Saturday, February 07, 2009

Theism and evidence

No atheist should ever let any theist start talking about evidence. To talk about the evidence for God's existence is poison for the atheist, because the existence of God is, for the theist, a metaphysical proposition; the statement, "God exists," is true "come what may." Calling the existence of God metaphysical is simply descriptive, not pejorative; the naturalist's statement, "A statement about the world is true if and only if (and only to the extent that) it is supported by perceptual evidence," is equally metaphysical.

Kazim discusses this issue regarding the Craig-Ehrman debate about "evidence" for the resurrection, correctly noting that the debate is not about the quality of the evidence but the prior plausibility of the resurrection. Craig correctly notes that if you find the resurrection initially plausible, you will require little evidence of low quality to believe it true. But the believer does not find the resurrection merely "plausible", he believes it to be 100% true. Bayes theorem clearly shows that if you believe some proposition with certainty, no amount of evidence will persuade you to the contrary.

Craig notes:
In order to show that that hypothesis [the resurrection] is improbable, you’d have to show that God’s existence is improbable. But Dr. Ehrman says that the historian cannot say anything about God. Therefore, he cannot say that God’s existence is improbable. But if he can’t say that, neither can he say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable. So Dr. Ehrman’s position is literally self-refuting.
Craig is correct here: the supernatural resurrection of Jesus (he makes the distinction clear in the next sentence) is neither probable nor improbable, in just the same sense that "all gnorts are kerfibble" is neither probable nor improbable. The resurrection of Jesus is, for the believer, a metaphysical statement, not susceptible to evidentiary proof or disproof.

Any theist who says that he believes on the basis of skeptical evidence is mistaken or lying. They are usually mistaken: theists typically do not understand how skeptics employ evidence. More importantly, theists do not understand that they employ evidence differently than skeptics: they are constantly astonished when a skeptic persists in her disbelief after the theist has presented his "evidence".

That Craig is using evidence differently than the skeptic is made clear by his argument that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus is "evidentially" supported only if the prior probability is high (and it's prior with certainty). For the skeptic, the prior probability is irrelevant. First, we can turn any Bayesian evidentiary argument around and calculate the prior probability the evidence is sufficient to overcome. The lower the prior probability, the stronger the evidence. Second, Bayesian evidentiary arguments increase the posterior probability exponentially as the amount of evidence increases linearly: if I'm ten times more skeptical than you, it takes only one more item of evidence to convince me.

More importantly, the skeptic does not look for the presence of confirmatory evidence: she looks for the absence of disconfirmatory evidence. The laws of physics are interesting, for example, because they specify an needle of confirmatory evidence in a haystack disconfirmatory evidence. If I drop a rock, and it does pretty much anything other than accelerate directly towards the center of the Earth at 10m/s2, then the theory of gravity is falsified. In order to understand the "supernatural" hypothesis of Jesus' resurrection, then, we must know what disconfirmatory evidence it specifies. If it specifies a needle of disconfirmatory evidence in a haystack of confirmatory evidence, it's not very interesting. And, of course, to the extent that the believer is certain of the resurrection "come what may", the "hypothesis" specifies no disconfirmatory evidence whatsoever and is not — in the skeptic's sense — even a hypothesis.

It's no fault at all to use "evidence" in a different way than the skeptic... so long as one is honest and clear about distinguishing the different uses. If the theist says that he uses evidence in thus-and-such a way, which is different from how skeptics use evidence in this-and-that way, then there's no problem.

If this distinction were make clear and explicit, however, the entire field of evidentiary apologetics would simply collapse. The ordinary theist can be easily forgiven for misunderstanding skeptical evidentiary arguments; we can — with more difficulty — attribute an individual professional's misunderstanding to incompetence. But when an entire field rests on obfuscating an equivocation between two distinct and incompatible senses of a key term we can conclude only a pattern of intentional mendacity.

Furthermore, we must ask: why have theists redefined a key skeptical term in the first place? Many theologians declare outright that skeptical evidence — and the inexorable conclusion that no gods exist — is simply irrelevant to theism. Why even bother to engage in "evidentiary" apologetics when you have to completely redefine "evidence" to get the whole enterprise off the ground? Again, we can conclude only a pattern of intentional mendacity. Evidentiary apologetics exists to dishonestly undercut skeptical evidentiary arguments against the existence of gods by redefining "evidence" under the feet of the skeptics. And this dishonest endeavor is required because the metaphysical and fideistic arguments are spectacularly unpersuasive.

For these reasons I believe it is just as fruitless to debate evidentiary apologists as it is to debate creationists on the quality of the evidence. The only fruitful topic of debate concerning evidentiary apologetics is: "What precisely do you mean by 'evidence'?" And the only strategy for the skeptic is to show that any proposition — however outrageous — can be supported according to the theists' definition of "evidence". Every debate with an evidentiary apologist should start with the question: Why should we believe the parrot is dead?


  1. It's no fault at all to use "evidence" in a different way than the skeptic... so long as one is honest and clear about distinguishing the different uses.

