Discerning God

Jayman continues his comment by relating a personal experience that he feels is relevant.

One night I prayed to God and perceived receiving a message from God containing information about future events. I did not immediately conclude that God must have spoken to me. I realized that if God really did speak to me the events in the message would have to come true. They did come true. The same basic prayer/message scenario played out multiple times, with the message always confirmed later. The most parsimonious explanation seems to be that God sent me those messages.

Before I look at Jayman’s post, I’d like to say something about the response this story got, the first of which was to call Jayman a liar. Having been in a very similar situation myself, I have no problem stating that I emphatically do believe that Jayman is telling the truth as he understands it, and I don’t think it’s really helpful to make this sort of accusation against him. He has experienced something which is personally significant to him, and which he feels constitutes a case of God showing up in his life, and if we can’t come up with a better rebuttal than simple denial, we haven’t got a very good case. We need to be able to show why it falls short of reasonable standards of evidence—which is what I intend to do in the rest of this post.

First of all, notice that this is not a case of God showing up. If God had shown up to deliver the message in person, then Jayman would have known who the message was from, and wouldn’t have needed to repeat a particular test multiple times in order to convince himself that he knew who sent it. In the Bible, when God shows up, nobody asks to see a photo ID! But that’s not what happened to Jayman.

What Jayman experienced was a subjective phenomenon, an event whose existence consisted of his perception of it. A bystander in the same room would not have seen, heard, or felt any such message being delivered, and if Jayman had been unconscious (e.g. sleeping dreamlessly), the event would not have happened. His perception of the event was the event, which puts this experience squarely in the category of intuition, according to the FISH mnemonic.

It’s also a bit superstitious as well, in that he eventually attributed this event to God, without having evidence of any direct connection to any particular deity. If we were going to start proposing supernatural causes, we might say, for example, that it could just as easily have been the work of some other magical spirit, or some undetected clairvoyance on Jayman’s part. He believes God was responsible, but he has no verifiable evidence that would make God a more likely possibility than any of the other supernatural alternatives.

We don’t need to appeal to supernatural causes, though. As the Bible itself testifies, “the heart is deceitful above all things,” and this particular sort of experience is fairly easy for the heart to pull off. All it takes is two tricks: the ability to seriously underestimate your chances of guessing the future, and the ability to not count the misses.

Underestimating your ability to know the future is easy. For example, even if you know the weather forecast is calling for a 90% chance of precipitation tomorrow, you don’t know that’s what’s going to happen. You may have an appointment to meet someone, but you don’t know they’re going to be there. It’s easy for there not to be any way you can know what the future holds. So the first part of the “test” for a message from God is easy. Even if you’re 99.9999% sure of what’s going to happen, you never really know.

Getting a message that comes true is also surprisingly easy, if you realize that any messages that fail to come true are not from God. After all, if you got 6 messages from God, and one of them failed to come true, you wouldn’t decide that all six messages were fake, or that God was a fraud, you’d decide that the one message that failed was the only one that was bogus. Why blame God for a message he didn’t send? And He obviously didn’t send it because if He had, it would have come true. And the same for the next 28 messages that also fail to come true.

I have an infallible gift for predicting the future. If you flip a coin, I can predict whether it will be heads or tails, while the coin is still in the air, and be right every time. You can flip the coin as often as you want, and I will correctly predict the outcome. What are the odds of that, eh? There’s just one stipulation: if the coin ever comes up tails, my prediction doesn’t count. If you flip a coin and it comes up tails, you need to do it again. But so long as you abide by that stipulation, I can predict the flips with 100% accuracy, 100% of the time, no matter how many times you flip the coin.

Neat trick, eh? Our minds can do that for us automatically, under the right circumstances. We don’t even need to consciously rig the scorekeeping. It just seems to happen naturally, as we perceive what should and should not count. But the end result is that God gets to predict the future the same way I can predict coin flips: only the “successes” get counted as God’s. And the person doing the counting doesn’t even realize they’re doing it.

In any case, we know that God isn’t really interested in revealing His existence by means of predicting the future. If He were, we could easily arrange a demonstration that would be pretty hard to fake. For example, He could tell Jayman what’s written on the piece of paper in my back pocket. Or better yet, He could give us the MD5 checksum of the text of next Tuesday’s lead editorial in the New York Times. Jayman is in computers, so I’m sure he knows what I mean, and even if he didn’t, God would. But God won’t do that, and in fact He can’t, because God only agrees to tests that are guaranteed to succeed even if God Himself does not exist.

Jayman’s test, above, is a case in point. It becomes evidence of God only after it proves successful, as Jayman himself has testified. Had it failed to come true, he would have decided the message was not from God, and would therefore not count as a test for God’s existence. It’s the safe tests, the tests that have already passed, that get counted. Just like me and my infallible ability to predict coin tosses. And that’s the closest God comes to “showing up” in real life.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 36 Comments »

36 Responses to “Discerning God”

  1. Parker Says:

    I had a dream one time that I was driving in my car and hit two people. the next day on the news I read about a couple of local guys who were struck while jaywalking early in the morning. I could have easily brought myself to believe that I had received some precognitive information via some omniscient being (my particular choice would have been the Christian god, as I was baptist at the time). However, I didn’t attribute my ream to some psychic-dream ability. You know what I thought?
    Strange coincidence.

  2. nal Says:

    Jayman:
    I realized that if God really did speak to me the events in the message would have to come true.

    Therefore, if the message did not come true, God did not really speak to you.

  3. Mike Says:

    He could give us the MD5 checksum of the text of next Tuesday’s lead editorial in the New York Times.

