A Discussion with Apologist John Ferrer

I think Ferrer has his PhD now. He has learned the ways of the Jedi well with the goal to obfuscate. Say it isn't so! I began a FB wall post with these words:
I have found that the important questions are always epistemological ones not metaphysical ones. For when discussing metaphysical issues what we conclude should never be stronger than the probabilities. We should think exclusively according to the probabilities, which are epistemological in nature and evidence based. Discuss.
James K. Walker “For when discussing metaphysical issues what we conclude should never be stronger than the probabilities.” What metric do you use to determine the probabilities that your statement is true?

John W. Loftus, James K. Walker philosophical gerrymandering and obfuscationism aside, let's focus on the so-called virgin birth of a redeemer baby/god in the ancient world where plenty of virgin born heroes and demi-gods were supposedly born. What we want is not mere testimonial evidence, and much less 2nd or 3rd hand hearsay testimonial evidence we cannot cross-examine for inconsistencies, colusion, disavowals, lies and distortions. We need objective evidence. And yet there is no objective evidence to be found!

Ferrer enters the room to the rescue:

John D. Ferrer you just side stepped an important and potentially fatal critique of probabilism. How does one calculate the probability that probabilism is true without resorting to circular reasoning? It would seem we must rationally allow that NOT everything submits to neat quantifiable probabilities. Indeed that very idea of probabilism obscures and distorts any necessary things (ie, things that aren't probable but are necessarily true - reducing them to mere probabilities treats them like it's possible that they don't occur even when they are metaphysically necessary and cannot be merely probable).

John W. Loftus do you need/require/desire objective evidence for your religious faith?

John D. Ferrer yes.

John W. Loftus okay then, what objective evidence is there for the virgin birthed baby/god? One need not discuss larger issues here. But if we did, we must first look at case studies.

John D. Ferrer by "larger issues" do you mean the question of whether probabilism is universally sufficient for weighing all evidence? I think that's a pretty important issue since the wrong answer means your OP is invalid.

But setting that aside, if you just mean some sort of objective evidence (irrespective of methodologies) then I'd appeal to the textual integrity of the NT as preliminary evidence for the virgin birth. The virgin birth however isn't as critical, nor a central focus for me, like the resurrection. A person could be justified in adopting an unorthodox Christianity on the basis of resurrection evidence and classical arguments for God, and they'd be outside of orthodoxy because of their agnosticism/skepticism on the virgin birth.

John W. Loftus the larger issues are derived from case studies, yes?

John W. Loftus Central or not, when it comes to a virgin named Mary giving birth to a baby/god, all you have at best is 2nd hand testimony from one person. (Joseph was convinced by a dream). We cannot cross-examine her. Surely that's not good enough.

John W. Loftus deal with specific cases. That's where we come to generalizations. If not, then you're not addressing the real questions that matter.

John D. Ferrer your OP isn't making a specific case claim, it's making a universal claim. And because it's universal, it over extends itself and is ithereby wrong and that's why I'm objecting to it. I support responsible use of evidence and probabilities but not universalized crude probabilism which imports a host of metaphysical assumptions which you don't seem to be aware of nor have you rebutted.

John W. Loftus we can only come to generalizations after honestly looking at the important relevant cases. I've done that. You refuse to do that here.

John D. Ferrer You just made a universal statement again when you just claimed to be dealing only in cases but said "we can ONLY come to generalizations after..."

I think you're missing my point and don't realize how philosophically charged your OP is. Before you try to criticize me for my use of inference and evidence, please solve the referential incoherence in your own OP. I'm not trying to elaborate my entire epistemology and evidential method here. It's your thread, not mine. You're making the central claim, not me. I'm just pointing out how your OP defeats itself.

John W. Loftus we must start with relevant important cases like a virgin birthed god. After doing so honestly and diligently we can come up with generalizations, not before. My OP was stating my generalization after having investigated a lifetime of important relevant cases. Nothing you've said challenges my methodology one bit.

John D. Ferrer Then it's clear you don't understand the implications of your own methodology.

You still need to solve the referential incoherence of your epistemology. It's not any threat to theists (or atheists) to swing an incoherent epistemology at them.

John D. Ferrer You said "we must start with relevant cases". No we must not. We need a whole prolegomena in place before we can even start with individual cases. We need epistemic realism, we need coherentist epistemology, we need broadly reliable senses, we need broadly reliable cognitive faculties.

It's not clear at all that you realize the gravity and implications of what you're saying.

John W. Loftus you cannot start where you do. Reasonable people don't place an idealized grid on the data before they look at the data.

Jordan Vincenzo, John D. Ferrer All I’m hearing is a lot of word salad in an attempt to justify an a priori belief in magic.

John W. Loftus, Jordan Vincenzo that's all you will ever see from people who believe without any objective evidence to confirm their faith.

John D. Ferrer, Jordan, do you have a background in philosophy? You sound a bit anti intellectual but I can chalk it up to a inexperience with philosophy if you just don't have much experience with it.

John D. Ferrer, John W. Loftus please tell me how I can rationally believe a self-defeating concept? Shy of that, I literally can't grant your position.

