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What Would People Think?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Response to Zhubin, Part 1

[Note: I have time to write this post only because I'm at home sick. Since I might set off a lengthy discussion here, I hope I have time to actually participate in it.]

Zhubin Parang is a fellow Vanderbilt grad whose blog I read with regularity and with great pleasure. He's by far the wittiest blogger that I know - if I ever get around to that "funniest blog post" contest I said I was going to do months and months ago, he will have at least two entries that left me laughing so hard I cried (and I'm probably forgetting some). And since we share many of the same political opinions - especially a dedication to the rule of law - I enjoy reading as he says the things I want to say, only with more wit.

Several weeks ago, Zhubin wrote two posts attacking (he might say debunking) Christianity and Christians, based on his reading or Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. It has taken me a while to figure out how to respond. My first instinct was to respond in the strident, sarcastic manner of Dawkins - but I realized that all I could accomplish there was a flame war. My next instinct was to go into full-blown apologetics - before I realized that (a) that would practically require writing a book to go into all the points and counterpoints made throughout history, and (b) I'm not sure I would convince anybody of anything. Christy wanted to tell her personal story - how she went from sharing some of Zhubin's opinions about Christians (she once found evangelicals like myself to be "cultish") through her struggles with faith and God to becoming a Christian herself. That's a worthy story to tell, and maybe someday I'll post her story on this blog (or my own story, for that matter)....but not today.

Today, my ambitions are limited - and more blog-post length. I want to respond briefly to two of his assertions. Maybe this will lead to other discussions in the comment section or future blog posts. (Hopefully, they won't be one-sided discussions. The other reason for my delay in writing was that I haven't had time for more than the occasional one-sentence comment on friends' blogs, much less discussions which require actual thought and time commitment. How does a first-year law firm slave like Zhubin find the time to do this stuff?) (That was a dig at law firms which overwork their attorneys, not at Zhubin.)

The first assertion I want to respond to:

[A]ny assertions of divine intervention are actually scientific hypotheses, testable and falsifiable through the scientific method. . . .

Here's where it sucks for you as a Christian: because your religion wholly depends on divine interventions, and claims of divine interventions are subject to empirical analysis, you have committed yourself to hinging your religious beliefs on scientific analyses of those claims of divine intervention. And there is NO scientific evidence to prove a single damn one of any miracle Jesus made, let alone the Big One.

But come on, you say, it's impossible to find samples of Jesus's DNA to prove his divine heritage, or of evidence to prove his miracles two thousand years ago. Well, tough shit for you. It's on you to prove his divinity, and if you can't gather the evidence for it, what possible reason should anyone have to give your claims more validity than Scientology's claims of Xenu? You have NOTHING more going for you, you realize that? YOU HAVE WHAT SCIENTOLOGY HAS.

Tell me, Zhubin, do you believe in the existence of Julius Caesar? Do you believe he was a military leader in an ancient empire called Rome? Do you believe he was assassinated by a group of senators? That among his assassins was a guy called Brutus (or some variant on that name)?

I'm guessing that you - like any person with a reasonable grasp of history - do believe these things. What basis do you have for believing these things...or believing in the existence of any events in the ancient world? You have documentary evidence...things written by or about Caesar, as near to the time of his existence as possible.

And I have the eyewitness accounts as written in and/or recounted to the writers of the Gospels. (Along with accounts of historians hostile to Christianity in latter decades that confirm at least some of the details of the Gospels.)

Before you scoff and say I'm just making the fallacy of relying on a sacred text to prove its own truth, wait up a second. I'm only asking that they be judged on the same standard as any other historical document.

What makes a historical document reliable in the eyes of historians? 3 things come to mind:

First - Eyewitness accounts (or first-hand writings of the person himself) count more than second-hand accounts. The reason for this is kind of obvious. Same reason courts prefer direct testimony over hearsay.

Second - Number of manuscripts. This allows comparisons of one manuscript to another for accuracy and discrepancies. If an event is significant, many manuscripts would be produced. The greater the number of manuscripts shows greater circulation, geographical spread, and widespread public acceptance and knowledge.

Third - The time between the event and the earliest manuscript found to date. The more time, the more room for manuscript makers to insert embellishments and the like. If an event happened 1,000 years ago and all we have is current manuscripts, who's to correct an error in the manuscript? It's at least a lot harder than if....say, someone said the planes on 9/11 flew into the Sears Tower and the White House. We would instantly refute that assertion based on what we saw with our own eyes on TV. If someone said JFK was killed by a car bomb, we'd call him a liar...even though we personally weren't alive then, many who are alive could have conclusively refuted him and laughed him out of town. If someone said the south won the Civil War or the American Revolution was fought against Holland, we'd make sure she wasn't a history teacher that's for damn sure. Nobody alive now was alive then, but we are still close in time to know events did not happen that way.

Caesar's account of the Gallic Wars describes events happening in his lifetime (eyewitness accounts, that's good), 100-44 B.C. The earliest copy we have of his works are from 900 A.D., 1000 years after the event. We have 10 manuscripts from that era. Take most other ancient writings, and the story is the same...the works of Sophocles (496-406 B.C.) - Earliest Manuscript: 1000 A.D....Time lag: 1400 years. Number of Manuscripts: 193.

The New Testament (written about 40-100 A.D.). Earliest known manuscript: 125 A.D. Time lag: 25 years. Number of manuscripts: 24,000. (Caveat: not all are complete manuscripts of every part of it...some are only portions.)

We believe in the existence of Caesar, Sophocles and the like...and believe we are reading at least a rough approximation of their words. And we believe it based on much less - and much weaker - documentary evidence than we have for the eyewitness accounts of Jesus.

But, you say, these are religious texts...not to be believed. First off, ancient historical documents are rarely written without an agenda, but we still believe them in at least the broad strokes. (And most documents written with an agenda wouldn't make their heroes look like such losers...as most of the main characters of the New Testament except Jesus look. Someone who was more concerned with truth might be less willing to make themselves look better...and would record even their dumb moves.) Second, the fact that - decades after they were written - early church fathers chose to group these eyewitness accounts into a sacred text and call them the Gospels doesn't really affect whether they were true or not. Third, secular historians like Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus wrote about the Christian movement around the same time, confirming it in broad strokes and without any sympathy to their cause.

Okay, now I'm just rambling. I don't expect to convince people of the truth of Christianity with this. But I do intend to show that we have more than Scientology has. My point was to show that, contrary to Zhubin's assertion, Christians have evidence of their faith - documentary historical evidence. Does this prove it a 100% certainty - the same certainty with which we can say that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius? No, but neither can we prove the existence of Julius Caesar to any greater certainty. How, aside from the historical record, is the assertion that any event took place in the ancient world "testable and falsifiable"?