    Any god who’s still using MD5 for His cryptographic purposes is not a god worth worshipping ;)

  4. R. C. Moore Says:

    “Any god who’s still using MD5 for His cryptographic purposes is not a god worth worshipping”

    I know you are joking, but I have a broader point:

    A MD5 checksum is not used for cryptographic purposes, it is a measure of the integrity of data.

    In the case of Jayman, how are we to measure the integrity of his data? Did he make a prediction, create a protocol, collect data, and then compare the results to a predetermined criteria. No. Can his experience be reliably repeated? No.

    Science long ago discovered the fallacy of placing any value on observations that are not filtered through the scientific method. Jayman would feel at home with Aristotle. Until he visits his doctor, that is.

  5. cl Says:

    DD,

    I’d like to say something about the response this story got, the first of which was to call Jayman a liar. …if we can’t come up with a better rebuttal than simple denial, we haven’t got a very good case. We need to be able to show why it falls short of reasonable standards of evidence…

    I can’t express how much I agree with you here, and I also thought pboyfloyd’s response was childish and irrational. That’s exactly the sort of stuff that tends to derail these types of things and take them further off course. We find someone hard to understand so we insult them instead of showing why we think their argument fails. It’s sandbox technique, which is sad because by this point everybody’s got quite a bit of time put into this discussion.

    In the Bible, when God shows up, nobody asks to see a photo ID!

    Then why did doubters demand signs from Jesus?

    What Jayman experienced was a subjective phenomenon, an event whose existence consisted of his perception of it. A bystander in the same room would not have seen, heard, or felt any such message being delivered, and if Jayman had been unconscious (e.g. sleeping dreamlessly), the event would not have happened. His perception of the event was the event, which puts this experience squarely in the category of intuition, according to the FISH mnemonic.

    Yes, Jayman’s was a subjective experience. We can agree on that. Yes, the burden of proof is on the one making the positive claim, and that’s Jayman. That’s all fine and dandy. Problem is, Jayman’s lack of empirical evidence only justifies you in not believing his claim. It does not give you the right to assume you know what happened and make a positive claim of your own. You’re certainly justified by your own rationalism if you say, “No videotape or photo, Jayman? Well then I don’t believe you.” But you go farther than that.

    You have no evidence or possible way of knowing that the event’s “existence consisted of his perception of it.” It is 100% reasonable that something could have occurred to Jayman in actuality, yet here you are again acting like you can somehow know it did not. And you make proclamations without evidence. How can you know whether a bystander would have had the experience or not? That, too, is a claim that requires omniscience. Were you there? Did you conduct any studies? Collect any empirical data? IOW, as you demand of Jayman, I demand of you: What do you have to support your positive claim that Jayman’s experience “consisted of his perception of it” other than opinion? Nothing.

    I’m not trying to go off on a tirade here as much as to let you see how your reasoning looks to somebody who is not pre-committed to atheism. You chide Jayman and anyone else who attributes an unknown phenomenon to God, yet on the same lack of evidence, you attribute the same unknowns to superstition and coincidence. Why should your appeal to coincidence be any more persuasive than Jayman’s appeal to God? I really want to understand your POV but I just can’t find the consistency.

    If we were going to start proposing supernatural causes, we might say, for example, that it could just as easily have been the work of some other magical spirit, or some undetected clairvoyance on Jayman’s part.

    Or leprechauns, or a SMERF, or Santa, or the FSM, right? I mean if they all have equal possibility and equal explanatory power as people here say, why not? Like jim says, we can propose ANYTHING, right?

    Even if you’re 99.9999% sure of what’s going to happen, you never really know.

    So how does that affect your Undeniable Fact?

    R. C. Moore,

    Science long ago discovered the fallacy of placing any value on observations that are not filtered through the scientific method.

    Sure, in science, but there’s more to life than science, right? Do you wear a labcoat and spectacles to parties so you can scientifically observe which girls are into you? The observation that you are hungry does not get filtered through the scientific method, yet I imagine you place value on it, right?

  6. Jayman Says:

    DD:

    Jayman continues his comment by relating a personal experience that he feels is relevant.

    My personal story was told to show that a theory about the supernatural need not be superstitious and that your FISH mnemonic does not always apply.

    First of all, notice that this is not a case of God showing up. If God had shown up to deliver the message in person, then Jayman would have known who the message was from, and wouldn’t have needed to repeat a particular test multiple times in order to convince himself that he knew who sent it. In the Bible, when God shows up, nobody asks to see a photo ID! But that’s not what happened to Jayman.

    This ties into an issue that cl has brought up before. Even if God does show up, how do you know that it’s God? As noted in the comments under that post, the alleged sender of the message was never in question. It was only a matter of verifying the alleged identity as best I could. Even in the Bible people will not recognize God immediately. It is only later that they realize they are standing on holy ground. I imagine if I claimed that I just recognized God automatically the skeptics would be complaining about that too.

    What Jayman experienced was a subjective phenomenon, an event whose existence consisted of his perception of it. A bystander in the same room would not have seen, heard, or felt any such message being delivered, and if Jayman had been unconscious (e.g. sleeping dreamlessly), the event would not have happened. His perception of the event was the event, which puts this experience squarely in the category of intuition, according to the FISH mnemonic.

    The accuracy of the message could have been determined by a bystander. The event was not merely my perception but also the fulfillment of the message. Depending on how one uses the term “intuition” it is not a bad thing.

    It’s also a bit superstitious as well, in that he eventually attributed this event to God, without having evidence of any direct connection to any particular deity. If we were going to start proposing supernatural causes, we might say, for example, that it could just as easily have been the work of some other magical spirit, or some undetected clairvoyance on Jayman’s part. He believes God was responsible, but he has no verifiable evidence that would make God a more likely possibility than any of the other supernatural alternatives.

