CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


 photo 220px-Bruno_Bauer_zps3264bce5.jpg
Bruno Bauer (1809-1882)
Early Jesus Myther





Jesus mythers want to  convey the impression that they are scrupulous historians concerned with historical evidence only. The truth is they have total contempt for real historians and they have created their own absurd standard that real  historians don't use.When I was working as a teaching assistant at UTD one prof for whom I TAed was Gavin Hambley who obtained his Ph,D. from Cambridge and who had a big name in Asian studies. I asked him once what he thought about the Jesus myther theory he literally said "they are idiots." He went on to explain if we followed their standards of historical proof we would know nothing about the ancient world. Let's look at some of the standards they advocate.

Kennith Harding demonstrates a pervasive attitude among Jesus Mythers:



......What is a good source? A contemporary historian -- that is to say, an historian that lived and wrote during the time in which Christ is said to have lived. Any historian living or writing after that time could not have seen the events with his own eyes -- possibly could not have even known any witnesses personally. Any historian writing decades or centuries after the events could only write of those things which he had heard others say. In other words, he would be writing hearsay -- secondhand accounts of what Christ's followers said about him.[1]

This is a silly standard which I call the 6 O'clock news fallacy. He's talking about "historians" but  he wants them to talk about contemporary  things. He wants up to the minute coverage as though Jesus should have been on the 6:00 news. Historians don't write about contemporary things. A Historian is some one who writes about the past. Back in the '90s I recall Dr. Babcock at Perkins,where I got my masters, one of the finest historians I've known ,he said to me that world war two was too recent for a historian to write about. That's not completely true because there are historians of WWII. That is an older standard but the fact is historians are not gong to write about things happening during the time they are writing, at least not writing as historians.


This standard of Harding's assumes historians will know people who have pertinent information but most historians don't. Author O. Lovejoy did not know anyone who started the great chain of being, because that idea started a thousand years before he was born.[2] None of the historians Jesus mythers value knew anyone remotely close to the era of Jesus' day. He wants to call real history Hearsay or second hand accounts but we have almost nothing from the century. It is true that in the first century historians were not as they are today. There was no academic standard no peer review in the sense in which we know it, they did write about first hand things more than historians now do. Yet there were historians who wrote about mattes that went on before they were born. Herodotus was de-mythologizing Greek myth, took place long before he was born [3] We saw in last weeks a Paulkovich,Jesus myther, using third century writers as proof Jesus didn't exist! When writers such as Celsus or Eusebius deal with matters long before their births that does not invalidate their historical acuity.


Then of course one of their main tactics is discriminating of religious scholars, because they are connected with religious institutions: "Certainly, this cannot be considered as reliable information. The followers of any cult leader certainly would exaggerate the character of the man they follow. As you shall see, whatever the authenticity of the documents turns out to be, none of the historians in question were contemporaries of Christ."[4]


Yet that does not mean they would exaggerate to the point of making a non existant character into flesh and blood. But of course their natural animosity toward religion comes to the fore, they hate religious people so of course that makes them guilty of all the evils of the world. So let's just turn it back on them. Could hate-filled zealots exaggerate and be biased be super picky and critical about the central figure of Christianity? Of course it could. They want to caste a hermetic of suspicion over any scholar even remotely connected with a religious institution. So we should do the same for any Jesus myther. They take it further than mere suspicion. They openly insist that the evidence is made up. They say there is no evidence what they really mean is they refuse to believe the evidence that does exist:



Here is something to keep in mind as you read this article. Ask yourself this question. Could historic passages have been forged? Could the volumes of the historians have been tampered with? The answer is: yes they could have. Where were these historic volumes stored? In the local public library? In individuals' private homes? No. They were in the possession of the Church, who studied from them and made copies of them. In what form did these writings take? On a typeset page, bound like a modern book? No. The printing press was not invented for a further 1300 years. The fact that the Church could write means that the forgeries could have been made.[5]

So of course this must mean that every bit of evidence that counts against the Jesus myth is forged by the church, because somehow they saw a thousand years ago what was needed to fool a 21st century audience. There's Just one little bit of info he's leaving out,kind of crucial. He assumes it's all forged there's no way to tell. He just kind of forgot about multiple copies. One of the major astounding things about the thousands of MS we have is how reliable they are. They do not very significantly, there is no prize hidden version that really says Jesus didn't exist  or that he was not the son of God. By comparing thousands of copies we just see it's all remarkably valid and the sane. [6]