I will respond to another of Zhubin's assertions in my next post. I've decided to split them into two posts because they would likely spark two very different discussions and I don't want one discussion to dominate the other.

26 Comments:

  • Actually, water boils at about 97 degrees C in, say, Salt Lake City. But that's just me being a geek.

    I think Zhubin's point is that the scientific evidence for central tenets of Christian faith - the virgin birth, the resurrection, various miracles here and there - are not scientifically verifiable. I don't think anyone seriously doubts that there was once a wise rabbi named Joshua (Jesus is a Greekification of this name) who claimed to be the Messiah and had a religion spring up around him. The question is whether the things that seem to non-Christians like embellishments actually happened. Science and common sense tell us that there's no way a virgin birth could happen (in vitro fertilization notwithstanding). Did it happen? That's faith.

    I think the point that Zhubin is trying to make is that religion - and Christianity is one - involves the belief in supernatural occurrences that defy science or common sense. This is what Scientology, Christianity, Judaism, and any religion for that matter have in common - the reliance on faith in things you can't see or understand scientifically.

    And I think this is relatively obvious. When you chose to accept Christianity, did you do so because you read the New Testament as a historical document and decided that, oh, well, I guess this stuff did happen, I'll be a Christian now? I've never heard the story of a Christian conversion told that way. You're more likely to say you were called by God, whose existence is scientifically unprovable, and this led you to believe in a whole host of other things that were scientifically unprovable. (Ask Paul - "we walk not by sight but by faith" is an admission of this.)

    Where I disagree with Zhubin is in saying that religious beliefs are falsifiable, which is simply not true. You can't prove that a miracle didn't happen, or that God doesn't exist. You just can't prove the positive - except by faith.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/10/2007 1:11 PM  

  • This is a verbal slip you're making here, Ben, and not an artful one, either. Like Jeff said, there's a tremendous difference between historical evidence and scientific evidence. Even if we assume that the Gospels are accurate - and reading Misquoting Jesus should shake your faith in that to the core - it is wholly irrelevant for the purposes of proving the truth of the Gospels' asserted divine interventions. Just because a writer a thousand years ago says they saw a magical unicorn in the forest doesn't mean you accept that magical unicorns exist.

    The plain fact is, no Biblical miracle has ever been proven scientifically to have occurred. Not the Great Flood, not raising Lazarus from the dead, not the sun stopping in the sky, not anything. Does this prove that they never occurred? Of course not. But, and I'm astonished to read Jeff arguing otherwise, the burden of proof is on you, not me. As Dawkins says, I can argue that there is an invisible teapot circling the Earth, equipped with technology that eludes all human sensors. You can not disprove it, but you are under no obligation to believe that its existence is equally as probable as its nonexistence.

    Similarly, you can argue all you want about the Flood, and Lazarus, and water into wine. But because divine interventions into the natural world must be scientifically measurable, their occurrence is a question of scientific analysis. If you cannot overcome the hurdle of proving supernatural violations of natural law (i.e., Jesus's DNA has no paternal chromosomes), you cannot prove that divine interventions ever occurred.

    Again, this isn't disproving the existence of God - this is just arguing that the divine interventions upon which Christianity depends have no scientific evidence proving them. This is denying the validity of Christianity.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 1:56 PM  

  • Zhubin has stated that Christianity is based on empirical assertions...in his own words "testable and falsifiable." I assert that either this is untrue (Jeff's position) or that the historical record shows, or at least indicates, the truth of Christianity (the position I took in this blog post).

    To elaborate - The scientific method is based on propositions that are falsifiable. That is, tests can be conducted that make something either more likely to be true or less likely to be true. If no such tests can be conducted....if no proof can be gathered either way, then it falls outside the realm of "testable and falsifiable" scientific hypothesis and into the realm of....well, either the unknowable or something you know by means other than scientific testing.

    Putting debates about the historical record aside for a moment, what possible evidence can be gathered which tends to prove OR disprove the truth of Christianity? If none, then it's outside the realm of science. If none, then Zhubin is incorrect to say it's based on "testable and falsifiable" hypotheses. If it's not knowable through the scientific method, what basis do you have for saying the burden's on me? I mean - if you reject my argument about the historical record - at most that puts us at a stalemate.

    Jeff - I'm not saying that I became a Christian because of an objective examination of the historical record. I'm saying that, contrary to Zhubin's assertions, I have more than "nothing" to back up my faith.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/10/2007 3:03 PM  

  • As I'm sure y'all are aware, particle physicists are all abuzz over string theory, which posits that subatomic particles are made of strings vibrating at different frequencies (among other things). The problem with this theory is that (thanks to things such as Heisenberg uncertainty, quantum effects, yadda yadda) it is inherently untestable. Thus, many scientists - and I among them - claim that string theory is not science. Fascinating, yes. Possible, certainly. But not science.

    There are no experiments that can test for divine intervention. There's no Godometer I can use to measure the divine presence in a miraculous event (though you have to admit such a device would be freakin' sweet). There would be no scientific evidence that could demonstrate that God was either there or not. The very theory explains away anything that might "disprove" it - "oh, that's just God being God." So no, Zhubin, there would not be any scientific evidence of a divine intervention anywhere, since the idea of divine intervention is unscientific.

    You are, of course, under no obligation to believe in the orbiting teapot. But science has nothing to say on this issue besides "we really can't tell" - there's no validation or invalidation one way or the other. So I, like Ben, don't see how lack of scientific evidence invalidates something that's not even based in science in the first place. Religion doesn't need science to be "valid." It needs faith.

    (I'm not sure I like the orbiting teapot analogy anyway. Some stray piece of space dust would probably knock it off its orbit and cause it either to get sucked back into the atmosphere by Earth's gravitational field and burn up on reentry or careen off into space and end up on some planet in the Alpha Centauri system where the locals, not having any way of knowing differently, would assume that it was a sign from the Almighty Zork proclaiming the Festival Day of the Holy Ceramics and that they should make a burnt offering of whatever passes for sheep on that planet. Years later, when we find the wormhole that leads us to their planet, we discover that every house has a teapot idol commemorating the event, and an intergalactic incident will be sparked when some hapless Earthling explorer, not knowing any better, tries to boil water in someone's religious icon.

    Actually, come to think of it, the analogy might work after all. Carry on.)

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/10/2007 3:49 PM  

  • Ah, I see the miscommunication here. Jeff, you're talking about events that occur naturally that are asserted to have been divinely caused. If I get into a car accident but survive, there is no way to prove one way or another that God, working through natural laws, allowed me to survive, I agree.

