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Toward a Better Science/Religion Venn Diagram: Responding to Chana Messinger

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Big Bang
 
EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's post is in response to yesterday's from atheist blogger Chana Messinger titled I Need a Better Science/Religion Venn Diagram. Be sure to read that one first.


 
I would like to thank Chana Messinger for her thoughtful and gracious reply to my piece on the need for caution in using the Big Bang to argue for God’s existence.

Here I will offer a few thoughts in response, though I should say up front that I’m not familiar enough with Messinger’s thought to be entirely sure how she’s using certain terms, so if I misunderstand her position, I apologize.
 

A Possible Misunderstanding

 
I think that Messinger misunderstands my position when I say:
 

“Losing scientific support from the Big Bang would not disprove the existence of God. It wouldn't even disprove the Kalaam cosmological argument. It would just mean that the premise in question would have to be supported some other way.
 
If it were to turn out that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the physical universe then this argument in apologetics would have to be revised.
 
That's nothing to be ashamed of, though. Apologetics, like the physical sciences, is subject to revision based on the evidence available at the time.”

 
She takes this to imply:
 

"Akin is not merely more sure of God and Catholicism than of science. He is infinitely more sure. . . . There is simply no evidence that will change his mind about God."

 
It was not my intention to claim anything that strong. I merely meant:

  1. If it turned out that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe then this would not disprove God’s existence. There are other arguments to be considered.
  2. Similarly, it would not mean that the universe had no beginning. From a Christian perspective, it would have one—simply farther back.
  3. And finally, it might be possible to fashion another version of the Kalaam argument using different arguments (ones not involving the Big Bang) to support its premise that the universe did have a beginning.

I was not trying to imply that belief in God automatically trumps science or that there is no possible evidence that could rationally cause one to change one’s mind about God existing.

Those are interesting but separate questions, and I wasn’t trying to address them.

For space reasons, I’m afraid I won’t be able to address them here, either, but perhaps I can in the future.

In the meantime, I’d like to address a very interesting subject that Messinger brings up...
 

Non-Overlapping Magisteria

 
She is correct when she says that I subscribe to the same school of thought as Stephen J. Gould (and Augustine, Aquinas, John Paul II, and others) when it comes to the question of non-overlapping magisteria.

For those not aware of this idea, it is the claim that different disciplines may be suited to different types of questions, and they may not have a great deal of overlap with other disciplines.

Thus science may be better suited to addressing some questions, philosophy others, and theology still others.

Even Gould, though, did not claim that the magisteria of science and religion do not have any overlap. In his book Rocks of Ages, he acknowledges that the two spheres “press upon” each other when it comes to certain questions. They do have some overlap.

Although I wouldn’t put it the way that Messinger does, I think she is correct in stating that the Bible does make some claims that belong not just to the sphere of faith but to the sphere of history as well.

Jesus did exist, he did die, and he did rise again. The Christian faith claims these, and if any of them is false then Christianity is false.

I wouldn’t say that these fall into the realm of science, though. They fall into the realm of history, and—absent the invention of a time machine—we can’t verify them empirically (i.e., through personal observation and testing).

We also can’t verify most historical occurrences empirically. There is no way to empirically verify the existence, death, and non-resurrection of Julius Caesar.

Instead, we have to use other means (e.g., the evaluation of ancient testimony) to establish these ideas.
 

The Burden of Proof

 
Toward the end of her piece, Messinger writes:
 

"Atheist argumentation may have its flaws, but it is generally consistent on its epistemology: reason and empiricism. Perhaps the Catholic response is well documented in the literature, and I am simply insufficiently familiar with it. But as I currently see it, the onus is on Catholics to give a more thorough account of exactly how the epistemologies of faith, reason and empiricism interlock, what predictions they make, and which beliefs they feel are fundamental, versus which they would be willing, in the final analysis, to relinquish to the cleansing fire of truth."

 
Messinger is correct that there has been a great deal of discussion of these issues in Catholic literature, which perhaps we can discuss in the future.

I want to note that I agree with her that, in this case, “the onus is on Catholics to give a more thorough account.”

The reason is that, in this case, the Catholic is asking the atheist to consider the Catholic viewpoint.

Any time you are asking someone to reconsider their view and think about adopting yours, the burden of proof is on the one making the invitation.

In the same way, the atheist would shoulder the burden of proof if asking a Catholic to consider the atheist viewpoint.

I hope we can discuss this more in the future, and I thank Messinger for a refreshing exchange.
 
 
(Image credit: Nothing Out of Nothing)

Jimmy Akin

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Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a member on the Catholic Answers Speakers Bureau, a weekly guest on the global radio program, Catholic Answers LIVE, and a contributing editor for Catholic Answers Magazine. He's the author of numerous publications, including the books The Fathers Know Best (Catholic Answers, 2010); The Salvation Controversy (Catholic Answers, 2001); and Mass Confusion: The Do's & Don'ts of Catholic Worship (Catholic Answers, 1999). Many of Jimmy's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Jimmy's writing at JimmyAkin.com.