He goes on ranting:



The Church had the opportunity, the means, and the motive to forge historical documents.This simple truth is widely admitted by Christian scholars. One case in point is our first example: Josephus Flavius, a famous historian. There are two alleged mentions of Jesus in his histories. The first of them, the more extensive and more famous one, is no longer quoted by Christian scholars. That is because they know it is a blatant Christian forgery. The second passage is still in use.[7]

First that is not the Bible. He argues that the church forged or altered all the manuscripts but the only example he gives is from a book not in the Bible. While the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that the Septuagint was in line with the oldest versions of the OT. [8] Josephus is not the Bible and he was not respected. His tweaking would have come much latter than the time of the gospels,probably second century.The mythers are never honest about what scholars really say about the TF (Josephus major passage om Jesus--The Testamentus Flavianim). Harding tries to say that the  majority agree it's forged. They do not,the vast majority believe that the core historical passage is real and that Jo proves Jesus existed.They admit the passage is tweaked but not forged. Forged means made up completely tweaked just means a few words changed. Let's look at what the evidence really says,


Alice Whealy, Berkely Cal.


The TF controversy from antiquity to present


PDF, 9

Twentieth century controversy over the Testimonium Flavianum can be distinguished from controversy over the text in the early modern period insofar as it seems generally more academic and less sectarian. While the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars and while in the same period Jews outside the church uniformly denounced the text's authenticity, the twentieth century controversies over the text have been marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question. In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum.[9]

A List of Scholar who accept at least some core passage.


John P. Meier

Raymond Brown
Graham Stanton
N.T. Wright
Paula Fredrickson
John D. Crossan
E.P. Sanders
Geza Vermes
Louis Feldman
John Thackeray
Andre Pelletier
Paul Winter
A. Dubarle
Ernst Bammel
Otto Betz
Paul Mier
Ben Witherington
F.F. Bruce
Luke T. Johnson
Craig Blomberg
J. Carleton Paget
Alice Whealey
J. Spencer Kennard
R. Eisler
R.T. France
Gary Habermas
Robert Van Voorst
Shlomo Pines
Edwin M. Yamuchi
James Tabor
John O'Connor-Murphy
Mark Goodacre
Paula Frederiksen
David Flusser
Steve Mason[10]

I dare them to find any major scholar of Josephus not on that list.


Paulkovich, at this point, waves the Jesus myther flag with a rousing rendition of the greats to inspire the faithful,He lists the great crackpots of myther theory:,



Michael B. Paulkovich, "The Fable of Christ,"  Secular Humanism, A program of the Center for Inquiry  no date, On line URL:


https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/5656

(accessed 5/11/17)


Thus, today I side with Remsburg—and with Frank Zindler, John M. Allegro, Godfrey Higgins, Robert M. Price, Salomon Reinach, Samuel Lublinski, Charles-François Dupuis, Allard Pierson, Rudolf Steck, Arthur Drews, Prosper Alfaric, Georges Ory, Tom Harpur, Michael Martin, John Mackinnon Robertson, Alvar Ellegård, David Fitzgerald, Richard Carrier, René Salm, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy,Barbara Walker, Michael Martin, D.M. Murdock, Thomas Brodie, Earl Doherty, Thomas L. Thompson, Bruno Bauer, and others—heretics and iconoclasts and freethinking dunces all, it would seem.[11]


The problem is these guys were not professors they were not bible scholars they were matures who worked to derail Christianity for one reason or another. By their own standards, however, they are writing 1900 year after the events they know no one who was there,So why listen to them?They are merely biased sectarians who will alter the facts fr their own purposes so shine on them  the same light of hermeneutic of suspicion they want to use to silence religious scholars. Richard Carrier makes the point that no longer is the theory totally in the hands of crack pots. No there is brewing a small cadre of real scholars who are mythers. He gives a list, it has interesting features:



The hypothesis that Jesus never really existed has started to gain more credibility in the expert community. Some now agree historicity agnosticism is warranted, including Arthur Droge (professor of early Christianity at UCSD),  Kurt Noll (associate professor of religion at Brandon University), and Thomas Thompson (renowned professor of theology, emeritus, at the University of Copenhagen). Others are even more certain historicity is doubtful, including Thomas Brodie (director emeritus of the Dominican Biblical Centre at the University of Limerick, Ireland), Robert Price (who has two Ph.D.’s from Drew University, in theology and New Testament studies), and myself (I have a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University and have several peer reviewed articles on the subject). Still others, like Philip Davies (professor of biblical studies, emeritus, at the University of Sheffield), disagree with the hypothesis but admit it is respectable enough to deserve consideration.[12]

