Showing posts with label ECREE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ECREE. Show all posts

In Defense of Hume, Part 3: Hume's Maxim On Human Testimony to Miracles as a Foundation for Religion

David Hume's Maxim and its defense comes from chapter 10 of his Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. It's stated in these words:
"That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior." When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. #91
Later Hume tells us the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from his maxim: "Therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion." (#98). The fact that a miracle requires extraordinary evidence over and above the fallibilites of ordinary human testimony is not an unreasonable demand on Hume's part. It's the nature of the beast. The consistent workings of the natural world preclude miracles from happening. This natural world order is known with as much assurance as anything that can be known. It's so well established that natural laws have been derived from it's regularity and used daily in our laboratories and factories. That human testimony is fallible is also known with a great deal of assurance, especially with the discovery of a great many cognitive biases. So we need more than just human testimony to accept that a miracle happened. Human testimony alone isn't enough to overcome what is known about how the world works. Given the nature of the world and the fallible nature of ordinary human testimony, we need sufficient objective evidence over and above human testimony (hence, called extraordinary evidence) to corroborate that a miracle occurred.

All you need to consider is what you'd think if someone testified that his amputated limb regenerated itself, or if a woman testified she gave birth to a baby deity as a virgin! Would you believe their testimony? What if a few others said the same thing? Here's the kicker: Human testimony, second- third- and fourth handed human testimony in the ancient pre-scientific world, where miracle claims were abundant without the means to discredit them, is all we have when it comes to the miracles we find in the Bible and the religions founded on it.

You can read Hume's Maxim in context below (#99-100). Upon doing so let's be done with the claim that Hume's argument is an a priori one that admits of no possibility of a miracle. It's one of probabilities all the way down. It's about human testimony to miracles in a world that precludes them as the foundation of a religion. And the kind of human testimony considered to be extraordinary in nature just does not exist! It could exist. That it doesn't is not Hume's fault.

The problem with Hume's argument therefore, is that miracles just don't happen. For if they did believers wouldn't object to it. It's precisely because believers want to believe that they try to find a way around it, even if it requires an intellectual sacrifice. Say it isn't so! Otherwise they would agree with Hume's reasonable demand then go on to present sufficient corroborating objective evidence showing the miracles of their religion really did take place. The fact that corroborating evidence does not exist is why believers must object to Hume's rock solid maxim. So Christians have a choice to make. Either 1) biblical miracles did not take place, so there's no reason to believe them, or 2) miracles did take place, but there's still no reason to believe them. Given that Christians only have the evidence of human testimony in the Bible, this is the choice forced upon them. So choose. In doing so, don't go nutty on us as some others do.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

This is the title to a chapter I'm writing for my next anthology to be called, "The Case Against Miracles." William Lane Craig asserts that the "seemingly commonsensical slogan" above, as popularized by Carl Sagan and "beloved in the free thought subculture", is "false". [Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (p. 273)]. In online videos Craig says this slogan is "demonstrably false." When it comes to accepting a highly improbable event he argues we don't need "miraculous evidence" or "lots of evidence" or even "an enormous amount of evidence."

Craig offers an often repeated nauseating analogy based in winning the lottery. He says that by showing us the winning lottery ticket a friend can convince us she overcame the staggering odds by winning it. Hence, "the evidence for the winning pick is, indeed, extraordinary", says he, even though it's not a lot of evidence, or enormous amount of evidence or miraculous evidence. [Ibid.]

But wait just a minute! Craig's analogy is plainly false on three counts. Firstly, the odds that someone will eventually win a lottery over several drawings can be calculated, and eventually someone will win it. Given that so many people have won so many lotteries it's a somewhat ordinary claim about a somewhat ordinary experience requiring only somewhat ordinary evidence. How this is analogous to an extraordinary miraculous claim about an extraordinary miraculous experience requiring an extraordinary quality of evidence for it escapes me. Odds like winning the lottery are overcome every day. To see this just read David Hand's excellent book, The Improbability Principle, with a subtitle that says it all: "Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day."

Christianity is Unworthy of Thinking Adults: Three Decisive Cases in Point

Case in Point One: Even Christians Agree Faith is Opposed to Reason

According to Paul in Colossians 2:8, “See no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Jesus purportedly said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21). Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:18–25). Tertullian (160–220 CE) asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” In words reminiscent of Søren Kierkegaard, Tertullian wrote of the incarnation of Jesus by saying, “Just because it is absurd, it is to be believed . . . it is certain because it is impossible.” Martin Luther called reason “the Devil’s Whore.” As such, reason “can do nothing but slander and harm all that God says and does.” Immanuel Kant said that he “found it necessary to deny knowledge of God…in order to find a place for faith.” William Lane Craig agrees with Luther’s viewpoint. He argues that “reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa.”

There is something wrong with a religious faith that needs to disparage reason like this. It's admitting Christianity cannot be defended by reason. If that's what they think, why should we think otherwise? Why should anyone? I see no reason to do so.

Russell Blackford - We have the extraordinary evidence! TAM 2013


Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence, No Ifs Ands or Buts About It

I like provocative post titles. They're fun to create. Carl Sagan popularized this principle, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What I argue more precisely, is that extraordinary claims require a sufficient amount of objective evidence for them, especially when we have good reasons to expect the evidence should exist. The first thing you'll notice is that what I argue for works regardless of whether we're dealing with an ordinary or an extraordinary claim. The difference is how much evidence is required. When it comes to extraordinary claims a lot of evidence is required, whereas with ordinary claims we only need a little of it. All someone has to do is consider how much evidence would be required to believe me, if I said I levitated this morning for 5 minutes. Then compare this with my claim that I just ate breakfast. I'm sure you would not believe my claim that I levitated, whereas you probably would when I say I just ate breakfast. These two claims would clearly require a different amount of evidence to accept them.