    You are incorrect in saying God did not identify himself. I was acting no more superstitiously than I am when I claim your post was written by Deacon Duncan and not an impostor.

    All it takes is two tricks: the ability to seriously underestimate your chances of guessing the future, and the ability to not count the misses.

    I’ve considered both those possibilities and ruled them out to the best of my ability. Though you grant that I am not making up the story you are still denying parts of it. As you stated, “if we can’t come up with a better rebuttal than simple denial, we haven’t got a very good case.” But isn’t denial all the atheist can ultimately fall back on? It is rarely the case that the atheist takes the believer’s entire story, without any modification, and provides a natural explanation. Usually the atheist resorts to denying, in some form or another, an aspect of the believer’s story.

    Jayman’s test, above, is a case in point. It becomes evidence of God only after it proves successful, as Jayman himself has testified. Had it failed to come true, he would have decided the message was not from God, and would therefore not count as a test for God’s existence.

    My “test” was never a test of God’s existence. It was only a test of whether God sent me a message. It just so happens that if God sent me a message then God must exist. The hypothesis “God sent me a message” was testable.

  7. Jayman Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    A MD5 checksum is not used for cryptographic purposes, it is a measure of the integrity of data.

    MD5 can be used for encryption.

    In the case of Jayman, how are we to measure the integrity of his data? Did he make a prediction, create a protocol, collect data, and then compare the results to a predetermined criteria. No. Can his experience be reliably repeated? No.

    You won’t be able to analyze data by surfing the internet. If you had read my comments you would see that my method did involve testing predictions and repeatability.

  8. cl Says:

    DD,

    Just caught this:

    Jayman’s test, above, is a case in point. It becomes evidence of God only after it proves successful, as Jayman himself has testified.

    Natural selection became evidence of evolution only after it proved successful. Is that bad?

    Jayman,

    I imagine if I claimed that I just recognized God automatically the skeptics would be complaining about that too.

    Most certainly.

    But isn’t denial all the atheist can ultimately fall back on?

    Yep.

    It is rarely the case that the atheist takes the believer’s entire story, without any modification, and provides a natural explanation. Usually the atheist resorts to denying, in some form or another, an aspect of the believer’s story.

    Of course. Or they attribute the story to “superstition” or “coincidence” on the same evidentiary misgivings.

  9. jim Says:

    cl:

    “Or leprechauns, or a SMERF, or Santa, or the FSM, right? I mean if they all have equal possibility and equal explanatory power as people here say, why not? Like jim says, we can propose ANYTHING, right?”

    That’s right; because the plea to required agnosticism due to non-omniscience overrides any and all evidential concerns, due to hypothetical counter-factuals which might exist outside our knowledge base concerning ANY EVIDENTIARY CONCLUSIONS WHATSOEVER. Your ‘explanatory power’ is utterly nullified in all directions under the aegis of your own tenet. You just don’t like the implications of your philosophical hidey-hole, because it neuters all your evidential propositions, as well.

    Duncan, all the while, has been arguing from a strong evidentiary base, whether you agree with his conclusions or not. It is plain to any casual reader of the New Testament that Jesus made promises having to do with prayer and fulfillment which, if actually real, would turn statistical tables on their heads, no matter how you sliced them. All this quibbling over who and who is not a real Christian is nothing less than prolonged obfuscation. The ‘supernatural’ effects regarding the population as a whole would still stand out like a sore thumb ( a point I’ve made previously). This isn’t testing God; this is simply testing the measurable consequences of His supposed nature and promises, which would necessarily follow from His actions. To think otherwise is nonsensical…it’s as if you were to say God grew your arm back, but the new arm can’t be empirically verified. Silly.

    Speaking of arms growing back, I’m loving how you asked for examples, then immediately abandoned the ones I offered in favor of looking for agreed upon criteria. I’m certain THAT would produce another month of running around in circles, since obviously the two sides of this conversation have fundamental differences in how to interpret reality which will NEVER be breached without one side literally acquiescing to the other. Again, get a group of Christians to pray a limb back into existence, or empty out a children’s cancer ward, or levitate a group of ‘real’ Christians out of a burning church (I suppose the backsliders can remain inside and roast, if you wish), and most people, including atheists, will be on the path to buy what you’re selling. Of course you can’t, and you won’t accept my examples, because that’s actual proof, the obvious kind of proof acceptable to most people. But it seems God prefers to work out his will in the cracks between perception. It’s almost as if He’d really LIKE his actions to be overlooked or mistaken for mundane natural processes. It’s like He WANTS to seem non-existent for some reason.

    Or, just maybe, He doesn’t exist. That seems the most likely explanation for me. Of course, I’m not OMNISCIENT!

    As an aside, I’d like to ask you something…how do you know God can’t be logically rejected without omniscience? Seems to me you’d have to be omniscient yourself to be absolutely sure there’s isn’t a method short of omniscience to disprove God. This is the sort of silly, circular reasoning you fall into when you press at the boundaries of epistemology to hard. That reasoning is practiced within boundaries I’ll be the first to admit; but don’t think you can step outside them yourself, and then pretend that you’re speaking reasonably. Remember, EVERY SINGLE CONCLUSION we come to can be questioned from outside the box. Problem is, reason IS the box, so when you plead to something outside (in your case omniscience, or lack thereof), you’ve literally left the bounds of reason, which is why I have a real hard time taking you seriously.

