Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

In my post on “Which God?“, I discussed cl’s hypothetical case of a man being decapitated, and having his head miraculously re-attach to his body, in the context of some Christian praying for him. To illustrate that this would not really be reliable evidence for God, I said:

Let’s say that during the hour the victim was decapitated, some saffron-robed monk wanders by and begins to pray, “Oh great Buddha, have mercy on this poor soul and heal him of his decapitation by your divine grace.” The rest of the story remains the same: after an hour, the head reattaches and the man walks away unharmed. Would this be evidence that Buddha is really God?

I think a lot of Buddhists would be fairly surprised if that were the case. But notice, the actual evidence of the miracle itself is no more specific than it ever was. The facts pertaining to the actual “recapitation” are exactly what they were before. All the prayer has really done is to create a context in which we might be prejudiced to prefer one superstitious attribution over another.

Commenter cl objects:

That’s incorrect. The facts are not exactly the same as before. In the first hypothetical scenario, we had no Buddhist praying, hence no reasonable grounds to connect the incident to a Buddhist prayer. In the second example, we have stronger evidence – the event occurred after a Buddhist prayer – providing us with a verifiable connection that strengthens preliminary justification for the possibility that Buddha performed this particular miracle.

Our friend cl has fallen into the fallacy known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc. “After this, therefore because of this” is an age-old tendency in human thinking that deceives a lot of people because it resembles scientific thinking in some respects. But it is still a fallacy nevertheless.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 5 Comments »

Inquiring minds want to know

Commenter cl has some questions for me.

[Y]ou say you’re not an atheist. So do you go the agnostic route? If so, how would you describe the effective differences? At any rate, I’m glad you can appreciate my questions. People are different. One person says a miracle of type X will do, others cannot be persuaded by any miracle of type X, Y or Z. You yourself argued that God needs to personally accompany the miracle – but even that has room for error, no? You could be hallucinating. You could be having a neurological misfire. Etc, etc. So, I’m left thinking that no miraculous event would or could convince DD. Is that a correct assumption?

I like the sneaky insinuation that I’m simply biased and unwilling to consider the evidence. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s not founded in reality. My most fundamental belief is that the truth is consistent with itself, and therefore all that’s really required to convince me is to show me that something is more consistent with the facts than other possibilities are. I believe I have already demonstrated this by my willingness to take a hard, honest look at my lifelong and deeply-cherished Christian faith. Though it pains me to this day to admit it, the things I believed and wanted to continue believing turned out to be less consistent with the truth than the simple observation that Christianity is a myth. Therefore I changed my beliefs to fit the facts.

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Posted in Realism, Unapologetics. 10 Comments »

XFiles Friday: “Do You Have Any Evidence for That?”

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Having BS’ed their way through a few common skeptical arguments against the “Resurrection,” Geisler and Turek put the icing on the cake with a section intended to out-skepticize the skeptics.

Christians are used to “counter-punching” alternative theories to the Resurrection. In fact, we’ve done that by pointing out numerous deficiencies in the alternative theories ourselves. But that’s not enough. While skeptics rightfully put the burden of proof for the Resurrection on Christians (and, as we have seen, Christians can meet that burden with good evidence), Christians need to put the burden of proof on skeptics for their alternative theories. In light of all the positive evidence for the Resurrection, skeptics must offer positive, first-century evidence for their alternative views.

It’s one thing to concoct an alternative theory to the Resurrection, but it’s another thing to actually find first-century evidence for it. A theory is not evidence. Reasonable people demand evidence, not just theories. Anyone can concoct a theory to explain any historical event.

Pretty incisive stuff, eh? Geisler and Turek go on to compare skeptics of the Resurrection to Holocaust deniers, just in case we were in any doubt about who the good guys are supposed to be. But they overlook one important point: their own evidence is already more consistent with Christianity being a myth than it is with the Resurrection story being a literally and materialistically accurate account.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 5 Comments »

Conversion vs. conquest

I’d like to follow up a bit on an earlier thread about respecting the opposition. I’ve been thinking about what makes people decide to convert—or not. Ideally, I think we’d like to have our disputes end with the other person changing their mind, and agreeing that we’re right.

The problem is that if we win the argument, the other person has to be the loser before they can agree we’re right, and that’s an ego thing. It comes back to our goal: are we working to convince, or working to conquer? Are we trying to make the other person a loser, or a winner?

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The greedy bank manager

Just time for a quick post today, so I thought I’d share the story of the greedy bank manager.

Once upon a time, there was a bank manager who managed to lose quite a large sum of the bank’s money, through a series of bad investments. Concerned about the impact of the loss on the local community and on the bank (and, well, on his own career), he concealed the full extent of the losses by means of some rather creative accounting. But his conscience bothered him, and finally, he decided to pray about it.