The first thing to notice about this group is that they are comitted atheists, Robert Price is a hardened soldier of atheism committed to destroying Christianity. He was the one who ran the Jesus project which was scuttled by the Bible scholar who first though of it because  of the programmatic and colloidal biases which the atheists and mythers infused into the project, See my atheist watch expose on the Jesus project. [13] [14] More importantly notice that many of these writers are connected with religious institutions. Price's degree is from Drew which is Methodist and He taught religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, that is not a major place. Davies is Biblical studies, Brodie is Dominican Bible center, These guys are atheists who teach in religious institutions so they can destroy religion. I find that hypocritical and dishonest, More importantly by the myther standards they must be ignored no matter what they say because they  are commented to religious institutions.


The Mythers are in a dilemma because they must ignore these guys or admit they only care about scholarship that supports their view. This highlights the stupidity of the blanket condemnation of all people connected with religious institutions. Certainly there are many more who are fair minded and liberal and concerned with truth. ut they can't make Jesus' mytherism a standard of their criteria of good sources that would be circular.




encoding prejudices an turning them into sophistical standards 




Sources 

[1]  Kenneth Harding,"Do Any First Century Historians Mention the Jesus of Christianity?" Atheists of Silicon Valley, 2002. website URL:

http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/1stC_Hist.htm  (accessed 5/18/170)

[2] Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being


[3]  Herodotus, The Histories, London: Penguin, trans., Aubory de Selimncourt, Oriogimnal 1954,1974, 3.


[4] Harding, op cit


[5] Ibid


[6] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:Are They Reliable? Leicester England: Inter Varsity Fellowship,1943.1981.1-3.


[7] Harding, op cit


[8] Joseph Hinman "Validity of the LXX," Doxa, On  line URL

http://www.doxa.ws/Messiah/Lxx_mt.html (accessed 5/19/17)

[9] Alice Whealy, "The TF Controversy From Antiquity to Present." PDF

http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/whealey2000.pdf   (accessed 5/19/17)

[10] List compiled by members of CADRE

[11] Michael B. Paulkovich, "The Fable of Christ,"  Secular Humanism, A program of the Center for Inquiry  no date, On line URL:


https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/5656

(accessed 5/11/17)

[12] Richard Carrier, "Questioning The Hisatoricityof Jesus," Strange Notions: Digital Areopagus.

On line URL:
http://strangenotions.com/questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus/ (accessed 5/19/17)

no date listed but the first comment was from 2014


[13] Joseph Hinman, "These are the voyages of Jesus myther propaganda... (part 1)," Atheistwatch

(Feb 2016) blog URL
http://atheistwatch.blogspot.com/2016/02/these-are-voyages-of-jesus-myther.html (accessed 5/19/17)

[14] Joseph Hinman, "Jesus Project.. (part 2),Orwell Hits the fan" Atheistwatch
(Feb 2016) blog URL

(accessed 5/19/17)

Problem: Personal testimony evangelism requires building a “ten ton bridge” to present the Gospel.

The presentation of personal testimony implies an invitation to examine our lives to see if Christianity is true. That in turn implies that the person has to know us well in order to know, or be more sure, that Christianity is true. 

And what’s that mean in turn? It means that any actual decision for the Gospel can be forestalled by someone on the pretense of getting to know us better (though they may not tell us that). Or, it can cause us to hedge in presentation, thinking that a person doesn't know us well enough to present the Gospel to them. 

Of course, there are those who will make a decision, as it is said, based on knowing us for just a little while; just as people make snap decisions every day for every reason. But we don’t regard such decisions as well-informed or judicious in other contexts, so why here?

The Apostles didn’t have to play the “get to know you” game to evangelize. Yes, they did know their audiences, generally, as Jews or Greeks, but they certainly did not think they had to get to know them as friends – build that 10 ton bridge – before they started preaching.

In the next two entries, I’ll lay out my positive case for how evangelism should be done, and I’ll be considering what adjustments do need to be made for modern culture in light of the NT example. We have some modern preachers who think “street preaching” is the way we should go, and in one sense, I think they are correct – but only in principle, not in application. We’ll get to that starting next week.