John W. Loftus Please tell me what that has to do with believing a virgin gave birth to a deity when at best all you have is 2nd hand testimony of one person.

Jordan Vincenzo, John D. Ferrer I like your veiled ad hominem. I don’t need a background in philosophy to recognize motivated reasoning. And it always pains me when someone who’s clearly more intelligent than I am has a blind spot on their logic due to religious indoctrination. It makes you look dishonest, regardless of whether or not it’s intentional.

John D. Ferrer, John W. Loftus the virgin birth is one claim, among many, and my problem is not (and never was) about applying probabilities to a single particular claim - I have consistently granted that there are legitimate ways to use probabilities in testing claims - but since you keep pushing on that issue, as if your somehow rebutting my point, it seems you don't understand the point I'm making and are apparently faulting me for your misunderstanding. Indeed your effort to detour your univeral claim into a particular claim has been an annoying and apparently deliberate misdirection on your part throughout this thread. If you would like to retract your OP, or revise it so it's not universal in scope, that would solve your problem. But as it stands, you are still stuck in self-defeat. I'm not trying to be jerk, or sound obstinate. I don't think you're a dumb guy. this is a subtle point of philosophy and it's easy to miss. I'm not trying to insert faith, Bible, religion, or Jesus. I'm not here defending the virgin birth, or the resurrection, or any of that. I'm just trying to apply your system to itself to see if it's coherent. And it's not.

My problem has consistently been with your OP wherein you assert probabilism as a universally required or universally sufficient methodology for vetting all knowledge claims. I've offered several counter-examples that falsify your claim, and I've pointed out how the very assertion of probabilism as a universally sufficient/applicable methodology is self-defeating since that very assertion isn't a probability (universal scope claims are totalities not probabilities). When you speak in absolutes like "we must do X" and "All cases of Y" you are subtly shifting from the cautious and contingent realm of probabilities and into absolutist epistemology. I'm fine with that, as long as you admit that it's no longer probabilism and you are talking about agreed-upon absolutes - like the first principles of logic, laws of math, or any metaphysical or physical application of those principles/laws.

John D. Ferrer, Jordan, you are right about my motivated thinking. I'm motivated about clear and rational thinking. I've taught logic and philosophy enough to care about subtle distinctions that can devastate an otherwise beautiful ideology.

John W. Loftus The virgin birth of a god is one case study. Want to discuss the sun standing still or a worldwide flood, or the other miracles?

Probability is all that matters about matters of fact. It's how we assess any truth claim about the nature of nature, its workings and which religion is true if there is one.


A separate comment stream:

John D. Ferrer This OP sounds basically like a restatement of the modern shift in philosophy, but prior to contemporary philosophy.

Were it up to date with contemporary (and analytic) philosophy the focus wouldn't be on metaphysics or even epistemology but on language since the linguistic shift has been the banner over much of contemporary philosophy. If we start with a human centered and universally skeptical reference point, we don't know anything exists, or how we would know such a thing if it did exist, but we still are left with our words about these questions and so language seems to be the more basic starting point beneath metaphysics and epistemology.

But I'm not a modern or contemporary philosopher. I think Descart and the major movements following him were all deeply misconceived.

John W. Loftus Interesting observation. What if one disagrees with the linguistic shift in contemporary philosophy? What if words mean something by the speaker?

About the skeptical thing. No one is skeptical about everything. No skeptic I know of anyway, and none in history. Hume for instance didn't deny cause and effect (he called it "custom"). He just claimed we cannot claim to know what caused something with certainty.

John D. Ferrer I disagree with the linguistic shift and the modernist (epistemological) shift.

I'm glad you acknowledge that skepticism has limits so that "no one is skeptical about everything." You are right about Hume too. So props for that.

What do you propose are some responsible/reliable boundaries for one's skepticism?

John W. Loftus good question. I'm not in the habit of drawing demarcation boundaries. There are surely different levels of skepticism. There are different categories of claims too, like ordinary ones, extraordinary ones, and miraculous ones.

Any claim that has good solid object evidence for it, is something we shouldn't be skeptical about, to the degree of objective evidence that exists for it.

John D. Ferrer So would you grant that probabilism isn't the right method for some claims even if it's sufficient for other claims?

John W. Loftus so, are you admitting there are cases in the Bible, like the virgin birth of a deity, where we should not think exclusively in terms of the probabilities?

John D. Ferrer Yes, and there are cases all over the place, literally infinite examples to draw from in books, magazines, civil society, TV, nature, etc. where we don't need to exclusively appeal to probabilities.

If you've been following my line of argument, I'm asserting that it's patently flawed (and deeply misleading) to try to submit all our epistemic efforts to probabilism. Please show some reason why we should, for example, believe the first principles of logic require an appeal to probabilism before we can know them, indubitably, to be true. Necessary truths are, by definition, not probabilities they are necessitities. Construing them as mere probabilities is to warp and distort them into contingencies, as if there exists any possible world where A=A is false.

John W. Loftus one case at a time please. So you admit it's not reasonable to judge the virgin birth of a deity according to the probabilities. Right?