October 31, 2021

Win Corduan & Bart Ehrman Agree, Objective Evidence is Problematic

Christian philosopher of religion Dr. Win Corduan shows why I focus on concrete examples like a virgin birthed son of a god, and have such a low view of the philosophy of religion by philosophers who want to rationally discuss the probabilities of these kinds of ancient myths. He wrote a brief summary essay answering the question, What is the difference between objective and subjective claims? He argues there's a point at which subjective and objective claims are the same: "Clearly, the fact that I am making a subjective claim about feeling pain is an objective claim. And that matter can be tested pretty easily; just ask me. But whether I actually have the feelings that I’m telling you about, only I can know."

This isn't the real issue though, even if he's right. For the real issue concerns concrete claims like a virgin birthed son of a god. Those kinds of claims require objective evidence for them, since they're extraordinary claims of the highest order concerning events that are impossible to occur on their own within the natural world, based on everything we know about how the world works. So it doesn't matter if there's a point at which objective and subjective claims converge, even though I doubt that they do. Sure, I would see no reason to doubt Win's claim of pain since it's not an extraordinary one. But I cannot objectively feel his pain either. So I would have no way to conclusively test whether he's lying, without some objective evidence coming from a heart monitor or brain scan.

The real reason Win is addressing such a question is because there's no objective evidence for any of the miracle assertions in the Bible. Sorry if that's the case Win, but that's the case. Sorry if it ends your philosophical discussion Win, but it ends it. It could have turned out differently if there was a god who had the foresight to provide objective evidence for biblical miracles, Win. But your god didn't do that.

What I didn't expect was that agnostic biblical critic Bart Ehrman seems to agree with Win. I recently phoned in to a talk show with Bart, put together by apologist James Walker, called "The Atheist Christian Book Club." I told Bart I appreciated his work and added we both agree there isn't any objective evidence for the miracles in the Bible.

Rather than finding some point of agreement Bart went off on me about objective evidence, that it isn't a helpful criterion for historians. I emailed him later and he responded by digging in, saying:
My concern involves the term “objective.” I’d suggest you look into the term itself to figure out what it might mean. I first got alerted to the very big problem posed by it some 30 years ago, when I read Terry Eagleton’s brilliant little book Literary Theory. “Objectivity” was developed by Enlightenment thinkers as a rhetorical strategy and is extremely problematic in anything outside of math. It assumes an objective/subjective divide which is probably a myth, as useful as it is in making an argument. And if it’s problematic as a category, then how *does* one do history? These are terrifically important questions, I think.
Below is the response I sent him:

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Hi Bart, I must always consider that you know more than I do, but here is what I know.

Philosophers have come to understand that the line between objectivity and subjectivity is blurred. They think of these concepts along the lines of a continuum. But as we move away from the muddied middle and get closer to the extremities we find these two opposite concepts have solid merit. If you still find the concepts problematic then just think instead in terms of evidence--sufficient evidence--in what follows and we should be on the same page.

With miracles we're talking about alleged events which by definition are impossible within the natural world without a supernatural cause. So they require extraordinary evidence of the objective kind if a god wants us to believe they took place. This requirement surely applies to miracle claims we read about in the distant past just as they do with miracle claims of faith healers today.

For example, it would require more evidence (in terms of quality and/or quantity) to believe that a biblical tale of a miracle took place, than to believe a tale that someone recently sank 18 hole-in-one's in a row on a Par 3 golf course, since the former is about a naturally impossible event in the distant past where we have no means to cross-examine the supposed eyewitnesses for truth, consistency with other supposed eyewitnesses, and how it comports to the available evidence.

One thing for sure is we know what does not count as extraordinary evidence of the objective kind. Second- third- fourth-hand hearsay testimonial evidence doesn't count, nor circumstantial evidence, nor anecdotal evidence as reported in documents that are centuries later than the supposed events, which were copied by scribes and theologians who had no qualms about including forgeries.

We also know that subjective feelings or experiences or inner voices don’t count as objective evidence when it comes to biblical miracle claims, nor someone who tells others his writings are inspired, nor divine communication through dreams, or visions.

The intractable difficultly is that there is no miracle claim in the Bible that has anything other that hearsay subjective testimonial evidence for it, along with Paul's subjective visions, hardly the stuff that reasonable thinkers require. Even if believers think the testimonial evidence trail is stronger than that, it still wouldn't satisfy us if we were evaluating an 18 hole-in-one's in a row tale.

Now someone might retort by saying Jesus performed miracles even though we don't have any objective evidence for them today. So what if he did do them? It changes nothing. From our perspective there's no reason to think he did, so we should seriously consider other alternatives that provide good reasons for the origination of the Christian church in the the past.

Believers will complain that the kind of evidence needed to believe cannot be found, but this is simply what reasonable people need. If that’s the case then that’s the case. They should bite the bullet. Since reasonable people need this evidence, god is to be blamed for not providing it. Now why would a god create us as reasonable people then not provide what reasonable people need? Once honest inquirers admit the objective evidence doesn’t exist they should stop complaining, and be honest about its lack. It’s that simple.

There were ways available for god to provide evidence of the truth of his religion, but he didn't provide them. See these suggestions.

From another link:
If nothing else, a god who desired our belief could have waited until our present technological age to perform miracles, because people in this modern scientific age of ours need to see the evidence. If a god can send the savior Jesus in the first century, whose supposed death atoned for our sins and atoned for all the sins of the people in the past, prior to his day, then that same god could’ve waited to send Jesus in the year 2020 which would also bring salvation to every person born before this day as well, which just adds twenty centuries of people to save.

In today’s world it would be easy to provide objective evidence of the gospel miracles. Magicians and mentalists would watch Jesus to see if he could fool them, like what Penn & Teller do on their show. There would be thousands of cell phones that could document his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The raising of Lazarus out of his tomb would go viral! We could set a watch party as Jesus was being put into his grave to document everything all weekend, especially his resurrection! We could ask the resurrected Jesus to tell us things that only the real Jesus could've known or said before he died. Photos could be compared. DNA tests could be conducted on the resurrected body of Jesus which could prove it if they had snatched a piece of skin from the real Jesus before he died. Plus, everyone in the world could watch as he ascended back into the sky.
If everything is possible with God then this scenario should be taken seriously, or have believers given up on such a divine conception? We should be on the same team here.

You should read my contributions to The Case against Miracles. I quote you in it!

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John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. Thank you so much!

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