For now, I’d like to close this section of the series with a remark about personal testimony and what it is, exactly. A reader reminded me that it would be a good idea to define terms, and I’ll do that. I’ll also sum up what role if any I think personal testimony can have in evangelism.

What is personal testimony? Personal testimony is often seen as having two aspects. One is what is sometimes called “lifestyle evangelism” – setting an example that makes others wonder what motivates you.

This is NOT what I mean by “personal testimony”. This fits in with the “city on a hill” teaching, which we have noted is a sort of passive form of evangelism (see our earlier entry) and is perfectly legitimate. I would not even call this “personal testimony,” technically: It’s not really “personal” and it isn’t “testimony” in a strict legal sense.

Aside from “city on a hill” instructions (Matt. 5:16), there’s validation for this method in Titus 2:7 and especially 1 Peter 2:12. In Biblical terms, the example Christians set was one which the honor-minded ancients would be concerned with, especially given that society’s tendency to keep deviant groups under a microscope. (We’re under one too, now, but for different reasons; still, the directive for this sort of “testimony” applies.) And of course, we have books like Christianity on Trial that use an apologetic in which it is shown that the Christian worldview has benefited mankind. 

The other aspect of what is called “personal testimony” – which I do have in mind – is a verbal or written presentation in which we conclude, “Jesus caused me to change X way, and this is why you too should be a Christian.” This is the type of personal testimony I believe needs to be generally abandoned, being subject to the serious weaknesses I have outlined in this series.

When should I use personal testimony, if at all? I would restrict its use to times when a person asks us a question like, “What has Christianity done for you?” or “How has it changed you?” Or, when their own life is in disarray and they need a change. However, even at such times, we should present personal testimony within the frame of being a change in worldview and outlook as a result of the factual rising of Jesus from the dead. I’m not saying you need to give a drug addict all the standard arguments for the empty tomb – just make it clear that the historic Resurrection is what’s behind the worldview change, and indicate that this is a claim that will have to be considered, for it is what makes the worldview valid.

That’s the end of the first aspect of this series – next week, we turn to a positive case for how evangelism ought to be conducted.


  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, adherence.com
[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 http://www.sfu.ca/~poitras/Price_EJHET_$$$.pdf
11/11/10.
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: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/18/the-probability-of-god/  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: http://religiousapriori.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-m-sacle-and-universal-nature-of.html 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

Some days ago at the Facebook group "Reasonable Faith Debunked" atheist Cale Nearing[1] laid out what he calls "A positive argument for atheism." The basic idea behind the argument, as I see it, is that since the evidence for theism is compatible not only with theism but with any number of coherent and mutually exclusive hypotheses explaining the origin and life-permitting structure of our universe, the probability of theism being the one true hypothesis is very low; and, since atheism is simply the negation of theism, the probability that atheism is true is very high. Or as Nearing asserts, "Any rational inductor will conclude that Theism is almost certainly false, and therefore that Atheism (the negation of theism) is almost certainly true."
 
Now the argument as Nearing presents it appears quite sophisticated, making extensive use of the probability calculus generally and Bayes' Theorem in particular. Despite this apparent sophistication, however, I believe there are good reasons to doubt that the argument actually goes through. To the contrary, I believe there are good reasons to maintain that theism, Christian theism particularly, is much more probable than atheism.
 
An Overview of the Argument
 
Nearing's argument begins with a review of Bayes' Theorem, which, for the question of the probability of theism given the evidence available, P(T|E), may be written as:
 
P(T|E) = P(T) * P(E|T) / P(E)
 
The left side of the equation, P(T|E), is the posterior probability of theism given the evidence, which answers the question: How probable is theism when all the relevant evidence is taken into account? This is what we really want to know. P(E|T) is known as the likelihood of theism on the evidence, or the probability of our having the evidence we do have given that theism is true. According to Nearing, P(E|T) can be imagined in terms of a counter-factual world in which a hypothetical observer, Sue, "has not made any of the observations in E, but is certain that theism is true." P(E|T) then represents "the probability that this counter-factual Sue would assign to observing E in the future." P(T) is the prior probability of theism, a somewhat subjective estimate usually based on human experience and intuitive concepts like perceived simplicity of the hypothesis; And the lower term, P(E), represents "total probability" of the evidence, sometimes called the marginal likelihood of E. As Cale indicates, P(E) is equal to the likelihood of theism on the evidence times the prior probability of theism, plus the likelihood that theism is false – again on the evidence – times the prior probability that theism is false, or:
 
P(E) = P(E|T) * P(T) + P(E|Tc) * P(Tc).[2]
 
Now as Cale has it, P(T),  the prior probability of theism, is best described again in terms of counter-factuals, where a hypothetical observer "has made none of the observations in E. How probable would this hypothetical Sue find Theism to be is the value of the second term." A rational observer with no biases, and at the same time with no evidence to guide her decision making, he argues, would have to impartially consider all viable options before deciding upon the prior. 
 