    But that is not the sort of divine intervention that I am talking about, nor is it what Christianity/Judaism is talking about. I am talking about the Biblical divine interventions where natural laws are clearly violated, where the very event itself is proof of divine intervention: the parting of the Red Sea, for example, or a man born from a virgin.

    Ben, the fact that current technology doesn't allow us a definitive answer to a scientific question does not mean that the question itself does not have a definite answer, and that we can believe whatever we wish. In situations where there is literally no evidence either way, the proper attitude is what Dawkins refers to as "temporary agnosticism in principle." That is, when we are presented with a phenomenon for which there is no conclusive evidence, our position should be to refrain from any conclusion until such time as evidence becomes available. It is not to assume that any possible explanation is equally likely.

    But of course, when it comes to the Red Sea, the evidence is NOT inconclusive. On the contrary, all the evidence we have gathered shows that seas do not naturally part. Likewise, it is entirely conclusive that a human child cannot be born without paternal and maternal chromosomes. For you to assert otherwise, you need some pretty strong evidence that, in the specific instances you are talking about, the laws of nature were violated.

    Of course, you may believe what you wish anyway, even without any evidence to support it, but how this is different from believing in Xenu, I have no idea.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 4:20 PM  

  • Jeff, regarding your comment on the orbiting teapot: that's Dawkins' example, actually, so I might as well use his rebuttal to your assertion that all science can say is "we can't really tell."

    Certainly, scientific analysis cannot definitively disprove the idea of an undetectable orbiting teapot, but by that same token scientific analysis cannot disprove anything. Science works in probabilities. That is to say, just because I cannot definitively disprove that gravity is caused by invisible flying monkeys pushing everything to everything else does not mean that the flying monkey explanation is equally as probable as the curved-space explanation.

    Likewise, just because science cannot ever definitively disprove a religious explanation does not mean that the religious explanation is as equally probable as the natural explanation.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 4:29 PM  

  • Let me clog up the thread yet again and clarify that when I said, "how this is different from Xenu, I have no idea," I mean in terms of the available scientific evidence proving the truth of its beliefs. I am not suggesting that your beliefs are similar to Scientology.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 4:42 PM  

  • Zhubin - you referenced Dawkin's position of temporary agnosticism, writing, "That is, when we are presented with a phenomenon for which there is no conclusive evidence, our position should be to refrain from any conclusion until such time as evidence becomes available."

    I think that is philosophically a flawed, flawed argument. See, for example, Blaise Pascaal.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/10/2007 5:03 PM  

  • I also want to respond more to the point on some of what's being said here. First off, and maybe Zhubin kind of admitted this in his last post, I think Ben makes an immensely important point by observing the historical reality of Jesus. That doesn't prove divinity or miracles or anything along those lines, but it certainly is some evidence in favor of Christianity, as opposed to, for example, scientology. The fact is that there are all sorts of different types of proof with scientific knowledge being but one among many.

    Zhubin, it seems to me that perhaps you're placing too high an emphasis on scientific proof as opposed to other kinds of proof. For example, let's consider the biggest miracle of all, the Good News itself: not the Virgin Birth, but The Resurrection. We'd be pretty hard pressed to come up with a scientific explanation for people coming back to life. But thousands of people provided eye-witness accounts of having seem Christ after he died. You're certainly not entitled to give any particular weight to this testimony, but it is certainly some sort of proof. It's not scientific, but it's still evidence.

    Setting that aside, I think your biggest objection is simply that religious belief in Divine Intervention flies in the face of scientific natural laws. What I find so striking about this is that you've essentially set up science as this God-like explanation for everything that happens in the physical world. That is, you've set the Divine and the Natural World in opposition to each other, such that if something happens in our physical world there must be a scientific explanation. And if there is a scientific explanation, then there is no overt proof of God in that occurrence, because there is no proof that something other than natural occurred.

    You wrote, "I am talking about the Biblical divine interventions where natural laws are clearly violated, where the very event itself is proof of divine intervention." You repeatedly give as an example the parting of the Red Sea. Let's posit for a moment that it did actually part. Presumably, if that happened, there would have been some physical cause, following the laws of nature, that would have led to that event. An earthquake, volcanoes, magnetic forces, whatever. We'd be able to point to that physical process as an explanation. Now you would argue, I take it, that this does not disprove God, but neither does it prove God - because the only proof of God can be in an event that bypasses the natural, physical laws.

    It's this point that I take issue with. Why is an event that bypasses natural laws the only proof of God? What is it about the Divine that sets it up in opposition to the laws of science? I reject this premise. It seems philosophically absurd to say that the only concrete proof of God would be for Him to act in such a way that is inconsistent with the laws of world He allegedly created.

    An old acquaintance of mine recently wrote a short blog in response to The God Delusion. He wrote, "There has long been a great failure to communicate between atheists and religious believers that is founded on a misconception -- held by some on each side, but perhaps more common among the former -- that religion is primarily about believing fantastical things on the basis of little or no evidence."

    That's not what religion is actually about. Sure, I suppose we accept that the "miraculous" occurred. But 'miraculous' is not synonymous with 'contrary to the physical law'. Why do you conflate the two? And what is it about science and/or God that you set them in opposition to each other? It seems to me that's a flawed premise. Defend it.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/10/2007 5:38 PM  

  • Jesus, don't you people have jobs?

    I'll try and catch up on all this later, as it seems an interesting discussion. Just don't let it fizzle out before I've had my say.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/10/2007 5:48 PM  

  • I'm not saying that belief in the Divine requires violation of natural law. I'm saying that Biblical miracles require the violation of natural law. There is no way that Jesus was born from a virgin without natural law being violated. There is no way that Jesus rose from the dead without natural law being violated.

    If you can prove that Jesus had no father, then there is no natural explanation available that could possibly account for that. Someone may eventually come up with one, but in the meantime the only explanation is divine intervention.

    As for your belief that God may work through natural laws, sure, believe whatever you want. That assertion is nonscientific, so I certainly can't dispute it on any scientific grounds. It is when you assert that God has violated natural law that you are making a scientific statement that must be assessed scientifically.

    It seems philosophically absurd to say that the only concrete proof of God would be for Him to act in such a way that is inconsistent with the laws of world He allegedly created.

    Putting aside the inappropriateness of trying to drag philosophy into a scientific argument, why is that so absurd? You assert that natural law is created by God, the atheist asserts that natural law is all there is. There has to be some directed violation in natural law for the issue to be settled. Much like evolution is best proven by an organism's imperfections, God's creation of natural law is best proven by his ability to violate it.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 11:33 PM  

  • Zhubin -

    3 points.