    I guess so, but only in the same way that it is faultless to use the word "green" to refer to red objects, so long as one is "honest and clear" about this idiosyncratic usage. The way that delusional theistic imbeciles use the word "evidence" is pretty much the opposite of what it means to non-delusional people. And they are surely not "honest and clear" about it. In fact, they intentionally elide this up-is-down game to fool the credulous.

  2. I agree, I see this all the time. Apologetic "evidence" often only confirms their own hypothesis, without really disconfirming alternative hypotheses. The disconfirmatory component is the most important part!

    I think in a debate though, you first need to ask them what sort of evidence they have. That way, you have some examples to work with.

    I am curious what you meant by this statement: "the naturalist's statement, 'A statement about the world is true if and only if (and only to the extent that) it is supported by perceptual evidence,' is equally metaphysical." I'm not sure I would agree with the naturalist's statement here. I would say instead that belief in a statement is merited iff it is supported by evidence.

  3. But Craig specifically says that the prior for the Resurrection is "terribly low" (bottom of p.16 in the PDF). His trick is that he doesn't actually run the numbers, instead he relies on Ehrman's mathematical ignorance (when I discussed this last, I compared Craig vs Ehrman to Euler vs Diderot). If you do plug in some reasonable numbers, you still don't get anything like a probable Resurrection unless the alternative explanations are very unlikely. The right move for Ehrman at this point is to come up with as many alternatives as possible: that second term in the denominator includes all the possible alternative explanations of the evidence.

    I bet Craig won't be trying this particular tactic when he debates with Richard Carrier.

  4. Comrade PhysioProf: And they are surely not "honest and clear" about it. In fact, they intentionally elide this up-is-down game to fool the credulous.

    Kind of my point.

    miller: I would say instead that belief in a statement is merited iff it is supported by evidence.

    Seems like six of one, half dozen of the other. Your formulation might be more pedantically correct.

    Paul Wright: But Craig specifically says that the prior for the Resurrection is "terribly low."

    I'm going by Kazim's quotation:

    That Jesus rose naturally from the dead is fantastically improbable. But I see no reason whatsoever to think that it is improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    The supernaturality of the hypothesis is the crux of the Bayesian biscuit.

    The right move for Ehrman at this point is to come up with as many alternatives as possible...

    Ehrman and every other skeptic in the world can come up with alternatives until our fingers bleed. It just doesn't matter. Theistic belief is simply not a matter of evidence in the skeptical sense.

  5. when in history human kind started to preserve the facts,
    gather and keep evidence you can see after that there is no one born as god, no one dared to establish themselves as god in the eyes of society as they were unbale to perform the tricky magic and impress the society like they have done in ancient times,when society was uneducated,there were no means of keeping records,evidences etc.
    nice blog

  6. Armageddon Thru To You

    If you've been wondering why it seems like the world around us is unraveling, it's because the last days as foretold in the bible are now upon us. Just as it was 2000 years ago, many were unable to discern the signs of Jesus Christ's first coming (Mat 16:3), as will many concerning his second coming, which will occur very soon. Yes many have proclaimed a similar sentiment many times in the past, but their errors have no bearing on today other than to lull you into spiritual apathy, and that too was prophesied to occur in the last days.

    If you're not a believer in Jesus Christ because you're an atheist, consider that the underlying impetus for your disbelief is most likely borne of pride and here's why:

    When we die, if you as an atheist were right, then there is no upside or downside for anyone regarding the afterlife. We will all simply cease to exist

    However if we Christians were right about our belief in the afterlife, then we will be given eternal life and you as an atheist will receive eternal damnation

    Given the choices, the position held by an atheist is a fools bet any way you look at it because the atheist has everything to lose and nothing to gain. It is tantamount to accepting a “heads I win, tails you lose” coin toss proposition from someone. And that someone by the way is Satan (see Ephesians 6:12).

    The only way to explain the attitude held by an atheist is pride, pure and simple. The intellectually dishonest and/or tortured reasoning used by atheists to try and disprove the existence of God is nothing more than attempts to posture themselves as superior (a symptom of pride). And as anyone who has read their bible knows, this is precisely the character flaw that befell Lucifer, God's formerly most high angel. (Isaiah 14:12-15). Is it any wonder then why the bible is so replete with references to pride as the cause of mankind's downfall?

    Pride permeates our lives and burdens us in ways that most of us seldom recognize. Ironically, pride is the one thing that can blind someone to things even the unsighted can see. And sadly pride will blind many with an otherwise good heart, to accepting the offer of eternal salvation that Christ bought and paid for with his life.

    In any event, if you're an atheist, I wish you only the best for every day of the rest of your life because for you, this life is as close to heaven as you'll ever get, but for believers in Christ, this life is as close to hell as we'll ever get.

    If you're not a believer and follower of Jesus Christ because you are of another faith, please take the time to very carefully compare your faith to Christianity and ask yourself, why is the bible the only religious book with both hundreds of proven prophecies already fulfilled as well as those being fulfilled today? No other religion can claim anything remotely close to this fact. Many Christians who are serious students of bible prophecy are already aware of the role and significance of bible prophecy in foretelling end time events. God gave us prophecy as evidence of his divine holiness to know the begining from the end (Isa 46:10). God also believed prophecy to be so important that to those willing to read the most prophetic book in the bible, the Book of Revelation, he promised a special blessing (see Rev 1:3), and this is the only book in the bible that God gives its reader a special blessing for reading. Something to think about.