Thus prior probability, at least according to Nearing, "depends essentially on how many other mutually exclusive hypotheses Sue is considering." And there may be a very large number of these alternate hypotheses, each of which is mutually incompatible with theism. For sake of illustration, Nearing imagines three such alternatives, A1, A2 and A3. For example, A1:
 
There exists a metaphysically necessary, mindless, genuinely random universe generator which is characterized by a distribution over the universes it could possibly have generated such that the probability that it would have generated a universe in which Sue observes E is equal to L + (1-L)/2.
 
Like theism, each of these alternatives has its own prior probability, so that together the prior probabilities for this particular four-hypothesis scenario sum to one. Or:
 
P(T) + P(A1) + P(A2) + P(A3) = 1(one)[3]
 
Since total probability of all possible and mutually exclusive alternatives has to equal one, and since for an unbiased observer each hypothesis, at least according to Nearing, should have an approximately equal prior probability, "P(T) is approximately equal to 1/4." Because the rest of the argument takes what for me is a yet more technical turn, and because I would likely take up more space rather than less trying to summarize it, I will quote Nearing for the remainder:
 
We can also now calculate the total probability term, P(E). Recall that:
 
P(E) = P(T)*P(E|T) + P(Tc) * P(E|Tc)
 
where Tc is the set of alternative hypotheses. Since our alternative hypotheses are A1, A2, and A3, we know that:
 
P(E) = P(T)*P(E|T) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A2)*P(E|A2)
 
Further, we know that P(A1), P(A2), P(A3), and P(T) are each approximately equal to 1/4, and we have expressions for each of the likelihood terms in terms of a single constant, L: 
 
P(E|T) = L
            P(E|A1) = L + (1-L)/2
            P(E|A2) = L + (1-L)/4
            P(E|A3) = L + (1-L)/8 
 
Which means we can finally put the whole thing together:
 
P(T|E) = [L * (1/4)] / [(1/4)*(L) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/2) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/4) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/8)]
 
With a little algebra, 
 
P(T|E) = 8 / (25 + 7/L) 
 
Recall that L must be in the interval (0, 1), and the limit of P(T|E) as L approaches 1
is 1/4.
 
Hence, P(T|E) < 1/4
 
And of course, any additional alternative hypotheses would make that probability lower still. From all this Nearing concludes not only that theism is "almost certainly false" (and therefore atheism is almost certainly true), but that there are only two ways to wind up with a substantially higher probability for theism: arbitrarily ignoring one or more of its alternative hypotheses, or arbitrarily boosting its prior probability.
 
Evaluating the Argument
 
Just as theism is not the only possible explanatory view of the world, so Nearing's is not the only possible conclusion that can be drawn from a "rational" consideration of theism and its rivals. Though I do not question Nearing's calculations, I do have serious doubts about how some of his terms are derived.  For example, it is not clear that the concept of "a metaphysically necessary, mindless, genuinely random universe generator" is coherent. A metaphysically necessary entity that is both mindless and yet capable of creating countless universes, at least one of which houses intelligent, sentient beings, has to be substantially less probable a priori than a metaphysically necessary, omnipotent being who intentionally creates our universe and intelligent, sentient beings within it for identifiable purposes (e.g., revealing his glory and sharing with others the freedom and life he enjoys).
 
For one thing, a single universe deliberately designed by a wise and loving self-existent God appears much less complex (hence much more probable) than a large, possibly uncountable, number of universes generated at random from a mindless (purposeless), unidentifiable in principle, and yet somehow self-existent generator. This much is certain: One universe (ours) is much, much less complex than an uncountable host of randomly generated universes which includes ours. And as philosopher Daniel Vecchio put it to Nearing concerning the Deity himself, "God's necessity is per se due to His essence being identical with His existence. This entails eternality, simplicity, immutability, and possessing all perfections like omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence." In other words these divine attributes hold together systematically. Being ontologically necessary implies also being simple, eternal, immutable, and so forth. By contrast there seems to be no reason to even suspect a mindless random universe generator (hereafter RUG) to be simple or immutable – certainly not omniscient or omnibenevolent – and therefore no reason to think it conceptually viable, let alone ontologically necessary.
 