    First, regarding the philosophy issue: The reason I brought a philosophical challenge into this "scientific conversation" is because your basic premise is inherently faulty. You've come to this conversation setting the Divine and Natural worlds in opposition to each other. Your start your latest comment saying "I'm not saying that belief in the Divine requires violation of the natural law." Yet this entire time your position has been, "if you can't prove a violation of the natural law, then you can't prove the Divine, and if you can't prove the Divine then you should at least take a position of agnosticism." That sure sounds to me like an argument that [substantiated] belief in the Divine requires a violation of the natural law.

    I think the reason you're requiring that is because you seem to have set the two in opposition to each other, not necessarily as mutually exclusive (God can work through the natural law), but for purposes of proof, as diametrically opposed (God can only be proven when the natural law is violated).

    Why this premise? How did you come up with it? What substantiates it?


    The second point that needs to be made here is that I don't think you can assert that a miracle is by its nature without natural explanation. That's a pretty big leap, especially given all we don't know. To the best of our current knowledge we can say that Virgin births are a physical impossibility. But one of the limits of our scientific method is that it only proves things by falsification, and falsification is always a possibility. Thus, if tomorrow there were a virgin birth, or a resurrection, or the parting of a sea, or an object impervious to gravity, we'd suddenly be left with an incorrect scientific theory. I mean, who knows, maybe virgin births are a possibility - they happen in other animals. And who knows what that DNA would look like? (Probably those scientists who study animals that have virgin births). When you point to specific miracles and declare them to be in contravention of the natural law, you are doing what science cannot; you are accepting theories as non-falsifiable. That's a disservice to both religion and science.


    The third point is something I wish to bring up again, and it's something I don't think I saw a response to in your last comment. I wrote before, "you've essentially set up science as this God-like explanation for everything that happens in the physical world".

    What I mean by this is that if we take a relatively set scientific theory - say, theories about the buoyancy of water - and provided a factual occurrence that falsified the theory - say, the walking on water - that your response wouldn't be, "the natural law has been violated, therefore this is clearly an act of the Divine and thus God must exist", but rather your response would be to the effect of, "clearly this event falsifies our theory of buoyancy, and we must develop a new scientific theory to explain the natural world."

    If I'm correct about what your response would be, then that means even an act of the Divine that contravened the laws of nature would not, in your mind, prove the Divine! [And if that's the case, then the whole challenge you've put forth is nothing more than a deceptive logic trap].

    What troubles me so much is not that you'd reject the Divine, even in light of the laws of nature being contravened. What troubles me is that you would assume that there was an explanation in the natural law. So if tomorrow Ben were to walk on water, you wouldn't say, "it must be God", but rather you would say, "there must be a scientific explanation." What matters isn't that there may or may not be an explanation in the natural law, but rather that you assume one exists. I anticipate that you'd respond there is a difference between saying "it must be God" and "it must be science", that difference being that the scientific response allows for a continued search into that natural law, into explaining the event. However, the "continued search" can't be relevant, because regardless of whether a scientific response is ever discovered, you've assumed there to be one. You've accepted that an explanation from the law of nature must exist, without actually having proof that it does. You've substituted your belief - your faith - that there must be scientific explanation for the actual scientific explanation.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 1:30 AM  

  • Unlike Zhubin, I do think your beliefs are similar to scientology, in terms of their basis and reliability. Yours seem more plausible because they are older and, through accidents of history, have survived and even flourished, especially among the less intelligent and more downtrodden segments of society.

    But I agree with Matthew above, and think the quoted portion of Zhubin's post was one of his weakest parts. At best, it's irrelevant to the question of faith (though relevant to attempted imposition of faith). But judiciously refraining from explanation until we can be certain is simply not the way the human mind works. If it were, progress would be slow, indeed.

    But all of this talk of the historical reality--whether or not a Jew named Jesus really lived in the vicinity of modern-day Israel around 2000 years ago--is really quite irrelevant to faith as well. If we concede without admitting the truth of Jesus' existence, we're still just left with some man who apparently had a lot of followers. That does not a faith make. The faith is based on Jesus' divinity, and on his resurrection. And even if you can point to historical evidence that Jesus lived, and even that he died, the only evidence that he rose again comes from a handful of people who had every opportunity and motivation to collude in inventing the story that has since been circulated.

    Furthermore, there are more apocryphal texts that discuss the accounts of witnesses and mention nothing about the resurrection than there are texts that do mention the resurrection. It's like the Disciples are all sitting around six months or so after Jesus gets crucified, and have this conversation:

    Matthew: So how you guys doing these days? Working?
    Luke: Nah.
    John: I don't have a job.a
    Mark: Yeah, me either. Jobs are just so much work.
    Matthew: Back when we had that Jesus gig, man, that was the life.
    Mark: Best job I ever had. Just walked around, chilling, and people like... threw money at us.
    Matthew: Yeah, that was sweet. If only we could get that life back.
    Luke: Hey, wait a minute. Wait a minute! Guys, I have an idea!

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 5/11/2007 5:03 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 11:07 AM  

  • Of course, let's not forget that 11 of the 12 Apostles and many of the early Christians, were brutally tortured and killed for their beliefs. Professing faith in light of the fact that you will be killed for it doesn't quite match up with the pragmatist colluders that Barzelay paints [it's an interesting idea Barzelay, but it doesn't really stand up to any sort of analysis].

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 11:09 AM  

  • Let me make myself a little more clear. I am NOT saying that "if you can't prove a violation of the natural law, then you can't prove the Divine, and if you can't prove the Divine then you should at least take a position of agnosticism." I am saying that divine interventions, where God deliberately alters the course of nature for a specific purpose, are necessarily scientific hypotheses, as they are assertions of violations of natural law that are, in theory, measurable scientifically.

    If you wish to prove the "divine," then no, you do not need scientific proof. But if you wish to prove that an event occurred due to supernatural intervention (that is to say, it would NOT have naturally occurred in the absence of supernatural intervention), then you DO need to provide scientific evidence that 1) the event DID happen, and 2) the event has a supernatural explanation.

    As for your argument that I've "essentially set up science as this God-like explanation for everything that happens in the physical world," yes, certainly my initial instinct would be to find some natural explanation for why Ben is walking on water, if only because every prior time someone has proclaimed an event was supernatural, a natural explanation was eventually found for it. But if I can find no natural explanation for why Ben is walking on water, and Ben can provide an argument that his walking on water is due to supernatural powers, that is good evidence of supernatural intervention. Likewise, if all the stars suddenly rearrange themselves to spell out "I AM THE LORD THY GOD" in the sky, I would be hard-pressed to find a natural explanation for it. Same for a total lack of paternal chromosomes in Jesus's DNA. Maybe eventually someone will find a natural explanation for it, but until then I will be willing to accept something divine happened.