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Respect and coddling

Rather a change of pace from the themes we’ve been dealing with lately, but I was just catching up on some of the Daylight Atheism posts I’ve been missing, and I spotted this one, on the topic of how atheists should show respect to believers. Lo and behold, he’s stolen one of my posts. Well, that is to say, I was going to write it. He just wrote it first, and said pretty much everything I was going to say. It’s not “respectful” to treat people like spoiled children who can’t be trusted to acknowledge differing ideas without throwing a tantrum. Nor is it respectful to assume that believers are constitutionally incapable of handling the truth.

It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature. I have to say, though, that in my experience atheists like Dawkins are far less likely to make such accusations than to be the target of them. And while it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully, which (as Daylight Atheism points out) means presenting your case honestly, openly, and with a view to the facts.

Recommended reading.

 
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Posted in Recommended Reading, Unapologetics. 3 Comments »

Showing up, and why it matters

There are three ideas at the core of my unapologetic against Christianity. The first is the principle that truth is consistent with itself. The second and third are what I call the Undeniable Fact and its Inescapable Consequence: God does not show up in real life, and consequently men have no option but to put their faith in their own fantasies, intuitions, superstitions and hearsay. To the extent that salvation depends on true faith in God, therefore, salvation is impossible, since God is not here to give us something real to put our faith in, and since mere gullible trust in men’s words is not really the same as having genuine faith.

Lately, it seems like much of the opposition to my unapologetic is centered around the idea of what it means for God to show up in real life. Believers seem to want a definition that’s broad enough, and vague enough, that they can count God as having shown up without there ever being any real-world evidence we could use to prove or disprove their claims. But I think perhaps we can pin down the definition of “showing up” in fairly reasonable and unambiguous terms, and thereby show how crucial it is to consider whether God actually does show up in real life.

You will recall that, according to the Gospel stories, no one is said to have actually seen Jesus rise from the dead. The Event, if it happened at all, happened inside a sealed tomb when no one was around, and the tomb was already empty by the time anyone looked inside. What changes it from a missing body story to a “resurrection” story is the fact that believers subsequently reported various appearances of Jesus after his death. That is, he showed up, in ways that were personally significant to them and which were sufficient to prove to them that he was indeed alive.

What I propose is that Christians 2,000 years ago were the same sort of people as believers today, and they were giving Jesus credit for “showing up” on precisely the same subjective, non-materialistic basis as believers do today. Rather than having a miraculous, supernatural eruption of divine power and glory, we merely have the same sort of ordinary, subjective, religious experiences we observe believers having all the time—without God Himself showing up in any kind of literal, tangible, objectively-real manner.

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XFiles Friday: Grasping at straws

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Geisler and Turek are wrapping up their attempt to out-skeptic the skeptics, and today we look at the last three of their six arguments for why they don’t believe pagan resurrection myth contributed anything to the Christian story. We pick up at argument number four which seems to argue that the Christians didn’t borrow anything from pagan myths because they didn’t borrow everything from pagan myths.

Fourth, no Greek or Roman myth spoke of the literal incarnation of a monotheistic God into human form…by way of a literal virgin birth…followed by his death and physical resurrection. The Greeks were polytheists, not monotheists as New Testament Christians were. Moreover, the Greeks believed in reincarnation into a different mortal body; New Testament Christians believed in resurrection into the same physical body made immortal…

And since none of the Greek gods was named “Jesus” nor had 12 apostles, that proves that no pagan myth had any influence on any NT writer or early Christian believer whatsoever. No really. It does. Yeah? C’mon, it dooooooes.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 2 Comments »

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.

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Superstition and science

Understandably enough, Jayman continues to object to my use of the term “superstition.”

Deacon Duncan, it would be more fruitful to point out errors in logic or reasoning and be done with it. No need to mess around with a term that is often merely used by group A to put down group B for having different beliefs.

I quite understand, and am more than a little sympathetic. I am not using the term “superstition” out of a lazy desire to merely put anybody down. Rather, I am compelled to use the term precisely because it does refer to a practice that constitutes erroneous reasoning. I need to be able to say that it is fallacious “to claim to have found the cause of X when all you have really done is to attribute X to Y, via some kind of magical version of cause and effect, without showing any demonstrable or even describable connection between X and Y.” And I need to be able to express that idea—everything between the quote marks—concisely. The term “superstition” simply seems the most appropriate choice. If someone would care to suggest an alternative term that would express this idea more clearly, I’d use that. But I don’t know of any right off hand.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 21 Comments »