Followup to yesterday’s post

Sorry, I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I got up this morning thinking of a much better way to illustrate why the “recapitation” scenario fails to give us a reasonable basis for assigning credit to any particular deity. Same situation as before: guy is suddenly decapitated and lies dead on the ground, and an hour later his head magically re-attaches itself to his neck, all his wounds are healed, his spilled blood is replenished, and he walks away unharmed. This time, however, a whole crowd of people shows up to pray for him. Some Catholics are there praying to various saints. The Buddhist monk is there praying to Buddha. Muslims show up and pray to Allah. Mormons show up and pray to a polytheistic Jesus. Pentecostals show up and pray to the Holy Spirit. Asians show up praying to their ancestors. There’s even a few neo-pagans praying to various members of the old pantheons.

Now, the guy gets up and walks away, and each of the pray-ers want to claim their God or god or saint or spirit is responsible. Which of them has a reasonable basis for claiming that it was their deity/entity, and no one else’s, that worked the miracle?

What we have here is what we might call an “unattended miracle.” That is, even if we see an event which actually violates the laws of nature to produce a miraculous result, we do not observe any verifiable agency operating on the victim to change his status. We might suspect some external agency is involved, and in the above example each of the pray-ers does want to give credit to his or her personal deity or spiritual figure. But the data we observe in the healing itself does not contain enough information to establish a reasonable basis for drawing a specific connection to any specific supernatural power.

Now, in his comment on yesterday’s post, cl brings up a new point:

If the recaptiation occurs after the Buddhist prayer and I say such is preliminary justification for leaving the NULL position in favor of Buddhism. Similarly, if it occurred after the hippie finishes his veggie burger, we would be justified in believing that hippie might have some magical weed powers going. And if either of them could do it a few more times, their credibility increases, right?

In response to his first claim, I would have to disagree. One isolated anecdote is not sufficient justification for leaving the null hypothesis in favor of Buddhism or magic-veggie-burgerism. There’s just not enough information there. However, let’s suppose it’s not just one isolated incident. Let’s suppose that every time you pray to Buddha, you get healed, up to and including decapitation. Or let’s say it isn’t every time, but a lot of the time, and let’s say there’s a pattern to when you get healed and when you don’t.

Now we’re starting to talk about some solid empirical data that can be used as the basis for drawing reliable inferences. The pattern in the healings gives us a basis for making analytical determinations of what the expected results would be. We have a phenomenon with a real-world basis, that doesn’t hide behind superstitious appeals to “the supernatural.” We have an actual, real-world, material phenomenon to study.

On a not-unrelated note, cl also asks me once again what would convince me that God was real, and I respond, once again, that I would be convinced if God were to behave as though He believed the Gospel were true. Such authentic behavior would result in a history that was radically different than the one we actually have, but that’s not my fault. The Bible is filled with examples, in both Testaments, in which God is portrayed as wanting people to know that He is God. If He were truly willing for this to be so, and if He were as capable as the Bible says of making it so, then we ought to see Him showing up in real life, letting us know that He is real. The fact that He does not do so is Him failing to show up, not me insisting on an unreasonable standard of evidence.

 
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Posted in Realism, Unapologetics. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Followup to yesterday’s post”

  1. Parker Says:

    Just to respond to your last paragraph;
    I went to a baby-sitter as a kid when my mom and dad were both at work. After watching her soaps (ugh) she’d flip the channel to some children’s religious programming. Now, along with making me fear my death and the end of the world and all of the torments of hell, it also left me wondering; where the hell is god today?
    It seemed like he was at his peak back 2000 years ago,healing people, consuming towns, plaguing the earth etc. etc. And now, no one’s heard from the guy. People claim they hear him, but from the stories of the old and new testament (illustrated so wonderfully by the eerily life-like cartoons) we would KNOW if he were to contact us. He would do something big, and then throw in a snappy one-liner as to why (god’s a funny shit). It’s just not like that. I asked a sunday school teacher I had about this, and he claimed that ‘god was finished with his work here on earth’ and so then I asked why people were still claiming to talk to him/receive messages from him (like my doomsday preaching pastor circa dec 1999). He then backtracked and said that God still needed to talk to a few individuals so they could deliver his message. Then I wondered why God couldn’t just do it himself. Long story short, that God doesn’t exist.
    Monday Funday!
    Cheers to all!

  2. R. C. Moore Says:

    “Let’s suppose that every time you pray to Buddha, you get healed, up to and including decapitation. Or let’s say it isn’t every time, but a lot of the time, and let’s say there’s a pattern to when you get healed and when you don’t.”

    I agree with this, though I would rephrase to meet my usual definition. We start with the hypothesis that praying to Buddha will heal decapitation. We create a protocol to test this, one that should give the same result to all independent observers, with a predetermined statistical variation.

    If we obtain a statistically significant result, over repeated executions of the protocol by independent observers, we have successfully separated fact from fiction. This may mean acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis. If accepted, we have also established that this is a natural phenomena.

    What if we collect the data, and we do not get any repeatable result at all, but are still left with the fact that heads are now reattached? What if we are unable to create a protocol that produces any result? That would be an interesting state of affairs!

  3. cl Says:

    DD,

    In response to your first paragraph, of course we have a problem because you’ve just introduced a half-dozen confounders.

    In response to his first claim, I would have to disagree. One isolated anecdote is not sufficient justification for leaving the null hypothesis in favor of Buddhism or magic-veggie-burgerism. There’s just not enough information there.

    I agree there is not enough information to conclude anything positively and I’ve always attempted to keep that distinction visible. In fact your sentiments here directly echo many of mine in the post I just wrote today. However, there is enough information to warrant further consideration, and the totality of information we have supports leaving the NULL position – and leaving the NULL position does not mean we necessarily believe Buddha is God.

  4. Whose Miracle? « Evaluating Christianity Says:

    [...] at 10:04 am by Andrew Over at Evangelical Realism (a great site), Deacon Duncan poses a great question to theists that seems a propos of the recent elf-discussions here: [A] guy is suddenly decapitated and lies [...]