    Regarding the "agnosticism," I think you and Barzelay are misinterpreting me. I did not mean that we have to refrain from explanation of any phenomenon until we're certain of it. I'm just parroting Dawkins' point that, when we are speaking scientifically, the fact that evidence is not conclusive on a particular issue does not mean that all explanations for that issue are equally probable. In those rare cases where no evidence points one way or the other toward an answer, the proper position is "we don't know yet," while various hypothesis are tested and more evidence gathered. Not "whatever I want to believe until definitively proven otherwise."

    This is the trap that religionists wilfully fall into, where they make a scientific assertion ("Jesus was born from a virgin!") and then claim that, because we can't possibly examine his DNA to find out, the issue is in some sort of stalemate, and thus they are free to believe whatever they want.

    (That example isn't even a good one, though, because there is plenty of scientific evidence, both biological and anthropological, for us to be reasonably certain that Jesus was NOT born from a virgin (i.e, no one has ever been born from a virgin, the mechanism of human reproduction cannot function without male chromosomes, the virgin birth concept didn't even exist until Christianity entered Greek culture and absorbed its demi-god legacy, etc.). If Christians wish to overcome the vast circumstantial evidence against the possibility of a virgin birth, more is required than "this book says so!")

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/11/2007 5:03 PM  

  • If you wish to prove that an event occurred due to supernatural intervention (that is to say, it would NOT have naturally occurred in the absence of supernatural intervention), then you DO need to provide scientific evidence that 1) the event DID happen, and 2) the event has a supernatural explanation.

    Again, you've set the Divine and the natural in opposition to each other. To say an event occured because of supernatural intervention is not the same as saying it would NOT have occurred in the absence of supernatural intervention. You are again setting the two in opposition to each other. You're starting with this premise, and you've yet to defend it.

    Please, explain to me the interraction of the natural and the supernatural such that proof of supernatural intervention precludes a natural explanation. Additionally, I challenge you to distinguish "proof of the supernatural" from "proof falisifying a natural law theory", such that one could actually prove the supernatural, and not merely challenge a particular theory.


    I am saying that divine interventions, where God deliberately alters the course of nature for a specific purpose, are necessarily scientific hypotheses, as they are assertions of violations of natural law that are, in theory, measurable scientifically.

    Again, you've made all sorts of leaps in this statement. First, you've conflated "a divine intervention that alters the course of nature" with a "violation of the natural law". You've said it yourself - there's no reason God couldn't work within the laws of nature.

    Second, you've repeated your misunderstanding of science. As I wrote before, "When you point to specific miracles and declare them to be in contravention of the natural law, you are doing what science cannot; you are accepting theories as non-falsifiable." When you write "they are assertions of violations of natural law" you're making a claim that the natural law is non-falsifiable.

    Third, you're making a critical mistake in saying that these are "necessarily scientific hypotheses". What makes something a scientific statement is it's falsifiability. How in the world are we going to falsify the claim "Jesus rose from the dead"? Even if theoretically some of these statements are falsifiable (A DNA test in response to the virgin birth), the scientific reality is that they are not. If you want to pose a theoretical challenge, you cannot demand a non-theoretical answer. So, in response to your theoretical challenge that we test Jesus's DNA, I'm gonna offer a theoretical answer: The test came back. It turns out Jesus has no paternal chromosomes. I guess that's proof! I'm sure you find my answer ludicrius, but "ask a stupid question..."

    "Maybe eventually someone will find a natural explanation for [seemingly supernatural events], but until then I will be willing to accept something divine happened."

    And yet, I doubt you're out there looking for natural explanations as to how Christ was born of a virgin/walked on water/rose from the dead. You tell us that you'd be willing to accept that something divine had happened if something actually appeared to be in contravention of the natural law. I offer you Christ being born of a virgin/walking on water/rising from the dead. I don't hear a natural explanation, but I sure don't hear you accepting that the supernatural has happened either.

    Rather, you're rejecting that the events actually happened. Instead of considering that these events occurred and therefore either a) the natural law was falsified and must be reworked or b) the supernatural worked in contravention of the natural law, you're re-positing the natural law as a way of rejecting that the events happened.

    Essentially, you're positing the inviolable natural law, demanding proof that the natural law was violated, and then responding to that proof by pointing to the "inviolable" essence of natural law. When Christians point to the evidence of Christ's virgin birth you don't say, "hmm, that's interesting." You say, that's not enough to "overcome the vast circumstantial evidence against the possibility of a virgin birth." You're just repositing the natural law in response to evidence of not-the-natural law.

    Mind you, that's a mistake of science (presenting natural law as non-falsifiable), a mistake of philosophy (setting the supernatural and natural in opposition to each other), and a mistake of logic (holding to A in light of ~A).

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 7:37 PM  

  • Can someone explain why any of the Protestant Christian faith depends on the virgin birth? Why can't Jesus simply have been born in the normal way, Joseph as his biological father, and God as his spiritual father?

    This brings up one of the silliest things about Christianity, which is that it isn't even a good made-up religion; so many points of faith are completely ridiculous. When you take away all the wonderful moral teachings of the Bible, and all of the anachronistic stuff that has no applicability any longer, you are left with a bunch of ridiculous miracles. And when you encounter one of those ridiculous miracles, the funny thing is that it can almost always be traced back to pre-Christian myths.

    A parting of a sea, virgin births, resurrection, the communion sacrament, water into wine, the great flood, burning bushes, a small amount of food feeding infinitely many people, the idea of a garden paradise at the beginning of the world...

    If Christians would have just refrained from plagiarizing their mythology, they would have been left with a useful, practical philosophy, instead of a cruel, tough to swallow religion.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 5/12/2007 12:59 AM  

  • Barzelay - I challenge you to substantiate your claims that these miracles "can almost always be traced back to pre-Christian myths." I've heard it said here enough times. I ain't ever seen concrete evidence of this assertion.

    And I think what's telling is that you label these divine interventions as "a bunch of ridiculous miracles." What you're failing to acknowledge with this statement is that these miracles didn't happen in a vaccum; they all served a purpose. If the Red Sea just happened to part, sure, that might be a ridiculous reason to believe in God. But that it happened to part allowing the Jews to escape from Egypt makes it miraculous. What differentiates a miracle from a freak occurance - from the ridiculous - is the meaning and purpose behind that occurance. I reject your assertion that these are just ridiculous myths culled from other cultures. I see no evidence to that effect; every Christian miracle is related to some purpose. Virgin birth = God becoming man and havig dual human/divine nature. Resurrection = God conquoring death and opening the way to eternal life. Our faith isn't based on ridiculous miracles, it's based on experiencing the hand of God. Sometimes, God's hands create the miraculous, but what matters to us isn't the specific event so much as it is the meaning behind that event.


