Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Look At Me!! I'm Winning an Argument!!

I had a friend in high school that had a condition that caused him to jerk and twitch. He was a real good guy. He became an mechanical engineer, as I did. His condition didn't seem to affect him too much. Seems to me it was at its worst though around 5th or 6th grade, lessened somewhat through high school, and I think now he's outgrown it entirely.

Once in 6th grade I asked him if he could try and hold still. Don't twitch at all. So he tried and I watched him as the clock ticked away. He was concentrating. My pencil fell off my desk and I reached for it. As I was leaned over I looked back over my shoulder. He was twitching and jerking wildly, indulging the urge that he had been restraining for the last 30 seconds.

This was the first thing I thought of when I read Jason Engwer's recent post about me, which he calls Jon Curry's Losing Hand. What's natural for Jason is to insult his opponents, ridicule them, and in other various ways act in a rude manner. Having entered the str threads he proceeded to engage in the same behavior, but the Christian moderators at str know how that makes Christianity look, so they wouldn't tolerate it. Here's one exchange with the moderator Amy.

Jason-Since Joe is such a poor communicator, and he doesn't put much effort into his posts, we often have to guess at what he's trying to say.

Amy-Jason, we do encourage people to argue vigorously in their comments about the arguments, and I appreciate the arguments you've laid out here, but a personal statement like this one is not helpful.

I entered the thread and informed Joe that this abuse was typical of Jason, so don't take it too seriously. Now, Jason already knows that he's supposed to try and avoid being rude as he reacts to me at str, but rudeness is very natural for him and he can't restrain himself. But he's still trying. So he responds to me with similar rudeness and again Amy warns him to get himself under control or he could be banned.

So the subsequent posts focused on arguments to a large degree. Much larger than Jason typically does. I thought this was a great scenario. A chance to argue without the ad hominem distractions.

Now the thread has been closed, understandably. It's long and kind of out of hand. So now what? The restraints imposed of charity and grace have been removed, so Jason can return to his old self. And so he did immediately, probably jerking and twitching wildly to spew out the personal attacks that he had been restraining for so long. Start off with the very title of the thread. Jon Curry's Losing Hand. It seems one of the pillars of Jason's argumentative style is to simply assert that he is right and his opponents' arguments are very feeble (discussed before here and here). My hand is very weak. My arguments are very bad. His arguments are very strong and persuasive. He quotes Steve Hays assessment of me. I'm "in over my head", had "no good reason to repudiate the faith in the first place", he's "called my bluff" forcing me to "lay (my) losing hand on the table". He really showed me. He decided he did such a good job that he needed to pat himself on the back a little more with a "Mission accomplished". Good job, Steve.

What does this behavior really show? To me it exposes how little confidence they have in their own beliefs. Obviously science has dealt serious blows to their version of Christianity. Basic moral decency is another huge strike against the slavery endorsing, women owning, genocidal contents of the bible. Contradictions galore, miraculous claims that are dismissed as absurd in all non-Biblical contexts. The evidence thing isn't working out, so what's left? Do what the propagandists have done before when proven wrong. Assert the opposite. "Your arguments are very bad, mine are very good. You're running scared, I've destroyed you as I set out to do. Mission accomplished. You are a deceiver and a liar. You misrepresent the arguments because you cannot deal with them."

I'm biased too. I admit it. Which is why I don't feel the need to pontificate on which arguments are the "best". I've made this point before. But this repeated behavior of asserting your own dominance that the Triabloggers often engage in is just fascinating and prompts my reaction. I wonder if what Tacitus said of crime is also true of transparently erroneous, yet cherished beliefs. Tacitus said "Crime once exposed has no refuge but in audacity."

In the comments below I offer another rebuttal to Jason's latest over at str. You'd have to be an odd person to even read it, and maybe I'm a bigger weirdo for even writing it. But then maybe I'll learn something from the rude rebuttals. And why not keep these guys hopping?


Jon said...

As I explained earlier, we accept many things in life for which we have no precedent, usually on the basis of ordinary evidence, such as eyesight or a news report.

The demarcations between ordinary and extraordinary evidence may not be precise (in terms of language), but in my view eyesight is approaching extraordinary evidence. News footage isn't quite as good, but it's very good. I accept many things based on less than eyesight. I've never seen an earthquake or a hurricane, but I believe in them. Never saw an electron. Had I seen a tsunami I'd be very much compelled to believe they occur. Never having seen one I still believe in them because news reports are also excellent evidence. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is orders of magnitude worse than this. If I saw it happen I might be compelled to believe it. Eyesight is pretty good. Or if I had a reliable news report. I have decades after the fact assertions from second and third hand sources written by devoted followers who were gullible, superstitious people. You can deny they were gullible and superstitious. You can deny that they it is relevant that they were devoted followers. But to deny that the evidence we have is FAR worse than our own eyesight or a news report is to deny what is transparently true, and I do not think it is necessary to argue the point.