  10. jim Says:

    cl:

    Just a word on the Flying Spaghetti monster…it’s an argument aimed at demonstrating the vacuous nature of the ‘can’t make a call because of non-omniscience’ argument. Under the auspices of that particular argument, FSM’s, Santa Clause, unicorns and leprechauns share EXACTLY the same status i.e. hypothetical entities which cannot be deductively disallowed. The weighing of evidences is another argument entirely, and one to which you’ve applied the FSM example erroneously.

  11. cl Says:

    …the plea to required agnosticism due to non-omniscience overrides any and all evidential concerns, due to hypothetical counter-factuals which might exist outside our knowledge base concerning ANY EVIDENTIARY CONCLUSIONS WHATSOEVER.

    Nonsense. I’ve been stabbed.

    To think otherwise is nonsensical…it’s as if you were to say God grew your arm back, but the new arm can’t be empirically verified. Silly.

    But in a very similar way, that’s exactly what you and DD are saying. If I did pray an arm back, and I showed you my new arm, you could simply say that God as the cause couldn’t be verified. What would be the “verifiable connection?”

    Speaking of arms growing back, I’m loving how you asked for examples, then immediately abandoned the ones I offered in favor of looking for agreed upon criteria. I’m certain THAT would produce another month of running around in circles,

    Ah fer Christ’s sake jim here you go again with this. Who’s running in circles if you and others keep coming back to this point? I’ve told you what I want, and it’s not “jim’s wish list of things jim would accept as a miracle.” I want a list of criteria by which a room of people of differing faiths or no faiths can sit down and intelligently evaluate whether claim A, B, or C can be excluded. That’s what I want, not BS like “Unamgibuous” and “stringently verified.” Let’s move forward, not backwards.

    All this quibbling over who and who is not a real Christian is nothing less than prolonged obfuscation.

    jim for the second time now, who is and is not a real Christian is certainly important when the question is whether or not Christians are exempt from catastrophe. If you can’t see that, please don’t bother me on this point anymore. It does nothing but make the discussion regress.

    …obviously the two sides of this conversation have fundamental differences in how to interpret reality which will NEVER be breached without one side literally acquiescing to the other.

    Now you might be on to something. Sounds very similar to recent comments I’ve made here.

    Again, get a group of Christians to pray a limb back into existence, or empty out a children’s cancer ward, or levitate a group of ‘real’ Christians out of a burning church (I suppose the backsliders can remain inside and roast, if you wish), and most people, including atheists, will be on the path to buy what you’re selling.

    Ah, yes, the atheist’s version of “Find me a reptile-man and I’ll believe.”

    Or, just maybe, He doesn’t exist. That seems the most likely explanation for me.

    That’s completely fine and justified, and I can respect the way you phrased that. You don’t need omniscience to have belief. You do need omniscience to claim God has never shown up in real life in a disparate manifestation. If you can’t admit the latter, I’m not too worried about my logic.

    It seems you suspended your distaste for me in your last paragraph and for that I’m happy. I would actually love to get past the polemical part of our contributions to this thread.

    That reasoning is practiced within boundaries I’ll be the first to admit; but don’t think you can step outside them yourself, and then pretend that you’re speaking reasonably.

    By all means, jim, show me where I’ve stepped outside the boundaries. DD said it’s an Undeniable Fact God never shows up in real life. Although he’s not yet clarified if he meant DM or FR, particularly in the case of DM, we cannot say this without omniscience. How can you possibly refute this fact? How can we possibly know that God has never manifested Himself to some person in some disparate occasion between Genesis and Revelation? Do you really believe it requires a betrayal of logic to say that nobody can know this sans omniscience?

    If so, can you see why I might have a hard time taking you serious? Let’s try to reach some common ground here.

  12. cl Says:

    jim,

    Under the auspices of that particular argument, FSM’s, Santa Clause, unicorns and leprechauns share EXACTLY the same status i.e. hypothetical entities which cannot be deductively disallowed.

    Yes, I understand that. My complaint is against people who use the argument ~this way. People who say, “Ah hell, there’s just as much evidence for FSM or leprechauns.” That person is the fool IMO.

  13. nal Says:

    cl:
    Natural selection became evidence of evolution only after it proved successful.

    I consider natural selection as a mechanism of evolution, not as evidence of evolution. I would consider the fossil record as evidence of evolution. However, the fossil record could have proven the theory of evolution false. This is not the case in Jayman’s story, where if the events in the message had not come true, he would not have considered that as evidence against God’s speaking to him.

  14. jim Says:

    cl:

    “Nonsense. I’ve been stabbed.”

    How do you know? Could be a dream, a delusion, a subterfuge by some magical creature playing games with you, a simulation, etc. etc. etc. Your ‘non-omniscience’ domain leaves open all these possibilities and more. Next time you’ve been stabbed, I suggest you adopt a ‘null’ opinion concerning whether it’s actually happened or not. Just playing by your rules.

    “But in a very similar way, that’s exactly what you and DD are saying. If I did pray an arm back, and I showed you my new arm, you could simply say that God as the cause couldn’t be verified. What would be the “verifiable connection?”

    I won’t speak for DD here, but as I’ve already stated elsewhere, if Christians prayed an arm back, it most certainly would cause me to seriously re-evaluate my opinions concerning the existence of the Christian god. I operate on real-life evidence, and don’t back into corners of required deductive certainty in order to form conclusions. It’s called reasonableness, which the ‘null position in the face of less-than-absolute certainty’ is not.

    “Ah fer Christ’s sake jim here you go again with this. Who’s running in circles if you and others keep coming back to this point? I’ve told you what I want, and it’s not “jim’s wish list of things jim would accept as a miracle.” I want a list of criteria by which a room of people of differing faiths or no faiths can sit down and intelligently evaluate whether claim A, B, or C can be excluded. That’s what I want, not BS like “Unamgibuous” and “stringently verified.” Let’s move forward, not backwards.”

