Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Is It Reasonable to Believe in Miracles?

Today's post:

Is It Reasonable to Believe in Miracles?

Broussard makes a bit of a dog's breakfast out of what is actually a fairly straightforward subject. Hume had it right in what the modern Bayesian recognizes as being the precisely correct way: a hypothesis with low prior probability has to be supported by evidence which would be more improbable were the hypothesis false.

Broussard's examples all either ignore major relevant evidence or make Hume's argument a strawman (or both). Why do we believe that the Big Bang happened? We have evidence that not only would be vastly improbable had it not happened, but which was predicted in advance from theory, which eliminates a whole class of post-hoc justification biases. We don't say that scientific laws can't be revised, because the revised laws must not be inconsistent with the previously established evidence, while new evidence may be inconsistent with the old laws. Hume never said that merely being rare would make it impossible to believe in some event; indeed, he gives examples of the kind of evidence that would justify belief even in highly unlikely propositions.

So Broussard's claim that Hume is setting too high a bar is completely unjustified, and the modern Bayesian knows (as Hume did not) that this can be justified mathematically.

And then the whole thing degenerates into farce when Broussard claims that human activities such as lying or stealing bodies are somehow more improbable than an actual resurrection of a dead person. And the argumentum ad martyrdom is ridiculous: we have no good reason to believe that any church figure from the 1st century was martyred at all, and we especially do not have any reason to believe that of any actual disciple of Jesus.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Bart Ehrman’s Botched Source

Yesterday's post:

Bart Ehrman’s Botched Source

I am ... confused.

Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? has been criticized from various quarters for its sloppiness. But Akin here chooses to nitpick Ehrman's sources for literacy rates in Roman Palestine. It certainly seems that Ehrman's handling of his sources here isn't entirely adequate, but that's true of essentially the whole book and it seems odd to pick out this one instance. Akin in turn handles the same source at least as badly, giving a massively over-simplified account of Catherine Hezser's conclusions.

Perhaps Akin thinks he can build some kind of argument based on higher literacy rates, but in fact there are many lines of evidence suggesting that literacy in the region was lower than the Roman average even if the exact percentage can't be precisely determined.

Of course if Akin feels the need to rebut Ehrman's arguments in Did Jesus Exist? then he should by all means continue the project; but somehow I do not think that defending Jesus-mythicism is anywhere in Akin's list of goals.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Modern Atheism: Dragging Plato Along Aristotle’s Coattails

Today's post:

Modern Atheism: Dragging Plato Along Aristotle’s Coattails

Gordon slobbers all over Aristotle while accusing all and sundry of not recognizing Plato's inadequacies; never mind that people reject Aristotle because he is wrong, not out of any regard for Plato. (Though one obvious thing that the two have in common is that neither had access to anything like enough raw facts to have any chance of reaching correct conclusions.)

Part of the problem with Aristotle is expressed in Boyden's review of Feser thus:

In this chapter, Feser discusses Plato and Aristotle. He accepts a fairly standard view on which Plato is the crazy metaphysician, and Aristotle tries to take the good parts of Plato's metaphysics and ground them with a healthy mix of common sense. As I understand it, this is roughly Aristotle's interpretation, and I think it has misleading aspects, but it's at least partly true. It's also why I like Plato better than Aristotle, which is of course the reverse of Feser's judgment. The problem with tempering your philosophy with common sense is that it's actually pretty common for common sense to be wrong, and if you make a mistake as a result of faulty common sense, people may fail to notice the mistake for centuries, or even millennia. On the other hand, if you make a mistake in your wild metaphysical flights of fancy, people are sure to call you on it, as they apparently did with Plato; the progression of the metaphysical theories in the dialogues seems to show that he was presented with a variety of criticisms, and tried to revise his theories in response to them.

When the universe turns out not to look anything like the common-sense version, then a commitment to ancient metaphysics becomes a liability.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Estranged Notions: And This All Men Call God

Today's post

And This All Men Call God

I recently asked in a comment:

  1. Why do religious schools pretend to offer "tenure" to professors?
  2. Why does anyone believe them when they do?