David Marshall's Number One Deepity: "All scientific knowledge depends upon human testimony."

In what follows is a smack-down of the entire edifice of David Marshall's apologetics (not that he will be convinced of course). Christian apologist David Marshall has repeatedly argued that "All scientific knowledge depends upon human testimony." He does so to put the vinyl siding of scientific respectability over the rotting wood of his faith. He rhetorically asks, "How many eyewitness testimonies were confirmed by DNA evidence?" His point is that DNA evidence doesn't confirm eyewitness testimonies, but rather that the human testimonies of scientists confirm the DNA evidence. That's because they saw it and they interpret it for the rest of us. This is crucial for Marshall's defense of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus, and the claims of miracles in today's world. Human testimony is what both science and his faith depend on for truth. If we can know from the human testimonies of scientists the truth about the world, then we can also know from human testimonies the truth about the Easter Event and miracles in the modern world.

What's there not to understand atheists? Checkmate!!

No, Marshall doesn't think all human testimony is reliable. How he determines which human testimony is reliable is an important issue though. How does he decide when they contradict each other? My guess is he doesn't trust scientists when their unified testimony is that evolution is a fact. But upon what basis can he do this? He does it because A) he trusts the testimony of pre-scientific believers (as written about in 4th century texts), and because B) he trusts believers who testify they have seen a miracle in today's world. He does so because of trust, which is how he defines the word "faith." Pretty consistent, eh? But also illegitimate!

He chooses to trust human testimonies coming from believers of miracles and chooses to distrust the human testimonies coming from scientists when they say otherwise. It's a trust issue, a faith issue. He has faith. Scientists do not have it (or, they don't incorporate faith into their experiments). It's as simple, yet as profound as that. In other words, he trusts believing testimonies over scientific testimonies who say they have conflicting and contradicting cold hard evidence to the contrary. This scientific evidence will be the subject of my next anthology.

Marshall does this 1) even though the testimonies of a multitude of believers attest to differing religions; 2) even though the brain is a belief producing engine that can and does spit out many false beliefs due to a host of known cognitive biases (as Michael Shermer and others successfully argue); 3) even though scientists have produced the evidence that fuels productive research in university disciplines; 4) even though anyone can duplicate the same scientific experiments and get the same results themselves if sufficiently trained, and if not sufficiently trained can understand the logic of the procedures involved, and if the procedures are too complex there is a trickle down effect where people who can understand the procedures can also testify to the results having been obtained; 5) even though the religious impulse has perpetrated many testimonies of hoaxes and frauds which have been exposed by the testimonies of scientists; and 6) even though religious testimonies usually lack any hard cold corroborating evidence to them, especially when it comes to the ancient superstitious pre-scientific past.

But isn't Marshall correct that it's all about trust? Well, in one sense, yes. But what does Marshall say about the scientists themselves (or even a child with a Sci-Lab Kit) who do the experiments? Where is the human testimony in that? They have seen the results themselves, so not all scientific knowledge depends upon human testimony.

What if we have not done the experiments ourselves? If we don't do the scientific experiments then aren't we relying on human testimony when it comes to the results? Well, these experiments must pass peer review before they are published in any authoritative scientific magazine or journal. So it isn't just one scientist who says this but several of them do so, with the backing of a peer-review process in journals that have gained a high degree of respect by other scientists.

But aren't we simply transferring our trust from one human testimony to several of them when we trust what we read in a scientific journal? Well again, in one sense, yes. But if it's to be called trust then that trust is well-founded. As my grandma would say, "the proof is in the pudding." The testimonies of thousands and thousands of scientists have changed our world by producing computer chips, cruise ships and rocket ships. What has religious human testimony achieved by comparison? It has flown planes into buildings and beheaded people for minor infractions, as but two recent poignant examples.

But isn't a well-founded trust still trust? Grrrrr.

Daniel Dennett invented the word "deepity" to explain what believers say in defense of faith. A deepity is a statement that can be taken one of two ways. On the one hand it states an obvious truth, one that is trivially true such that it has no significance or importance at all. On the other hand it can be taken as a profound truth that would be earth-shattering if true. What I quoted above from Marshall is a deepity, his number on deepity, the major one used to defend his faith. He masters in them. His rhetoric without substance is a deepity. It's all he can muster in defense of his faith. He substitutes rhetorical argumentation in place of the evidence because the evidence is not there.

To the extent Marshall's claim is true it's trivially true. To say that all scientific knowledge not learned from doing the experiments ourselves is based upon human testimony, is to say something that is trivially true. Yes, of course that's true. But if such a statement is meant as a profound earth-shattering truth that can upset what we think we know by forcing us to seriously question scientific testimony and embrace faith-based testimony instead of it, whenever the two conflict, then what Marshall is saying is false to the point of delusion.

Am I right or am I right? See for yourselves as I quote from a recent string of comments by David Marshall, one in response to rcarmona43:
EVERY single source you cite to undermine human testimony, is itself based on more human testimony! This is really quite amusing. I was right to compare it to "fighting off soap bubbles with a sword." (Call the sword "logic.")

What you speculate about what testimony some other team might offer, does absolutely nothing to change the nature of the situation. All that means is more testimony is better than little testimony: which I do not "concede," it is one of the bases for all serious historical argumentation, as I have often insisted, of course. (We call it the "Criterion of Multiplicity," in some contexts.)

And of course your knowledge of the effects of gravity also depend entirely on human testimony, and nothing else.

You CLAIM to have verified the effects of gravity by experiment. So how do we know that? How do you know that?

Memory. Vision. Instruments created by other people.

Memory is a form of human testimony -- from mind to consciousness.

Instruments, again, introduce an element of dependence on others -- in most cases (unless you are Galileo, making your own instruments) on people you have never even met.

I have never challenged the obvious fact that human testimony admits of various degrees of credibility -- again, that is something I often insist upon. But you seem to be insisting that mere disagreement with your a priori dogmas is enough to render a piece of testimony less credible. On what grounds?

Fools and poor witnesses come in all shapes and sizes and profess a variety of doctrines. There is no "religious testimony," there is just testimony by more or less credible witnesses -- as any non-fanatic ought to readily admit. Or do you intend to admit a doctrine like that of slave-owners, that the testimony of certain races, or ancients, that women, is worth, say, 60% of that of a white, male atheist?

I hope you recognize the sarcasm.

Of course a Buddhist or Muslim's testimony is worth as much as mine or yours. I think the law recognizes that. Are you disputing it?

Then you take the typical Gnu plunge into the sewer:

"At this juncture, I've already seen how dishonest you are."

Yeah, right. Because you don't get my point, I'm dishonest.

"In all honesty, I'm starting to forget which one of us has a Ph.D. Your responses are no better than the puerile bloggers I deal with."

Perhaps the common thread is the person we are responding to?

"Like John said, you're getting beat up and perhaps you don't know it, but I have a hand tied behind my back. I'm trying very hard to dumb down philosophical jargon because it's obvious to me that you're quite inept in that area."

Now wait a minute. I thought the problem was my dishonesty. Why multiply hypotheses? Wouldn't it be simpler to make me a liar OR a moron? Or, heavens forbid, right?

My own hypothesis is that you don't get it, and don't want to get it.
Again, your original claim was a pretty broad generalization:

"First-hand, eyewitness testimony is unreliable."

To "back that up," you have done very little but cite eyewitness testimony, directly or circuitously -- though admittedly, most of it has not been first-hand. Also, you've begged the question by assuming that "religious" testimony -- testimony from people you disagree with -- is worse than that from people you agree with.

So yeah, it probably is time for you to start on the childish personal attacks -- that seems to be all you have left, if not all you started with.