the point that Metacrock is trying to make is that, if we define “miracle” as an event which requires a supernatural explanation, then by definition a miracle is logically incompatible with metaphysical naturalism, which denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. So naturalists can’t remain naturalists and believe a miracle has occurred. The options seem to be: (1) give up naturalism, (2) deny the event took place at all, or (3) agree the event did take place, but deny it has a supernatural explanation.
That's part of what I'm saying but it's not the really crucial points that I made about Bayes.  It's not so much about supernatural as it is about metaphysics and scientific domain. I am not drawing upon the conventional misunderstanding of supernatural that pits a realm of magic against a realm of what atheist want to believe is "fact." Rather, the whole issue of epistemology and metaphysics is prior to scientific learning. Science requires epistemology and metaphysics to ground its assumptions. God is related to those aspects of reality, and thus not part of the scientific domain. In trying to make God an object of probability they have to reduce the concept of God to just another fact in the universe; something God clearly transcends. Lowder merely denied the circular reasoning but of cousre he would.It's not just a matter of bad reasoning, it's an ideological thing. Those are ho in throngs of ideological zeal can't step back from their ideology and critically evaluate their own thinking. They can critique all that is not the ideology but they can't criticize that. That was my point in talking about the circular reasoning naturalists employ in sweeping aside miracle claims: it is that they can't accept anomalies that would threaten the paradigm. Lowder quotes me in cautioning the skeptical attitude.

    So should we all be watchful not to believe too quickly because its easy to get caught up in private reasons and ignore reason itself. Thus has more than one intelligent person been taken by both scams and honest mistakes. By the the same token it is equally a danger that one will remain too long in the skeptical place and become overly committed to doubting everything. From that position the circular reasoning of the naturalist seems so reasonable. There’s never been any proof of miracles before so we can’t accept that there is any now. But that’s only because we keep making the same assumption and thus have always dismissed the evidence that was valid.
he adds: "I agree with everything Metacrock writes here, with two important exceptions. First, that metaphysical naturalists do, in fact, reason in the way he describes." That's becuase he reasons that way himself. He can see it's a mistake when called out but he can't see that his rejection of evidence for miracles is that kind of mistake.

 Second, that metaphysical naturalists rely upon “circular reasoning” to avoid the conclusion that a miracle has occurred. It is true, of course, that some individual metaphysical naturalists have made fallacious inferences about miracles. The same could be said about some individual theists. But so what? Metacrock presents absolutely no evidence to justify the assumption that such individuals are representative of the position they represent. Metacrock is attacking a straw man of his own creation.
....Presenting evidence would just be an obligatory task becuase we've all seen what they say about miracles and it's clearly ciruclar it's just that they don't step back from their ideolgoical assumptions to see themselves doing it. Look at Hume. "This does not happen enough." Well, we have lots of claims, when they are advanced the usual rejoinder is "this hasn't happened before, it just does not happen, we don't see it, so we have to assume this is not it (a miracle)." If you want to see this principle actions go to CARM and start arguing for the Resurrection. I've been doing this for 15 years and I've seen thousnds of such arguments iti's aburd to say they say that they say it all the time. Next he's going to tell me that they don't say "He must not understand this idea" when you disagree with them. That's another of their obsessions, if you really understood you would agree with me. He makes that very charge in this article. But then he tries to sweep it away by saying theists do the same thing. That's neither here nor there, the point is atheist arguments about miracles are circular reasoning. That's improtant to realize becuase the whole issue of trying to show the probability of God is based upon trying to treat God like another fact in the universe rather than the basis of reality. That's the root issue of the whole matter. When one understands God as the basis of reality one is apt to see the issues pertaining to God as much larger than just charting the probability of some particular item, just as the realities of miracles is more than just finding an anomaly.
....Now here's where he stops following my train of thought and starts interjecting a bunch of red herrings and a bait and switch or two. I brought up ECREE because given what I said above about about the fruits of skepticism I thought "this would be a good place where they might argue ECREE as a counter to the shortcoming of skepticism." Instead of dealing with that issue he goes off on a tangent defending ECREE when in fact I didn't say it was wrong. Here's a crucial point he misses. My position on ECREE is that it is dependent upon Bayes. As Bayes goes so goes ECREE. That means if Bayes is not suited to probability for God then ECREE is not a valid standard for God arguments. Rather than understanding this he tries to tie ECREE to Bayes even more tightly which would mean it's taken out if I can take out Bayes. It also tells me he's not really following my issues. let's look at what he says:

With all due respect to Metacrock, this statement suggests he does not understand ECREE. As I have explained elsewhere, the best interpretation of ECREE is the Bayesian interpretation. According to BT, the final probability of a hypothesis is determined by two other values: the prior probability of a hypothesis and the hypothesis’s explanatory power. Now explanatory power is, by definition, a measure of how well a hypothesis “predicts” (i.e., make probable) the data.
 ....There it is, he disagrees with me, therefore, he doesn't understand. The problem is it's Jeff who doesn't undersatnd. He thinks I'm saying that ECREE is no good. He focuses here on two things that make Bayes work: (1) the "prior," and (2) and explanatory power. The problem there is my argument hinges on how both of those rule Bayes out as valid way to understand God. I think that's what he doesn't get. I show that you can't set the prior for God, no setting will work; all settings for prior probability of God have the same flaw as the overall project, no new info coming in. All the things we can know of god we know through either deductive reasoning or experience of the divine on the level of the numinous. That means scinece can't handle it. It's outside the domain of scinece. Any setting of  a prior for God will be fraught with ideological needs. Ne never deals with that issue. Rather he brings in red herrings. Moreover the same limitation would also go for explanatory power. God can't give the kind of explanation we expect from scientifically verifiable data. Now the explanatory power of apophatic theology is fine with me. The explanatory power of the Jesus prayer works for me it's not gonna work for an atheist. That means no Bayes on God, no ECREE in relation to God.
....I had said that using ECREE in the way they do would cause one to remain skeptical even when the evidence is good. In fact that's what happens when they think in the ideologically circular way that says "we never accepted this stuff before so we shouldn't accept it now." They create a false record, "there have never been any miracles," based upon circular assumptions. He says it would be ambiguous to talk about "good" miracle evidence. Then he explains two reasons why. But  this is one of many red herrings. regardless of the quality of miracle evidence, that must be discussed in another venue about evidence. My only point was that the assumptions they make about naturalism that enable them to explain away God with Bayes also drive them to assume that their basic ideological assumptions are explanatory. An ideological truth regime is not explanation  it's only a reduction of all phenomena to that which can be controlled and pressed into service for the ideology. Of course he winds up diverting our attention with guilt by association trying to link miracle belief to Mormonism. I'm not going to bother to refute the statements about good miracle evidence because that can only serve to take us off the path.
...At this point he returns to ECREE and he assumes my answer about the meaning of extraordinary (as in "extraordinary claims") are irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are totally relevant. The point I was making was that atheists try to present "extraordinary" as though Belief in God is some wired thing, or as though the kind of extraordinary evidence we need is on a level of Moses and the red sea. The fact of it is the kind of claim that is extraordinary in the sense of a Bayes theorem would be extremely ordinary. A finding that one has cancer when one has never had it before is statistically extraordinary. At that rate any probabilistic God argument we can pull, or the 200 empirical studies on mystical experience, are extraordinary evidence. He gives us a white rabbit to chase in another direction.
Again, with all due respect to Metacrock, this statement shows that Metacrock doesn’t understand ECREE. We don’t determine whether a belief is extraordinary by measuring the percentage of people who hold that belief. Rather, ECREE is epistemic in nature; it has to do with what we would expect to be the case based upon our background knowledge.
He's actually made the argument for me. I never said anything about extraordinary being defined by a percentage of people that believe it. My point is you can't subject the reality of God to empirical proof in a scientific sense. To the extent that we can establish a co-determinate that can be so subjected, such as religious experience being measured by the M scale, we can measure aspects of belief without claiming to measure God. ECREE is not epistemic it's a betrayal of the epistemic. We can't put over "what we expect to be the case God wise" and translate that into standard mathematical terms for probability. how could we do that when God is beyond our understanding? No new info on God is going to come in becuase it can only come from sources that science cannot trust, such as 'the heart.' How can we attach number and data to that? Epistemic issues can't be resolved by scientific reductionism or inductive empiricism. They are more basic than that. They can only be resolved through either logic, experience, or remain open ended. What all of this comes to is we can do two things: (1) we can keep it on a philosophical level and not try to pretend we've solved it. Or, (2) we can find a co-determinate and make phenomenological observations about aspects of the issues around faith and use that to extrapolate assumptions on the more subjective issues, we should not try to pretend that we have some scinece magic that will resolve all belief and make God vanish in a puff of science.
....AT this point he brings up several observations I made about the history of ECREE and Bayes. I'm not going to bother to correct his disagreement except to point out that I documented by sources and I used some of the most recent historians to write on the issue. I am sure he knows more ins and outs of the history than I do, but none of the information he presents are really relivant to my basic argument about probability and God. He tries to claim that Bayes is not in doubt, rather than disproving the history I brought he ignores it completely. It has been in doubt time and time again, it is professors of mathematics who doubted it. I documented that with McGrayne and he has nothing to say about that.[1] that's probably the most authoritative history about the BT. None of the issues he brings up historically disprove the history I listed. He merely shows additional examples of people who have accepted the BT. That's ust begging the question, they made the same mistake he is. He took the history to mean that I think Bayes isn't useful for anything but to argue for atheism. I did actually read the McGrayne book. Obliviously her point is that BT keeps coming back because it's useful. My argument is not that it's not useful. I never said Bayes is no good we can't use for anything. That is a red herring. It's good but it can't be used to tell us about God becasue God is not amenable by such methods. God is the unified field its so basic you can't get a microscope and find it. It's too basic as the same time too big. Too fundamental to reality to be just another thing we can subject to empirical measures. Now uses those red herrings to take us down to the path to a point where can try to use Chrsitain apologists to argue against me.