    On a more general note:
    You've now asserted that the Apostles colluded to create a false faith, that Christianity has only flourished as a "historical accident", that Christianity is for the "less intelligent and more downtrodden segments of society,"
    and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was a "plagiarized" derrivation of other cultures (and it sounds like you're asserting it is almost exclusively ripped from other cultures). Frankly, it seems like you've come to your conclusion first [Christianity is a "cruel, tough to swallow religion"] and have then gone out and grabbed onto any "idea" that supports it, regardless of the merit in that argument. You haven't even engaged in the actual conversation here about science and the intersection of the natural and supernatural - you're just using this forum to take potshots at Christianity! If you've got something relevant to this conversation, say it. If you're just in the mood to rip on Christians, well, I for one don't find it fruitful.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/12/2007 11:54 AM  

  • To say an event occured because of supernatural intervention is not the same as saying it would NOT have occurred in the absence of supernatural intervention.

    You are making this far more complicated that it is. I know you're saying that events that occur through the laws of nature can also have some sort of divine purpose behind them. That's fine, but that is not a scientific assertion. That is a matter of faith.

    On the other hand, the Biblical miracles either happened or they did not. Jesus either was born from a virgin or he was not. That is not an event that is "up to faith," and whether it did occur or not is a matter of scientific analysis.

    What makes something a scientific statement is it's falsifiability.

    There is a difference between falsifiability in principle and falsifiability in practice. The lack of the latter does not make a scientific assertion any less scientific.

    How in the world are we going to falsify the claim "Jesus rose from the dead"? Even if theoretically some of these statements are falsifiable (A DNA test in response to the virgin birth), the scientific reality is that they are not.

    Sweet Jesus, Matt, that's YOUR problem, not mine! I'm not the one talking about virgin births! If you can't prove that there was a virgin birth, all you've done is posit an interesting story.

    You're still just throwing out wild stories and demanding that I disprove them. Here's another interesting story for you. Millions of years ago, Xenu came down in a bunch of spaceships and deposited alien souls on Earth. In order to prove that, of course, we'd have to go deep into space, which is currently not possible.

    Do you see what I'm saying? There's no difference between the validity of the assertions of Christianity and Scientology.

    Essentially, you're positing the inviolable natural law, demanding proof that the natural law was violated, and then responding to that proof by pointing to the "inviolable" essence of natural law. When Christians point to the evidence of Christ's virgin birth you don't say, "hmm, that's interesting." You say, that's not enough to "overcome the vast circumstantial evidence against the possibility of a virgin birth."

    Yeesh. I have never responded to any evidence of Christ's virgin birth because there has never been any evidence of Christ's virgin birth. Aside from your bare assertion, which is no more trustworthy than Hubbard's Xenu assertion.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/12/2007 1:41 PM  

  • "You've now asserted that the Apostles colluded to create a false faith, that Christianity has only flourished as a "historical accident", that Christianity is for the "less intelligent and more downtrodden segments of society,"
    and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was a "plagiarized" derrivation of other cultures (and it sounds like you're asserting it is almost exclusively ripped from other cultures)."


    The way I state all of those accusations is, admittedly, partly just to rile you guys. But I do, in fact, believe each of those things, wholeheartedly, with one exception. I don't think the creation of the faith was the work of the apostles, I think it happened much more organically, over a longer period of time, beginning much earlier, by many more people, and initially without any malicious intent (aside, perhaps, from greed and/or desire for power). In truth, I think that it started out as a story/myth, and eventually the Judaic culture forgot that it was just supposed to be a story and starting believing it.

    And yes, I could state my beliefs in less cynical, kinder ways, but what fun would that be? The truth is that Christianity (and, often to a lesser extent, all other religions) angers me. Some peoples' personal interpretations of it do not anger me (Ben, for instance, in no way harms anyone but himself by putting his faith in what I see as a huge waste of time, intelligence, and resources). But the majority of people actively make the world a worse place (unintentionally, of course) by practicing their faith. I enjoy debating this stuff, but part of the fun is getting to take potshots. But what I say is nevertheless serious argument. I could try to be nicer, and I probably would, were it not for the fact that I'm already good friends with everyone debating here, other than you, who I'm only beginning to get to know (and only online, and only in the contexts of debates about something about which we completely disagree to the very cores of our beings). But yes, I could be nicer.

    For instance, the less cynical view of the last point about Christianity being plagiarized could be looked at in this way: Most world religions, viewed at any point in history, have a lot of things in common with other religions of the time, and with religions that came before them. This could be seen as supporting a single origin hypothesis such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Thus, of course Christianity borrowed from earlier faiths, because some historical facts, and some divine promises and prophecies, are part of our collective cultural memory.

    As for you wanting specific proof... I don't have particular citations for any of those, because I don't collect them. But I have read, at some point, about all of those things deriving from other cultures' myths. I don't recall the specifics of many of them, and some of the connections might be rather tenuous, for instance, virgin births from the Greeks. But I'll provide as least one example. A much less tenuous connection is the derivation of the communion ritual from Roman cult rites wherein the participants ate bread and drank wine. In the Roman ritual, the "spiritual" significance of the bread and wine (consumed in copious amounts) was that they put the participant in a hallucinogenic stupor in which he could feel "connected" to the goddess of the hearth or something like that. The reason? They cultivated a particular fungus on the bread which induced the hallucinogenic state, and well, I'm sure you're familiar with the effects of alcohol. Historians are uncertain which fungus, exactly, was used by the Romans. Some have speculated that it was ergot, while others have stated otherwise, but everyone agrees in the existence of the ritual, and the consumption of the bread and wine inducing perceived communion with the divine.

    I'm sure there are books that catalog the many other things in the Bible that appear to have been "inspired" (a nicer phrase than "plagiarized") by earlier cultures.

    In any case, even if they were borrowed from earlier cultures, that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong. It might just mean that earlier cultures also had some insight into God's plan for things.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 5/12/2007 3:09 PM  

  • OK, kids, Zhubin pretty much made my point for me earlier in the comment thread... he just didn't realize it.

    He said: "If I get into a car accident but survive, there is no way to prove one way or another that God, working through natural laws, allowed me to survive, I agree." So God can be an explanation for those who have faith.

    Now - wouldn't an omnipotent God who would rather work within scientific laws be able to work outside scientific laws whenever It felt like it? Especially if it was for something important like (for Christians) taking away the sins of all mankind?

    I guess my problem is the idea of claiming that the scientific way of knowing is more valid than the religious way of knowing. Zhubin and Barzelay give scientific knowledge more concrete validity than knowledge through faith. What y'all don't realize is that this is exactly what the anti-evolutionists do - just reversed. Why discredit someone's knowledge through faith?