    What YOU want is of little concern to me, seeing as no one put you in charge in the first place, cl. And it’s not a wish list, it’s a list of examples that most people would accept as being ‘miraculous’. The unambiguous, stringently verified thing is something YOU keep running in circles; though I’d probably call your argumentation neither forward nor backwards, but sideways, since you often tend to ignore repeated rebuttals concerning the former, and quibble to the point that actual progress is never made.

    “Now you might be on to something. Sounds very similar to recent comments I’ve made here.”

    Except never coming to any conclusions seems to work in your favor; if this were chess, you’d be the guy going for the draw.

    “Ah, yes, the atheist’s version of “Find me a reptile-man and I’ll believe.”

    No, find me an obvious miracle in roughly the fashion I’ve outlined, and I’ll be on the road to believing. Of course you can’t, and so you won’t, and instead you’ll quibble over requirements and definitions about a something a child could understand.

    “That’s completely fine and justified, and I can respect the way you phrased that. You don’t need omniscience to have belief. You do need omniscience to claim God has never shown up in real life in a disparate manifestation. If you can’t admit the latter, I’m not too worried about my logic.”

    Now you’re quibbling over ‘belief’ vs ‘knowledge’. In the strictest sense all our knowledge is belief, in that there’s always the possibility that what we think we know can hypothetically be supplanted by new information. But when we use ‘know’ in the day-to-day sense, we’re not appealing to deductive certainty to form our conclusions.
    I’ve already written a whole spiel about this above, and shouldn’t have to repeat myself. I would definitely claim that I’m communicating with a human right now, though there are a million hypothetical possibilities which might serve to disprove that assertion. Anyhow, I think you’ve been rebutted on your ‘agnosticism per non-omniscience’ position more than adequately.

    “It seems you suspended your distaste for me in your last paragraph and for that I’m happy. I would actually love to get past the polemical part of our contributions to this thread.”

    Not really; I still see you as a sophist. This isn’t meant as a personal attack, though I’ll admit to some emotional spillover. I detest the semantics, the mis-direction, the obtuseness- but I still like to get in and make a point now and again. It’s important to me that a little clarity shines through amidst all the smoke. Plus, I’ve really enjoyed the contributions by the other posters here, as well as by our host. It just becomes clearer and clearer that biblical theism doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    But do I think this conversation is actually headed anywhere? No, I do not.

    “By all means, jim, show me where I’ve stepped outside the boundaries. DD said it’s an Undeniable Fact God never shows up in real life. Although he’s not yet clarified if he meant DM or FR, particularly in the case of DM, we cannot say this without omniscience. How can you possibly refute this fact? How can we possibly know that God has never manifested Himself to some person in some disparate occasion between Genesis and Revelation? Do you really believe it requires a betrayal of logic to say that nobody can know this sans omniscience?”

    I’ve already replied to all this in the post to which yours is a reply. Nothing more needs be said along these lines.

    “If so, can you see why I might have a hard time taking you serious? Let’s try to reach some common ground here.”

    There’s no qualitative common ground to be had here, cl; I came to that conclusion around the third conversation I had with you on your own blog, before any of this ever-expanding thread was even started. I simply don’t see you as arguing in good faith, period. You may disagree, and I may be wrong, but that’s the way I see it. However, I’ve still seen fit to reply at length to you here for reasons I’ve already iterated. No hard feelings, but I find talking with you to be exquisitely torturous, and ultimately futile. Except…well, nothing’s ULTIMATELY futile…is it?

    ” Under the auspices of that particular argument, FSM’s, Santa Clause, unicorns and leprechauns share EXACTLY the same status i.e. hypothetical entities which cannot be deductively disallowed (ME)

    Yes, I understand that. My complaint is against people who use the argument ~this way. People who say, “Ah hell, there’s just as much evidence for FSM or leprechauns.” That person is the fool IMO (YOU)

    Firstly, it seems that you’re acquiescing to my take on the whole non-omniscience deal. Is this true, or am I misinterpreting? As far as the rest goes…

    Now THAT’S another argument, one having to do with the nature of evidence, whether folklore, anecdotes and the like constitute actual evidence, and all sorts of other nooks and crannies. As to the ‘fool’ making this or that claim, I’d say we’d have to take it on a case by case basis. Certainly the FSM is a transparent fraud designed to confront the silly ‘non-omniscience’ position on its own terms. Leprechauns? Things get a little fuzzier there. Unicorns? I think the bible mentions them somewhere, though my memory might be lacking in that area (haven’t stood at the pulpit in a long, long time). Santa Clause? Wow, we’re getting closer to splitting hairs now. I know it’s been mentioned that we understand the genesis of the Kris Kringle myth pretty well (or do we?); however, the same would be claimed by many, including moi, concerning the Christ myth. There’s more complexity involved, certainly, but qualitatively the two stories share many similarities that I won’t get into right now. Flying saucers? Hmmm, I’d have to give the nod to the little green men over the man on the cross for a number of reasons we might get into someday, if this other conversation ever gets over with.

    Anyhow, I think that’s enough for tonight. Talk later.

  15. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman–

    “If you had read my comments you would see that my method did involve testing predictions and repeatability.”

    Not in any meaningful sense.

  16. cl Says:

    jim,

    1) Saying DD has to be omniscient to claim the Undeniable Fact that zero instances of DM have occurred is correct. Saying I have to be omniscient to know I was really stabbed is stupid and you know it. You once shared with me that you had a daughter. Of course you really have a daughter so why are we still discussing this point?