To cite the most obvious counter-example, has Metacrock never heard of Richard Swinburne or read any of his numerous books which use BT to defend Christian theism? (See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Or seen Tim and Lydia McGrew’s impressive use of BT to argue for the Resurrection in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? (See here.)
Obviously I have hard of them, I have to confess I don't read much of the apologists running around now days. I respect Swinburne. I probalby have missed lot by not following him. Most of the thinkers I use are those I read in Doctoral work when I studied history of science as Ph.D. candidate in history of ideas. Now Jeff sites apologists who argue for the resurrection using the BT. Arguing for the Resurrection is a different matter. That's not arguing for the probably of God. There might be tangible things to latch onto there. The resurrection is a physical event in space/time and it's not on par with God as the basis of reality. So it is anther fact in the universe. Thus it could be subject to empirical means. Natual theology also one can make the same point about that. then he says:

Metacrock is simply “barking up the wrong tree” on this one. I cannot think of any way to salvage his point.
I can think of a way. One might try to undersatnd what I'm real saying and deal with the one cogent point upon which the original article based: that God is not given in sense data, thus he cannot be subjected to numbers. The Bayes theorem can be used for other things, some of those serve belief in God. That doesn't mean that God himself can be subjected to it.

[1] Sharon Berstch McGrayne, The Theory that would not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 3.