    Vis-a-vis Scientology - I'll freely admit that there's no more of a scientific basis for Judaism than there is for Scientology. It certainly doesn't make my faith any less valid.

    All hail the mighty Zork. Teapots for everyone. Peace out.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/12/2007 6:11 PM  

  • Zhubin -

    I know you're saying that events that occur through the laws of nature can also have some sort of divine purpose behind them.

    Yes, that has been one of the things I've said. But it's not the thrust of my argument, so let's set it aside. Know that for the rest of this conversation (unless it becomes immediately relevant again) that is NOT what I'm saying.

    Biblical miracles either happened or they did not... whether it did occur or not is a matter of scientific analysis.

    I think this is where my biggest problem with your whole challenge comes in. Sure, theoretically (and I'll get to the problem with the theoretical nature of this challenge in a bit) Biblical miracles can be subjected to scientific analysis. So let's do it (theoretically), because that'll show what my problem with your challenge really is; that it misunderstands the nature of science and the Divine.

    We'll just follow along the normal scientific process here. First, we present a scientific theory (all people have both a father and a mother). Then, we derrive from that theory a hypothesis (thus, Jesus must have both a father and mother). Then, we propose a way of falsifying that hypothesis (testing Jesus' DNA). We compare the results of that test to our control (Jesus' DNA vs. the DNA of any other person, presumably). The answer will come back either one of two ways: 1. The hypothesis was correct (Jesus' DNA shows both mom and pop) or 2. The hypothesis was incorrect (Jesus's DNA shows something else). If the result is #1, then our hypothesis has not been falsified, and our theory continues to stand, at least until something else comes along and falsifies it. If the result is #2, then our hypothesis has been falsified. If our hypothesis has been falsified, then it probably means our theory was [at least in part] wrong. The natural conclusion to evidence that falsifies a theory is not a supposition of the Divine usurping the theory, but rather that the theory itself was wrong.

    This is my problem with your challenge. Even if we Christians could prove, via the scientific process, that Biblical "miraculous" events had occurred, we would not, in a scientific sense, be proving anything about the Divine. We'd only be falsifying a current scientific theory.

    Of course, the converse is not true, and I think that's what appeals to you about Dawkins' idea. If, via the scientific process, you are able to prove something like "Jesus had both maternal and paternal DNA", then you would in effect be disproving a basic Christian belief. Turning statments of faith into "falsifiable", "scientific" hypotheses only works in one direction, to the advantage of disbelievers.

    Of course, that's how a non-believer would like to see it. For a believer, even if you could prove that Jesus had paternal DNA, you wouldn't have proved that he hadn't been born of a Virgin; there's no problem with a believer continuing to say "sure, Mary was a Virgin, God just chose to give Jesus paternal DNA too". Thus, even what you allege to be a falsification of a Biblical miracle is not actually such a falsification. That Jesus has paternal DNA, is of no challenge to a believer. Even if confirm a scientific theory that appears to fly in the face of the miraculous, there's no reason for the believer to reject that the miraculous occurred.

    This is the problem with your theory: if the believers scientifically falsify a theory by proving a "miracle", that's no reason for non-believers to accept the Divine. Likewise, if non-believers scientifically "falsify" a Biblical miracle, by proving disproving a fact assumed to be in contravention of a particular scientific theory, that's no reason for believer to accept that the miracle did not happen.

    The one has nothing to say about the other, and vice versa. You've put the Divine and Natural worlds in opposition to each other, when they don't rightly belong so.

    I'll write more about other problems in a bit. Time for supper.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/12/2007 6:50 PM  

  • Ok, let's take on the rest of that post now. Here goes:

    There is a difference between falsifiability in principle and falsifiability in practice. The lack of the latter does not make a scientific assertion any less scientific.

    Are you kidding me? If it's not falsifiable in practice, then it's not really falsifiable, and therefore not really a scientific statement. Claims about sentient aliens, for the most part, are theoretically falsifiable statements of fact [the exist, they don't, they look like X, etc.], but are entirely non-falsifiable, and therefore aren't considered to be science.


    You do admit that there's a difference between the actually falsifiable and the only theoretically falsifiable, but not that the difference is relevant. HUH? Why is it not relevant? I thought science was about explaining the world. If a theoretically falsifiable statement can't actually be falsified, then it can't tell us anything about the world, and therefore is not a scientific statement.

    You're still just throwing out wild stories and demanding that I disprove them.

    No, I'm not demanding that you disprove the virgin birth. I'm saying that re-asserting a scientific theory which the virgin birth would falsify is not the equvalent of disproving it. So when you direct us towards all the circumstancial evidence against the virgin birth, you are in essence re-positing the theory as proof that it is not falsified. Though there hasn't been any scientific evidence presented showing that Christ was born of a virgin, you've already pre-emptively responded to the possibility of that evidence by pointing to theories about DNA and such. It's like the white swan thing. Prior to the colonization of Australia, it was believed that all swans were white. If someone came back from Australia, and informed you that they'd seen a black swan, the proper response wouldn't be, "no, that's impossible, because all swans are white." And yet, that's exactly what you're doing. A couple posts back you wrote, "there is plenty of scientific evidence, both biological and anthropological, for us to be reasonably certain that Jesus was NOT born from a virgin". You're re-asserting a theory in light of the theoretical possibility of it being falsified, and presenting that re-assertion as evidence of the theory's validity. A re-assertion of a scientific theory is NOT scientific evidence in favor of that theory. I'm not putting the onus on you to disprove the virgin birth; I'm just saying that re-asserting the theory, in a scientific sense, does not tend to disprove the virgin birth.

    Sweet Jesus, Matt, that's YOUR problem, not mine! I'm not the one talking about virgin births! If you can't prove that there was a virgin birth, all you've done is posit an interesting story.

    Oh come off it. You've tasked Christianity with an impossible mission. We point out that it's absolutely a ridiculous challenge, and your response is, "that's YOUR problem."

    And besides, I think this is where Ben's original point has a lot of validity; you accept all sorts of things without scientific proof. You accept that Ceasar lived, etc. No one requires you to offer scientific proof of things which are beyond that proof, and if they did you'd blow them off.

    Of course, as you've made perfectly clear, you think statements of miracles are different than statements of non-miraculous historical fact, given that miracles are contraventions of the physical law. Your basic premise seems to be that "when we can neither prove nor disprove an historical fact, and that historical fact appears to be in contravention of our current understanding of the natural law, it is best not to accept that the historical fact occurred." If we dissect that, we'll see that there's actually two premises here. The first is "when we can neither prove nor disprove an historical fact, then we must turn to other evidence in determining whether to accept it or not." The second is, "When an alleged historical fact appears to contravene our current understanding of the the physical law, then it is best not to accept that that historical fact occurred."