    2) I don’t advocate the ‘null position in the face of less-than-absolute certainty.’ I advocate beginning at the NULL position and following the evidence wherever it leads, and it’s certainly understandable that different people have different life experiences and thus different evidence to work with.

    3) I’ve never said I was in charge, but you keep faulting me for something I’ve already explained, which is that you misunderstood the demand. For the umpteenth time, yes, you’ve provided specific examples of things you would accept. But what I’m getting at is, Why would those particular things be persuasive to you? What would make any of them more persuasive than say, Zeitoun? What is the logic and reasoning underlying those things as your specific examples? Those are certainly reasonable questions.

    Say a group of people want to have a reasonable discussion about what is and is not a miracle. Your examples show only what you would consider to be a miracle. But guess what? You’re not the only one in the conversation. Again my offer – let’s get some people together and screw the polemics, let’s try and write out some clear-cut criteria that will allow us to at least categorically describe something as a miracle. I’ve already expanded on the single-word definitions you and John Morales provided, and they are still not satisfactory obviously, else we still wouldn’t be discussing whether Zeitoun, Bernadette McKenzie or Jayman’s prophetic prayers were authentic. The fact that a group of adults is still discussing whether or not these things are miracles supports my point about definitions and clarity more than it supports people’s repeated dismissal of said point.

    4) I don’t see how “never coming to conclusions” works in my favor. I’m not of the opinion that we can prove miracles or God really. I’ve never seen tight logic either way, for atheism or theism. I’m not sure if such a thing as a successful ontological argument even exists. And I’ve come to several conclusions in this discussion so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    5) And as far as yet another “sophist” comment, what can I do? Give in to sandbox technique? No thanks. I see you as a person and an intellectual, so if I misunderstand you I don’t assume it’s of some nefarious intent to deceive. Can you read another’s mind? Hardly so.

    6) You haven’t outlined anything. You’ve given a few examples of things you would accept, but the underlying logic or qualifying criteria that would prompt you to accept them remains undisclosed. Again, Why would those things be persuasive to you? What would make any of them more persuasive than say, Zeitoun? What is the logic and reasoning underlying those things as your specific examples?

    7) You say, “I think you’ve been rebutted on your ‘agnosticism per non-omniscience’ position more than adequately.” That’s not even a ‘position’ I hold. Saying DD needs omniscience to know that God never disparately manifests does not mean I adhere to the ‘agnosticism per non-omniscience’ position. Let me ask you, jim. If I’ve been rebutted and you’re sooo confident in this regard, then answer the following question: How can we possibly know that God has never manifested Himself to some person in some disparate occasion between Genesis and Revelation?

    8) Ah, yes, jim who presumes I’m here in bad faith then goes on to insult me, exquisitely torturous and whatever else. Don’t you see the irony? Here I am saying, “Let’s make some ground here,” and you continue to denigrate. Now I’m not going to presume I know your intents, but that doesn’t jibe with what I would call “good faith” at all. And I’m sorry you’ve closed your mind to the idea that you can reach common ground with me, alas. I just think it’s sad you would reach such a final and forceful conclusion after only 3 perfunctory conversations with somebody. I was taught that often when we misunderstand people, the misunderstanding is with ourselves, and that it’s presumptuous to assume. Yes, we’re having some disconnects here. So what? You really think I’m out to somehow “trick” or “obfuscate” you into believing there’s a God? Get real! Let’s uncover these disconnects and fix them.

    So how about this – please answer at least my 6 and 7 “in good faith,” and feel free to ask me any hospitable questions of your own. Let’s get up off the ground, put the bar stools and chairs back in place and conduct ourselves like men. The ladies are laughing at us. We need to agree on something and start from there.

  17. jim Says:

    cl:

    1. Already explained this.

    2. “How can we possibly know that God has never manifested Himself to some person in some disparate occasion between Genesis and Revelation? Do you really believe it requires a betrayal of logic to say that NOBODY CAN KNOW this sans omniscience?” (your quote, my emphasis) Evidence never gets a chance to enter the picture.

    3. Already covered ad nauseam throughout this extended conversation by several participants. Not worth repeating again.

    4. My opinion, due to your tactics as I perceive them. I might be mistaken, but doubt that I am.

    5. Not speaking to intent, but to your overall method; though, admittedly, I suspect intent.

    6. Been covered from dozens of angles. If you’re not getting it, you never will. What more can I say?

    7. I’ve already covered the epistemology angle.

    Bad faith means that you pursue an argument whilst simultaneously ignoring, rejecting, or otherwise avoiding cogent subject matter that doesn’t line up with your goals. There are other correlate tactics involved as well, though I’m not interested in getting into them right now. Everything’s been said a dozen times already, cl. You just don’t pick up on what doesn’t suit you. Again, I’m not overly concerned about whether this is intentional or not. People think differently, and I DON’T think you’re stupid or anything like that. But you’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese.

    Don’t take any of this personally. I’m just too lazy to type diplomatically. And I need a smoke. Later, gator!

  18. jim Says:

    Personally, I’ll be happy when Duncan finds another book or two to review. THAT’S what keeps me coming back here.

  19. R. C. Moore Says:

    jim said:

    “Personally, I’ll be happy when Duncan finds another book or two to review. THAT’S what keeps me coming back here.”

    Dittos. A return to constructive logic and theological clarity would be welcome. Duncan is wasting his talents on these discussions.

    I can only follow a debate on the ratio of unicorns to leprechauns for so long.

  20. jim Says:

    cl:

    Duh! *smacks head* You’re not even an arguer in the Monty Python-ish sense. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question, attempting to move things in the desired direction whilst offering nothing that might actually pin you down. Another example of bad faith, btw.