At any rate, postulating a collection of RUGs for the express purpose of rendering theism improbable seems completely ad hoc. Indeed, from what I can tell the only reason most philosophers and cosmologists ever had for postulating anything like a RUG in the first place was to provide a potential defeater for theism, specifically a defeater for the fine-tuning argument. But with the use of such ad hoc devices, one could prove virtually any hypothesis improbable. All that is required is to postulate two or more logically possible and mutually exclusive alternative hypotheses to make the hypothesis in question less probable. So if someone suggests to me that the earth is a globe, I can simply postulate that, conceivably, it may also be a cube, a cylinder, or a cone, and then run it through Nearing's calculations to demonstrate the probability of sphericity to be P(S) < 1/4.[4] The same procedure could be used, with slightly more seriousness, to diconfirm general relativity, common descent, or virtually any theory, physical or metaphysical, one might care to name.
 
That is to say, Nearing's procedure, far from being rational, actually denies the role of reason to choose among competing propositions and hypotheses. Instead of using evidence and arguments to infer the  existence (or non-existence) of God – or, for that matter, the sphericity of the earth, mass-energy equivalence, etc. – we simply count up all the counter-scenarios we can imagine for the hypothesis in question and then calculate its (im)probability. Again, there is nothing especially rational or scientific about this approach, which is not so much a responsible use of Baye’s Theorem as an assertion of what amounts to cosmological relativism: Given an arbitrary increase in the number of explanatory possibilities based on the finding of increasingly trivial distinctions among them, the probability of any one selection being true diminishes accordingly.
 
The main problem I see with all this is that Nearing seems to redefine the central metaphysical question in terms of something like a random variable. The “evidence” for various answers to that question (such as theism), then, amounts to little more than a prior probability distribution. Prior probabilities, however, should not be based strictly on the number of interally coherent but mutually incompatible alternatives imaginable, but also on factors like human experience[5], simplicity, scope, and fit with general background knowledge, all of which basically means that not all priors are created equal. As I argued here a few months ago, certain forms of evidence tend to get overlooked when they should rightly be accounted for as background knowledge.[6] In that case the real utility of Bayes' rule is to update beliefs that are already based on a measure of existing evidence, in light of new evidence. Revising probabilities, hence updating beliefs, on the strength of incoming evidence constitutes the very purpose of Bayes' Theorem. Rather than revising these various probabilities in light of various lines of actual observational and propositional evidence at hand, however, Nearing simply concludes that theism is improbable and closes out the argument.
 
Updating Belief (on the Evidence for Christian Theism) 
 
It goes without saying that most theists believe there to be good evidence for the existence of God. According to Richard Swinburne, for example, there is a wide spectrum of evidence which, when properly "plugged in" to Bayes' Theorem, makes theism considerably more probable than atheism.[7] After carefully explaining the apologetic usefulness of inductive arguments and the broad outlines of Bayesian confirmation theory, and arguing for a relatively high "intrinsic probability of theism" (its prior probability), Swinburne includes as evidence for theism, defined here as observations that make P(T|E) > P(E), the following: 
 
1. Evidence of cosmology
2. Fine tuning
3. Consciousness
4. Morality
5. Miracles
6. Religious experience
 
As evidence against theism he has only the problem of evil, which most would agree has lost much of its force in recent years (thanks largely to Alvin Plantinga). Swinburne then suggests, in a superficial similarity with Nearing, that there are at least three serious alternative hypotheses to theism:
 
Let h1 be the hypothesis that there are many gods or limited gods; h2 be the hypothesis that that there is no God or gods but an initial (or everlasting) physical state of the universe, different from the present state but of such a kind as to bring about the present state; and   the hypothesis that there is no explanation at all (the universe just is and always has been as it is).[8]
 
Now there is a reason that Swinburne "lumps together" all these alternative gods or limited gods, a category which would include RUGs, under h1:
 