    People of faith don't necessarily disagree with this second point; we reject all sorts of things on this same "scientifically improbable" basis (i.e. Xenu). However, we also have a third premise, that is, "when there appear to be reasons of faith, consistent with our experience of the Divine, for accepting that an historical fact occurred, then accepting that that historical fact occurred can be proper, even if it appears to be in contravention of the current scientific understanding."

    When something can't be falsified, then we've got to turn to something else in deciding whether to accept it or not. I hold that there are reasons of faith that can support accepting certain historical facts. You reject that view. This is a philosophical discussion about epistomology, and whether faith is a legitimate reason for accepting that certain improbable events happened.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/12/2007 9:31 PM  

  • This is my problem with your challenge....The natural conclusion to evidence that falsifies a theory is not a supposition of the Divine usurping the theory, but rather that the theory itself was wrong.

    I think that evidence of isolated interruptions of natural law, directed toward a specific purpose announced to be divine, would be strong evidence of divine intervention. For example, if the stars rearranged themselves into a Bible verse. No one would reasonably say that there is a natural explanation for that.

    For a believer, even if you could prove that Jesus had paternal DNA, you wouldn't have proved that he hadn't been born of a Virgin; there's no problem with a believer continuing to say "sure, Mary was a Virgin, God just chose to give Jesus paternal DNA too". Thus, even what you allege to be a falsification of a Biblical miracle is not actually such a falsification.

    Well, you would need to prove that God gave Jesus that DNA and that it wasn't from a natural father, obviously. Again, you're the one who needs to prove that to me, not the other way around.

    You've put the Divine and Natural worlds in opposition to each other, when they don't rightly belong so.

    This is besides the point, but I would like to hear your alternative to this framework.


    If it's not falsifiable in practice, then it's not really falsifiable, and therefore not really a scientific statement. Claims about sentient aliens, for the most part, are theoretically falsifiable statements of fact [the exist, they don't, they look like X, etc.], but are entirely non-falsifiable, and therefore aren't considered to be science.

    That's just not true. Principles of science do not depend on our current level of technology. The atomic theory was not unscientific prior to the development of the electron microscope.

    A theory that is theoretically falsifiable is still a scientific assertion. If it is impractical to test it, then because the burden of proof is on the proponent of the theory, it is just an interesting idea. There are hundreds of theories like this, especially in quantum physics.

    Though there hasn't been any scientific evidence presented showing that Christ was born of a virgin, you've already pre-emptively responded to the possibility of that evidence by pointing to theories about DNA and such.

    Well, of course I have, Matt. I don't evaluate your claims in a factual vacuum. All the available evidence indicates that a virgin birth is impossible. If I have scientific evidence that all swans are white, I need more than your bare claim to accept that there are black swans. What would you have me do?

    When something can't be falsified, then we've got to turn to something else in deciding whether to accept it or not. I hold that there are reasons of faith that can support accepting certain historical facts.

    Exactly. My point exactly. You can't prove that your claims occurred, but you have faith that they did. This is exactly what Scientologists say. You have only what Scientology has, which is what my original post was all about.

    And, suffice to say, I give your religious claims the same respect I give to Scientology.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/13/2007 2:42 PM  

  • Yeah, what the heck, I'll respond again. ;-)

    I think that evidence of isolated interruptions of natural law, directed toward a specific purpose announced to be divine, would be strong evidence of divine intervention.

    But that wouldn't be scientific evidence of the Divine. Because you can't demonstrate an "isolated interruption" of physical laws. To do so would require a single static rule beyond falsification, and that's not the way science works. I understand that practically, yeah, that'd be great proof of the Divine. But scientifically, it would not. And you've been holding to the rules of science this whole time, so why deviate in the face of a Divine-seeming falsification?

    You would need to prove that God gave Jesus that DNA and that it wasn't from a natural father, obviously. Again, you're the one who needs to prove that to me, not the other way around.

    Again, that's beyond proof. If Jesus has paternal DNA, heck, if Jesus had Joseph's paternal DNA that doesn't disprove the Virgin Birth. It only proves that God cleverly made it look like Jesus was Joseph's son. That's completely non-falsifiable, and therefore beyond scientific proof - not just practically, but also by it's very terms. I understand your skepticism, really, I do, but there's no scientific way of getting past it. You want us to prove what can only be believed on faith as a condition of believing on faith. That's just not possible.

    [The fact that I've set the natural and divine worlds in opposition to eachother] is besides the point, but I would like to hear your alternative to this framework.

    What I've meant by setting them in opposition to each other is that you see them as competing methods for explaining the same phenomena. Thus, if an event happens in this world there is either a natural cause or a divine cause, and though they are not mutually exclusive, if there is a natural cause then that explanation is sufficient to understand the phenomena.

    My alternative framework says that the natural and divine worlds are both constantly present and co-existing, such that they are complimentary methods of explaining different things about the same phenomena. So for most every event that happens there are both natural and divine explanations for it, neither of which is sufficient to understand the event.

    Principles of science do not depend on our current level of technology.

    Ok, granted. But then we need to make an additional distinction between two types of theoretically falsifiable statements. First, there are the "technologically unfalsifiable", the kind like the atomic theory/sentient alien idea, where only our technological limits prevent us from falsifying the theory. Second, there are the "actually unfalsifiable," statements like "Jesus rose from the dead," which, no matter what technology we possess, will always be non-falsifiable. If it's actually unfalsifiable, then it doesn't have any potential for telling us anything about the natural world. And if it doesn't have potential for explaining the natural world, then it ain't scientific.

    You can't prove that your claims occurred, but you have faith that they did. This is exactly what Scientologists say.

    Ok, I was a little short in my list of premises that allow a person to accept on faith that certain historical events/miracles happened. Among other premises, beyond the "consistent with faith" premise is:
    1. There are witnesses who lived at the time of the event who accepted that the event occurred.
    2. There are historical documents that reflect the historical nature of the events, if not also the miraculous.
    3. A short time after the event occurred the miraculous nature was written about by otherwise credible sources, in such a way that it reflects belief in the alleged miraculous nature.
    4. A community of believers, and not just select individuals, quickly arose regarding the alleged event.
    5. If there are multiple alleged miracles they are consistent and reinforcing in nature, and not contradictory.

    I could probably go on. Suffice it to say, I think these premises are all important when deciding whether to accept that a historical event occured when that event is seemingly inconsitent with our current understanding of the laws of nature. And I think these are all premises that Scientology lacks. Perhaps to someone who rejects all of these premises, such as yourself, they don't seem to add much more than the basic premise did before, and we'd still look like Scientologists, but I think the appeal of these additional premises is self evident. Maybe I'm wrong.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/15/2007 3:05 PM  

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