I don't act that way, and I know of many other people who deny that they act that way.

I don't know you well enough I suppose, but I have to say I don't believe you when you say you don't dismiss these claims. I'll share a story and let's see how you react.

I'm friends with the pastor of The University Church in Toledo OH. You can meet him here.


He was training pastors in Africa and he had heard them tell tales of warriors that could not be stopped with bullets. When bullets were fired at them they say the bullets fell down in front of them. He rose to address this group of African Christians pastor trainees and he said "Do you know that where I come from in America I don't know a single person that would believe that what you are saying about these warriors is true." You know how they reacted? He said they laughed themselves sick.

So how would you react? Would you think to yourself "Gosh, this just might be true. After all, I've got the report of unscientific, superstitious people. I should look into this." Or do you react like every single person that my pastor friend knows?

It's interesting this frequent technique of yours. I draw general conclusions based upon my experiences. I say "We don't believe the water was 600°C". And you'll react with "you need to argue that we don't believe it." And I say that everyone I know doesn't believe it. Do you believe it? You pretend that there are exceptions, but I ask if you are an exception and you don't answer. If we are in agreement that we don't believe the water is 600°C with 4 thermocouple readings then why are you arguing about it? If we are in agreement that we dismiss supernatural claims from superstitious people generally then why are we arguing about it?

Why would a gospel author need to explain to his readers that Herod was wrong or that his beliefs were "unusual or irrational"?

Twice in my last post I talked about how talking about what an author needs to do is to miss the boat. You ignored it and repeat arguments based upon these already corrected errors.

Jon said...

You aren't addressing the distinctions between Herod and Paul that I mentioned. The credibility of a historian who studies American history isn't diminished much by the average person's ignorance of American history. Similarly, Paul's credibility isn't diminished much by Herod's lack of credibility.

One of us isn't addressing the points from last time, but it's not me. Maybe Herod is the credible one and Paul is the one that lacks credibility. Maybe Paul is the one ignorant of the Gettysburg address and Herod is the American historian. Why should we regard Paul as credible and Herod as not credible? You just assert that this person, who claims to have been caught up into heaven to see visions, is credible and Herod isn't. Paul's not the first to suffer for his perceived visions, and personally I don't regard such people as credible. I'd sooner regard them as a little crazy.

And your denial of Jesus' predictions wouldn't prevent me or others who disagree with you from arguing to the contrary, as I have in the past.

Wow. That's missing the point pretty badly.

Ever see "A Few Good Men"? Kevin Bacon is a lawyer and offers an opening statement that basically says "These are the facts of the case and they are not disputed." I'm saying for clarity lets get the undisputed facts on the table. In this way we can avoid having you argue on the basis of facts that are disputed. Obviously you will argue that Jesus made predictions about his death. I'm trying to prevent you in your "religious context" point from smuggling in assumptions as if they were undisputed facts. This is not to say "It is not true that Jesus predicted his own death". It is merely to say that we need to be clear about what is a fact and what is contested.

As I said earlier, I don't deny that a non-miraculous event, like a murder, has a higher prior probability than a miraculous event, like a resurrection, in isolated categories. But the overall prior probability of an event has to take all of the relevant data into account.

What are you saying? Are you saying that other factors, such as the probability that the evidence would be generated if false, or the probability of the production of the evidence at all also matter? Where have I heard that before? Maybe like each of my last 5 posts? Are you finally getting on board? Or will you be arguing against your view stated here in your next post?

I've repeatedly explained the problematic nature of the phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". You've repeatedly tried to avoid addressing the issue in detail.

You are demanding mathematical precision from a statement that was intended to simplify a mathematical expression. My efforts here are an effort to help you understand, since clearly you do not understand what is involved. The simplification provides some ambiguity. Yet you object to that ambiguity. But if you understood the issues I wouldn't offer anything ambiguous in the first place.

Jon said...

The believability of a claim ultimately rests on the factors that you should be familiar with in Bayes' Theorem. You've quoted Craig and Moreland discussing them. You've read my description of them. You should understand the interplay between the various factors, and how the expression "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is a simplified description of the various terms. For crying out loud you just described the same thing 4 paragraphs up. If you want precision and math you know where to look by now, and if you don't, well, I'm not sure you're really interested.