I have argued [on the basis of evidence from cosmology, etc.] that the hypothesis of theism is a very simple hypothesis indeed, simpler than hypotheses of many or limited gods…. In that case, theism is going to be more probable than h1, the disjunction of hypotheses of many or limited gods; and there is much less reason why they should bring about a universe at all or one of our character – they may not be able to do so, and not being perfectly good may not have much reason to do so (unless we complicate these hypotheses further by building into them the requisite propensity).[9]
 
From similar considerations of Christian theism and the terms of Nearing's argument, I would suggest it is reasonable and rational to believe that
 
P(T|E) >> P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A2)*P(E|A2)

Or as another Facebook contributor put it more succinctly: P(T|E)>>P(An|E)

And thus, P(T) > P(~T)


It is therefore perfectly rational to believe that theism is more probable than atheism – but how much more probable? Just for the sake of argument I would be willing to grant Nearing that the evidence of cosmology suggesting a beginning of the observable universe (of matter, space and time) is compatible not only with theism but with the existence of a RUG or lots of RUGs, and that the probabilities of our universe are perhaps comparable on all of these hypotheses. I would be willing to say the same, again just for argument's sake, of fine-tuning of life-permitting physical constants and quantities regulating our universe.
 
But consider consciousness. Does any rational thinker honestly believe that consciousness is not vastly more probable on theism than on the mindless RUG hypothesis? Morality, likewise, can be explained in nontheistic terms, but clearly the straightforward impartation of moral awareness and responsibility from God is more parsimonious than, say, the evolutionary development of conspiratorial “selfish genes” that disguise themselves as noble and meaningful moral obligations but really only seek long-term physical survival for themselves. Skeptics may find it easy to dismiss miracle “testimony” wholesale, but we all are continually faced with incontrovertible evidence – being alive, namely – that somehow life originated on earth, in the face of extreme improbability, and yet just as recorded in Scripture. That certainly sounds like miracle. And like so many others, I have never found a satisfactory “natural” explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus, the postmortem appearances of Christ to the apostles, the birth of the early church in Jerusalem (of all places!), and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given that the resurrection did occur, the testimony of the apostles emerges not only from a rich supply of historical background evidence but from firsthand experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.
 
For myself, I know that the same kind of “religious experience” that gave such boldness to the apostles continues to the present. I know of Christ’s resurrection not only by inference from historical evidence but because I have experienced, as did the apostle Paul, the life-changing "power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). I know firsthand the love of the Father, forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of the Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. For me and billions of other believers, the existence of God is therefore self-evident, as uncontroversially true as the axioms of logic and probability might seem for a logician or statistician. So for me Christian theism is simply, certainly true. But in deference to Nearing's probabilistic sensibilities, here I will say merely that Christian theism is almost certainly true.


 


[1] Cale Nearing is a Statistician who holds Bachelor's degrees in Technical and Professional Writing, Mathematics, and Statistics. Readers may find his argument in full at https://m.facebook.com/groups/870345023006950/permalink/1501101383264641/?__tn__=R (requires logging in to Facebook and joining the "Reasonable Faith Debunked" group).
 
[2] Nearing uses the convention P(Tc), where c is any "compliment" of T, or any hypothesis which, if true, would mean that theism is false.
 
[3] Nearing here adds a fifth term, P(C), the probablity of any and all alternative hypotheses Sue has failed to consider. Though I believe he is correct to note that any value for P(C) would make theism less probable, I leave it out for simplicity's sake.
 
[4] It could be objected here – rightly! – that the evidence for sphericity makes it far more probable than any alternative or disjunction of alternatives. But as an a priori matter it happens to be the only one of the four shapes postulated with no flat surface, which might lead a naïve ("unbiased") observer to conclude that the earth probably has at least one flat side. This underscores why observational evidence and background knowledge are more important than Nearing seems willing to allow.
 
[5] There appears to be no getting around the role of the individual's beliefs and biases in assessing priors, strength of evidence for and against the hypothesis, etc. In Bayesian Confirmation Theory this is known as conformational relativity: "Evidential relationships must be relativized to individuals and their degrees of belief" – James Joyce, "Bayes' Theorem," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/bayes-theorem/.
 
[6] Don McIntosh, "On the Prior Probability of the Resurrection," http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2017/02/on-prior-probability-of-resurrection.html.
 
[7] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (2nd Ed.) (New York: Oxford, 2004).
 
[8] Swinburne, pp. 339-340.
 
[9] Swinburne, p. 340.

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 christiancadre@yahoo.com.