  21. cl Says:

    jim,

    Interesting. What “cogent subject matter” do you claim I am ignoring?

  22. jim Says:

    cl:

    Another turn on the roundabout? Not tonight, thanks. Not interesting.

  23. rgz Says:

    cl: Do you wear a labcoat and spectacles to parties so you can scientifically observe which girls are into you?

    Once again, I went to a costume party you insensitive clod!

  24. pevo Says:

    someone somewhere asked: “what is the definition of a miracle?” I’ll take a stab at it. Something that happens that was not natural in origin. If the cause *was* natural, then it could hardly be a miracle, although it could be mysterious. If it was *not* natural, than it implies the existence of the supernatural. And that is where I have problems. The supernatural in unobservable, so how can you reasonably claim that it exists?

  25. cl Says:

    pevo,

    someone somewhere asked: “what is the definition of a miracle?” I’ll take a stab at it.

    Thank you for addressing the question, that was me. Your criteria reads “something that happens that was not natural in origin.” For the sake of brevity lets further denote this as S. The problem is, man’s pronouncements of S have been horribly inaccurate historically. We used to think lightning was not natural in origin, right? We used to think flight was not natural in origin. What is and is not natural is relates entirely to knowledge. So how is S a useful criteria if S itself is inextricably dependent on current knowledge of what is natural, which as a category itself is always expanding?

    By your definition, people in a remote mountain village that see an airplane pass by could legitimately refer to the plane as a miracle, in the sense that any explanation of the plane would fall beyond the bounds of their knowledge of what can be called natural. Who’s to say that as this tribe’s ignorance is to an airplane, so might our ignorance be to Zeitoun or UFO’s? The tribe calling the airplane a miracle is based on their ignorance of what can naturally occur. But humans still retain significant amounts of ignorance regarding what can naturally occur. Maybe things like Zeitoun have natural explanations? How do we know? Maybe if a limb grows back, there’s a natural explanation? How would we know?

    Now, I tend to be unconvinced by Zeitoun but I’m pretty ignorant of the facts about it as well. As far as a limb growing back, I would accept that as evidence that we are still far behind in our assessments of reality. But what I’m getting at is this: To use violation of natural law as a criteria assumes that we can always know when natural law has been violated, and man has been historically unreliable in this regard. Another unaddressed question of mine that relates directly to your comment is how we might reasonably screen for confounders of spontaneous regression and placebo effect when investigating an alleged faith healing.

    The supernatural [is] unobservable, so how can you reasonably claim that it exists?

    This takes things off the definition of miracles and in another tangent, but I don’t agree that what I think you mean when you say “the supernatural” is unobservable.

  26. John Morales Says:

    miraculous prophesies and messages from God.

    [...] It is an important miracle that Allah should have shown the Prophet (saas) somewhere he had never been without actually going there. It was impossible at that time to go from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night, and that makes the miracle even greater and clearer. [...]

  27. pevo Says:

    cl,
    There is a significant difference between ‘was not natural’ and ‘we do not think it to be natural.’ I agree that knowledge plays a part in this. Just because some tribe can’t explain a plane in the air could of course make them *think* it was a miracle. But it would not be.

    cl:This takes things off the definition of miracles and in another tangent, but I don’t agree that what I think you mean when you say “the supernatural” is unobservable.

    me: well, I don’t think so. The entire issue is about observables. I said more that was not commented on: If the cause *was* natural then it wouldn’t be miracle, although, just like your examples, it would be mysterious and could easily be interpreted as a miracle. If it is not natural it is, by definition, super-natural.

    And this, I suspect, is where we disagree: what is supernatural? More directly, how do you distinguish the natural from the supernatural? Science is not in the habit of ignoring data. Its rather clear on the subject: all observables must be taken into account in the process of trying to model the world and predict future observables. These models, in turn, are what we call ‘nature’, or ‘universal laws’, etc. Anything observable, in that science includes it, is a part of nature. Do we have a model that explains all observables? No. But science is a process, not a forgone conclusion. Our models get better with time. The supernatural, then, is non-observable by definition.

    If you claim that the supernatural *is* observable, then it should reveal itself via experimental methods. That very moment, it would be recruited into a larger model of the world and would cease to be supernatural.

    cl: Another unaddressed question of mine that relates directly to your comment is how we might reasonably screen for confounders of spontaneous regression and placebo effect when investigating an alleged faith healing.

    me: I did try to answer that question in the thread it was posted.

  28. cl Says:

    Just because some tribe can’t explain a plane in the air could of course make them *think* it was a miracle. But it would not be.

    I agree completely. But doesn’t that same reasoning apply to any alleged miracle now? IOW, what would be a miracle? We might *think* Zeitoun or Bernadette McKenzie’s case constitute miracles. How do we know? What criteria can we use to spot a miracle wherever we might see one? I’m not trying to belabor the point here, just showing that to say little more than “it must violate natural law” leaves a lot of potential slack in the chain of reasoning.

    You say,

    If it is not natural it is, by definition, super-natural.

    Fair enough. Are you of the opinion that Zeitoun was natural then? A fraud? By natural do you mean empirically detectable? How do you define natural that I might identify something as supernatural according to your definition? My point here is not to play games, but to show that natural and supernatural are not true categories in and of themselves; they are euphemisms with which we describe knowledge and ignorance. As ignorance could lead the hypothetical tribe to falsely conclude the airplane was supernatural, can’t ignorance lead us to falsely classify all sorts of things as supernatural? Then, don’t we have much more work to do in the area of setting parameters??

  29. pboyfloyd Says:

    What parameters?