  photo probability-theory-3224.jpg

It is understandable that naturalistic thinkers are uneasy with the concept of miracles. So should we all be watchful not to believe too quickly because its easy to get caught up in private reasons and ignore reason itself. Thus has more than one intelligent person been taken by both scams and honest mistakes. By the the same token it is equally a  danger that one will remain too long in the skeptical place and become overly committed to doubting everything. From that position the circular reasoning of the naturalist seems so reasonable. There’s never been any proof of miracles before so we can’t accept that there is any now. But that’s only because we keep making the same assumption and thus have always dismissed the evidence that was valid.
            At this point most atheists will interject the ECREE issue (or ECREP—extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or “proof”). That would justify the notion of remaining skeptical about miracle evidence even when its good. There are many refutations of this phrase, which was popularized by Karl Sagan. One of the major problems with this idea is that atheists rarely get around to defining “extraordinary” either in terms of the claim (why would belief in God be extraordinary? 90% of humanity believe in some form of God) [1] The slogan ECREE is usually said to be based upon the Bayes completeness theorem.  Sagan popularized the slogan ECREE but the mathematical formula that it is often linked to (but not identical to) was invented by the man whose name it bears, working in the  seventeen forties but then he abandoned it, perhaps because mathematicians didn’t like it. It was picked up by the great scientist and atheist Laplace and improved upon.[2] This method affords new atheism the claim of a “scientific/mathematical” procedure that disproves God by demonstrating that God is totally improbable. It is also used to supposedly disprove supernatural effects as well as they are rendered totally improbable.[3]
            It is often assumed that the theorem was developed to back up Hume’s argument against miracles. Bayes was trying to argue against Hume and to find a mathematical way to prove that there must be a first cause to the universe.[4] Mathematicians have disapproved of the theorem for most of its existence. It has been rejected on the grounds that it’s based upon guesswork. It was regarded as a parlor trick until World War II then it was regarded as a useful parlor trick. This explains why it was strangely absent from my younger days and early education as a student of the existence of God. I used to pour through philosophy anthologies with God articles in them and never came across it. It was just part of the discussion on the existence of God until about the year 2000 suddenly it’s all over the net. It’s resurgence is primarily due to it’s use by skeptics in trying to argue that God is improbable. It was not taught in math from the end fo the war to the early 90s.[5]
            Bayes’ theorem was introduced first as an argument against Hume’s argument on miracles, that is to say, a proof of the probability of miracles. The theorem was learned by Richard Price from Bayes papers after the death of the latter, and was first communicated to the Royal society in 1763.[6] The major difference in the version Bayes and Price used and modern (especially skeptical versions) is that Laplace worked out how to introduce differentiation in prior distributions. The original version gave 50-50 probability to the prior distribution.[7] The problem with using principles such as Bayes theorem is that they can’t tell us what we need to know to make the calculations of probability accurate in dealing with issues where our knowledge is fragmentary and sparse. The theorem is good for dealing with concrete things like tests for cancer, developing spam filters, and military applications but not for determining the answer to questions about reality that are philosophical by nature and that would require an understanding of realms beyond, realms of which we know nothing. Bayes conquered the problem of what level of chance or probability to assign the prior estimate by guessing. This worked because the precept was that future information would come in that would tell him if his guesses were in the ball park or not. Then he could correct them and guess again. As new information came in he would narrow the field to the point where eventually he’s not just in the park but rounding the right base so to speak.
            The problem is that doesn’t work as well when no new information comes in, which is what happens when dealing with things beyond human understanding. We don’t have an incoming flood of empirical evidence clarifying the situation with God because God is not the subject of empirical observation. Where we set the prior, which is crucial to the outcome of the whole thing, is always going to be a matter of ideological assumption. For example we could put the prior at 50-50 (either God exists or not) and that would yield a high probability of God.[8] Or the atheist can argue that the odds of God are low because God is not given in the sense data, which is in itself is an ideological assumption. It assumes that the only valid form of knowledge is empirical data. It also ignores several sources of empirical data that can be argued as evidence for God (such as the universal nature of mystical experience).[9] It assumes that God can’t be understood as reality based upon other means of deciding such as personal experience or logic, and it assumes the probability of God is low based upon unbelief because the it could just as easily be assumed as high based upon it’s properly basic nature or some form of elegance (parsimony). In other words this is all a matter of how e chooses to see things. Perspective matters. There is no fortress of facts giving the day to atheism, there is only the prior assumptions one chooses to make and the paradigm under which one chooses to operate; that means the perception one chooses to filter the data through.
            Stephen Unwin tries to produce a simple analysis that would prove the ultimate truth of God using Bayes. The calculations he gives for the priors are as such:
Recognition of goodness (D = 10)
Existence of moral evil (D = 0.5)
Existence of natural evil (D = 0.1)
Intra-natural miracles (e.g., a friend recovers from an illness after you have prayed for him) (D = 2)
Extra-natural miracles (e.g., someone who is dead is brought back to life) (D = 1)
Religious experiences (D = 2)[10]
This is admittedly subjective, and all one need do is examine it to see this. Why give recognition of moral evil 0.5? If you read C.S. Lewis its obvious if you read B.F. Skinner there’s no such thing. That’s not scientific fact but opinon. When NASA does analysis of gas pockets on moons of Jupiter they don’t start out by saying “now let’s discuss the value system that would allow us to posit the existence of gas.” They are dealing with observable things that must be proved regardless of one’s value system. These questions (setting the prior for God) are matters for theology. The existence of moral evil for example this is not a done deal. This is not a proof or disproof of God. It’s a job for a theologian, not a scientist, to decide why God allows moral evil, or in fact if moral evil exists. These issues are all too touchy to just blithely plug in the conclusions in assessing the prior probability of God. That makes the process of obtaining a probability of God fairly presumptive.

[1] find,
[2] Sharon Berstch McGrayne, The Theory that would not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 3.
[3] As seen with chapter (? Disprove) by Stenger and Unwin.
[4] McGrayne op cit
[5] ibid, 61-81
[6] Geoffrey Poitras, Richard Price, Miracles and the Origin of Bayesian Decision Theory pdf$$$.pdf
Faculty of Business AdministrationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnaby, BCCANADA V5A 1S6. Geoffrey Poitras is a Professor of Finance in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University. Lisited 12/22/12.
[7] ibid
[8] Joe Carter, “The Probability of God” First Thoughts. Blog of publication of First Things. (August 18, 2010) URL:  visited (1/10/13). Carter points out that when Unwin (an atheist discussed in previous chapter) puts in 50% prior he gets 67% probability for God. When Cater himself does so he get’s 99%.Cater’s caveat: “Let me clarify that this argument is not intended to be used as a proof of God’s existence. The sole intention is to put in quantifiable terms the probabilities that we should form a belief about such a Being’s existence. In other words, this is not an ontological proof but a means of justifying a particular epistemic stance toward the idea of the existence or non-existence of a deity.The argument is that starting from an epistemically neutral point (50 percent/50 percent), we can factor in specific evidence for the existence or non-existence of a deity. After evaluating each line of evidence, we can determine if it is more or less likely that it would entail the existence of God.”
[9] Metacrock, "The Scale and The universal Nature of Mystical Experience," The religious a priroi blog URL: see also the major argument I sue for documentation in that article,  In P, McNamar (Ed.), Where God and science meet, Vol. 3, pp. 119-138. Westport, CT: Praeger. linked in Google preview.
[10] Stephen D. Unwin, The probability of God a Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth. New York New York: Three Rivers Press, Random House. 2003, appendix 238

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at