That's not what normally happens.

It happens more often than resurrections do.

Keener gave an example of a highly regarded religious leader who didn't have such miracle accounts surrounding him (John the Baptist). And he mentioned non-Christian sources. How would your reasoning about "devoted followers" apply to those non-Christian sources?

I think you've missed the boat again by presuming that since later devoted followers attributed miracles to Jesus, than by this logic devoted followers must necessarily attribute miracles to their defeated heroes. That's not what I'm arguing. Just because Jesus followers DID this doesn't imply that devoted followers MUST IN ALL CASES.

Note though that the Baptist was regarded as the Messiah. That fits the pattern of the devoted followers exalting their crushed and defeated heroes. That fits the Jesus pattern quite well. Does that mean this is what USUALLY happens? Of course not. But it does happen. Resurrections on the other hand? Those are even more rare.

Where's your argument that the earthquake would be considered "extraordinarily improbable"? Your cave man account assumes that position, but doesn't argue for it.

I'm supposed to argue for what a hypothetical cave man would think? This is absurd. There's nothing more to say except to develop the scenario and try and imagine what you think would be going through his mind. If you disagree with me then fine. Let the reader decide.

The cave man should know that he's ignorant of much of the relevant data. He only lives in one part of the world. He has significantly limited knowledge of the past. He doesn't know much about the physical elements involved in earthquakes. Unlike your water example that you took from Arif Ahmed, the cave man doesn't have a long history of testing to see if earthquakes naturally occur under the circumstances in question. How would his experience logically lead him to the conclusion that an earthquake would be extraordinarily unlikely?

I agree entirely with your point that his knowledge is limited and therefore his initial probability factor is correspondingly higher in accord with his ignorance. Once again you're expressing Bayes' Theorem fine right here, and I've already made the same point with regards to the apple falling from the tree.

And, as I pointed out earlier, if we do consider the first earthquake extraordinarily unlikely, and we accept it on the basis of ordinary evidence, such as eyesight or the testimony of other people, then we're accepting an extraordinary event on the basis of ordinary evidence.

Jon said...

As I said above I consider eyesight exceptional evidence. Very reliable. It can be diminished with drugs and alcohol, but generally it is exceptional. And severely lacking in the case of the resurrection. I think you're using ordinary in the sense of "common" since we use our eyes so frequently, but I use it in the sense of the values of the terms in Bayes' Theorem. What's the probability that I would observe an earthquake if one didn't happen? Extremely low if I'm sober. So it is exceptional evidence. Or even extraordinary. Don't get hung up on these terms though. We could try and communicate with equations, but my goal here is clarity rather than obfuscation.

You said that we "ought to" have such records for Jesus, since He was "that important a figure". I gave you examples of people who were more prominent in society than Jesus, such as Tiberius Caesar, for whom we don't have the sort of records you tell us we "ought to" have.

My argument assumed that Jesus was as important as you believe he was. You think he's more important than Tiberious Ceasar. The biblical records portray him as being very prominent. With that level of prominence I would expect critical commentary. Of course that wouldn't be true NECESSARILY. But the point here is there is selection bias. I don't think you want to address that. It's tit for tat stuff. "People arent NECESSARILY critical, etc, etc." Is it unreasonable to expect selection bias here? If not why not?

If the pattern also fits the traditional Christian view, then you're not giving us any reason to prefer your explanation.

There is no reason to expect improvement to the story as time goes by if the Holy Spirit is inspiring the writers. There is reason to expect it if the story is false and legendary. That's a reason to prefer my explanation.

Paul Draper uses a good analogy. Suppose I have two jars. one has mostly red beans and a few blue ones. The other has mostly blue beans and a few red ones. If I shut the lights off and select a bean from one of the jars and place it on the table, turn the lights on and you see that it's a red bean, this isn't proof it came from the first jar. But it is evidence that it came from the first jar. Because we know it's more likely to be from the first jar than the second. In the same way improvement to the story is what we expect if these are man made stories with legendary embellishment. Maybe it's not proof. Maybe this is the way the Holy Spirit inspired these writers. But there's no reason to expect the Holy Spirit to act that way going in. Maybe you can concoct reasons for why the Holy Spirit would, but then maybe you can concoct ways for why He wouldn't. You don't know a priori. This is evidence that P(E/~H) is higher and hence it reduces the believability of the resurrection.