    If you read your own comment you’ll notice that there are two possibilities, natural and things we know and supernatural and things we are ignorant of.

    It is so simple cl, you are overlooking the answer in search of an answer.

  30. rgz Says:

    cl:

    My point here is not to play games, but to show that natural and supernatural are not true categories in and of themselves; they are euphemisms with which we describe knowledge and ignorance.

    You are confounded about the push of the word “supernatural”, it is not an euphemism from realists to describe ignorance, but a category summoned the superstitious to stuff anything they don’t want to be empirically tested.

    Without superstitious people, realists wouldn’t discuss supernatural matters. We could say that anybody who insist on the existence of the supernatural is superstitious in the same way that anybody who plays basketball is a basketball player.

    From that point of view it is the responsibility of the superstitious to give a clear definition of supernatural, since they are the ones dragging it into the 21th century.

    Of course they’ll give out an embellished definition of the supernatural and promptly stuff all their skeletons in there.

    A realist will look at this newly created label of “supernatural” and notice

    Do you realize that it boils down to “stuff we believe just because”?

    Of course the realist will internally relabel supernatural with “delusion inspired” and the pushers of supernatural explanations, the superstitious, as “bat-shit crazy”, but that’s beside the point.

  31. cl Says:

    pboyfloyd,

    If this is all so simple, how do we differentiate between a natural and a supernatural phenomenon? Do tell.

    rgz,

    You are confounded about the push of the word “supernatural”, it is not an euphemism from realists to describe ignorance, but a category summoned the superstitious to stuff anything they don’t want to be empirically tested.

    Those two categories seem qualitatively equal to me. People used to think lightning was supernatural, so to posit “supernatural” as a criteria for miracles seems imprudent, no?

  32. pboyfloyd Says:

    “If this is all so simple, how do we differentiate between a natural and a supernatural phenomenon?”

    It IS simple. Everything is natural. There are no supernatural phemonena.

    You might try to contradict this and say that everything, since God created it, is supernatural.

    But that would be just playing with words, so ‘no’.

  33. pboyfloyd Says:

    Seem be be ‘banned’ from cl’s site while they get the last boot in.

    Tut, tut. So disingenuous.

  34. cl Says:

    pboyfloyd,

    First,

    Everything is natural. There are no supernatural phemonena.

    Wow, a point on which we actually agree! Hopefully you can see how your agreement on this point strengthens my argument regarding the difficulty in correctly identifying a miracle.

    But it seems my confidence in your rational abilities was short-lived:

    Seem be be ‘banned’ from cl’s site while they get the last boot in. Tut, tut. So disingenuous.

    This is: 1) Highly irrational; 2) Patently false; 3) Classic either/or fallacy, which can manifest in many forms but usually occurs when we falsely limit the number of viable options. See, when you are unable to comment on some random website, more possible reasons exist than the site owner wanting to ban you, and you assume that you are some kind of threat or something to where I would ban you. Please, think rationally here, and stop jumping to irrational conclusions about people you’ve never even met!

    As someone who’s been banned and censored from atheist websites, and as a defender of free speech in general, I don’t ban commenters of any stripe. First off, because I value free speech. Second, I have absolutely zero fear of your ideas, which are mostly irrational anyways, so why would I ban them? Third, such would completely undermine all my arguments against Ebonmuse and the others who have censored or banned me from their sites.

    Did you not read DD’s post today? “So disingenuous” my ass, and there goes someone else throwing around more accusatory words likely to encourage thread drift – kind of like when you called Jayman a “fuckin liar,” or jim and his equally clairvoyant musings about me. This will be my last comment on this particular thread, precisely because of nonsense like this. Too bad, it was quite an interesting discussion we were having, I thought.

    If you, jim or anyone else wants to make more accusations about me, do it on my blog, and quit detracting from DD’s logic.

  35. rgz Says:

    What I’m arguing is that supernatural regardless of what items it ultimately contains, *is* a working category, summoned by some people, to label any theory they don’t want to be scientifically (or otherwise )debunked (although they’ll take confirmations in a blink).

    We can say more about those beliefs, like the fact they are cave man notions acquired through ignorant intuitions that have been proven wrong time and again, and handed down through tradition.

    Using this criteria we can detect even novel superstitious beliefs we haven’t seen before, this criteria is good enough for anyone interested in the real world. To cl on the other hand, I’ll just ask him to consider the first definition.

  36. jim Says:

    cl:

    Since you’ve seen fit to include me in the subject matter of your reply, I think it’s only fair that I respond-

    You accuse me of ‘clairvoyant musings’ regarding my accusations of bad faith in your argumentation. It doesn’t take a mind reader to deduce bad faith; or even intent for that matter, though that’s a bit trickier. Misrepresentation, moving goal posts, ignoring answers then proceeding as if they were never offered, quibbling over definitions- these are some of the ingredients that make up a ‘bad faith’ argument, and you’ve used them in spades (as I’ve pointed out previously). In fact, this seems to be your standard operating procedure as far as I can tell from reading you here, and other places.

    I see you’ve posted a response to DD’s latest post ‘Respect and Coddling’, a short commentary on something Ebonmuse wrote over at ‘Daylight Atheism’. Keeping that in mind, I’d just point out that Ebonmuse has also written another short piece concerning you, leveling the same charge of bad faith. At least I seem to be in good company.

    So you see, clairvoyance isn’t a requisite at all…some things just speak for themselves. Apologies to those who write all this up to a flame war. Maybe it is; I’m really not sure. All I know is that wherever cl shows up, real conversations get derailed, replaced by the sort of thing that’s been going on here for a month. Of course, and like cl says, ultimately it’s all just people talking, right?