    Don't risk losing Christ's offer of eternal life by not accepting him as your savior and by thinking that the bible is nothing more than a compilation of unrelated and scattered stories about people who lived 2,000 plus years ago. If you take the time to study (not just read) the bible, you will literally be shocked to learn things you would have never imagined would be revealed in it. Did you know that like parables, God also uses particular months and days in the Jewish calendar, Jewish Feasts and customs, solar and lunar phases, celestial alignments, gematria (Hebrew numerology) early bible events and more as patterns and models to foretell future events?

    Consider the following interesting facts about the bible that testify to its God-inspired authorship:

    Did you know that in Gen 12:2, God said he would bless Israel?. How else can you explain the grossly disproportionate level of success achieved by Jewish people as a tiny minority in the world, especially after all they have gone through? And how can you explain the success achieved by the tiny nation of Israel, surrounded by enemies outnumbering them 100 to 1 and yet still they remain victorious in all their wars?

    Did you know that as evidence to indicate that Israel is the epicenter of the world from God's point of view is the fact that languages to the west of Israel are written and read from left to right as if pointing to Israel, and languages from countries to the east of Israel are written and read from right to left, again as though pointing to Israel. Just a coincidence, you say? I think not.

    Did you know that the six days of creation and seventh day of rest in Genesis is a model for the six thousand years of this age (ending very soon), that is to be followed by a 1,000 year millennial reign by Christ (see 2 Peter 3:8)? Adam was born sometime prior to 4000 B.C., therefore our 6000 years are almost up.

    Did you kow that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hidden in the meaning of the Hebrew names listed in the genealogy of the book of Genesis (Research it online)? To deny this was God-inspired, one has to instead believe that a group of Jewish rabbis conspired to hide the Christian Gospel right inside a genealogy of their venerated Torah, which is not a very plausible explanation.

    Did you know that solar eclipses, which the bible describes as the sun being black as sackcloth, and lunar eclipses, which the bible refers to as blood red moons, have prophetic meaning? Research it online. God showed Adam (and us) his plan for man's redemption through the use of celestial alignments. (research Mazzaroth online)

    Did you know that much of the symbolism in the book of revelation refers to planetary alignments that will occur when certain events occur as prophesied? These planetary alignments also explained the birth of Christ, just search out The Bethlehem Star movie on the Internet.

    Did you know that the references in Eze 39:4-17 and Rev 19:17-21 in the battle of Gog/Magog and Armageddon respectively, in which birds of prey will eat the flesh of the dead in battle from two enormous wars is based on fact? The largest bird migration in the world consisting of bilions of birds (34 species of raptors and various carrion birds) from several continents converge and fly over Israel every spring and fall. Coincidence? I think not.

    Did you know that Hebrew numerology, also known as Gematria, and the numbers with biblical and prophetic significance are hidden in the Star of David? Google the video called "Seal of Jesus Christ"

    Did you know that the seven Churches mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Revelation describe the seven stages the Church will go through?

    There are literally hundreds of hidden messages in the bible like these that testify to the fact that the bible was God inspired, and statistically speaking, are all exponentially beyond the likelihood of any coincidence. You can find them yourselves if you only take the time to look into it. Remember Proverbs 25:2 "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings".

    And finally, if you are Catholic, or one who subscribes to the emergent Church or seeker-friendly Church movement, please compare the doctrine taught, advocated or accepted by your Church, with the actual bible, notwithstanding some new-age version of the bible. And remember that although the bible is often referred to as the living bible, the word "living" was never intended to imply in any way that the bible "evolves" over time to meet, or be consistent with, the standards of man. It's just the opposite.

    Well, am I getting through to you? If not, the answer might be explained in the response given by Jesus Christ in his Olivet discourse when he was asked by his disciples why he spoke the way he did (in parables, etc.) in the book of Matthew 13:10-16. What Jesus said could have easily been paraphrased more clearly as "so that the damned won't get it". Why did Christ respond the way he did when asked why he spoke this way? Is there something about pride (the bible says there is) that closes one's heart to seeing or hearing the messages supernaturally hidden in bible parables, models, typologies, and similes, etc.? That should give you something to think about, but don't take too long. Time is now very short.

    If it sometimes seems like there are powers at work behind the powers we know, remember what it says in Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." If you study the bible, it will become clearer.

    And by the way, if you are a scoffer, this too was prophesied to occur in the last days. See 2 Peter 3:3.

    Thank you and God Bless you! (at)

  7. Armageddon: well... wasn't that special. It's continually astonishing to me that there still are people as ignorant and deluded as you in today's scientific, technological world.

  8. Our buddy "Armageddon Thru To You" has been making the rounds with his cut-and-paste theological tome, just so you know.

  9. Our buddy "Armageddon Thru To You" has been making the rounds with his cut-and-paste theological tome, just so you know.

    I'm shocked, shocked! to find that gambling has been going on in Casablanca.


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