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  • staircaseghost

    "I wouldn’t say that these fall into the realm of science, though."

    So if I ask my sister (a doctor) whether three-day-old corpses can return to life, her response will be "sorry, medical science has nothing to say on the topic"?

    "There is no way to empirically verify the existence, death, and non-resurrection of Julius Caesar."

    Is this a joke?

    How did you learn about Caesar? Telepathy? The Akashic Record?

    Do you suppose historians believe Caesar existed because of a priori deductive arguments?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      staircaseghost, thanks for the comment. A couple quick notes. Per our Comment Policy, please use your real name in the future (either create a new Disqus account or include your name at the end of each comment.) Second, please skip the rhetorical insults (e.g. "Is this a joke?"). Our goal here is charitable dialogue. If you disagree with something simply show where it is flawed. There's no need to mock or insult it.

      Now, regarding your rhetorical question, Jimmy is right. We twenty-first century moderns cannot know anything about Caesar's existence or death through the empirical sciences (aka through what our five senses can detect or measure.) This is because we can neither see, hear, smell, touch, or taste (ew) Caesar Augustus or his corpse. What we do know about him, we know through history, archaeological deduction, and reason.

      • staircaseghost

        I ask again: How did you learn about Caesar? Telepathy? The Akashic Record?

        Do you suppose historians believe Caesar existed because of a priori deductive arguments?

        No, you learnt about Caesar because of the causal impact on your senses of words in books, which you adjudged reliable based on your prior experiences being impacted by similarly structured books.

        Just because you lack empirical acquaintance with something does not mean you lack empirical knowledge of it. You do not need to have gone to Antarctica to know that it is really rather cold there, and you do not need to touch Caesar's corpse to know he's dead.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          So are you of the camp that claims only empirical knowledge is valid?

          • staircaseghost

            Nope.

        • Tim Dacey

          Re: "No, you learnt about Caesar because of the causal impact on your senses of words in books, which you adjudged reliable based on your prior experiences being impacted by similarly structured books."

          This view, if I understand it correctly, is false. It implies the fallacious view that correlation equals causation. The referents of x do not have the same properties as x. For example, when you say 'an ice cube is cold', the ice cube is that which contains the property of 'being cold'.

          Do you have any sources which do argue that linguistic expressions have causal properties? If so, I'd really like to read them... I can't for the life me see how such an argument could be successful though.

      • staircaseghost

        Finally, I promise you you will have greater success getting people to
        voluntarily agree to your posting rules if you would simply answer my
        (but not only my) repeated and very simple request
        for clarification on whether 1) You intend to hold your
        own authors like Prof. Feser to the same standards
        you demand of your commenters, and 2) if so, whether terms Feser
        deploys, like "sleazy", "slimy", "contemptible", and "dishonest" are
        allowed or disallowed.

        If your answer to #1 is "no", then I won't be bothering you again. If your answer to #2 is "allowed", then I will ask you to honor your word, and if your answer there is "disallowed" then I will ask you to edit or retract his post.

        Once there is a clear, single standard, I (and many others) will have absolutely no problem making any necessary adjustments to our disqus activity, including simply leaving you in peace if that's what your "dialogue" requires.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          staircaseghost, I agree Feser could have been more charitably. I won't deny that words like "sleazy" and "slimy" violate our policy. However, we've addressed Feser's tone behind-the-scenes and future posts will be more charitable. Consider it a "warning" for Feser, just as we've given you with your insulting comment above. In both cases, we've decided to leave the original text unedited.

          But from here on out, please abide by our Comment Policy or feel free to comment elsewhere. The policy, as I mentioned already, bars anonymous comments. If you choose not to include your name on future comments they will be removed.

          Regarding your previous comment, the difference between Antarctica and historical figures like Julius Caesar is that we *can* verify the former empirically since it exists here and now. We can sail to Antarctica, see the glaciers and feel the cold.

          We can't do that with Caesar, however. Our knowledge of him comes only through non-empirical sources like history.

          You prove my point in your last sentence when you say, "you do not need to touch Caesar's corpse to know he's dead." I agree. Anyone living today can know with confidence that Julius Caesar is dead. But as you say, they do not (and cannot) know this by touching his corpse since it has been lost to history. They know it by history and common reasoning (i.e. people do not normally live for two thousand years.)

          • Andrew G.

            Both a belief in Antarctica and a belief in Caesar's existence can be represented in terms of anticipated experience. If I get in a boat and sail far enough south, I expect to encounter sea ice and penguins. If I dig up new evidence about ancient Rome via archaeological digs or previously unexamined or untranslated papyri or other documents, I expect what I find to be consistent with Caesar's existence and not inconsistent with it.

            So there is a sense in which these two beliefs are of the same kind even if they are not of the same certainty. If my belief results in certain anticipated experiences and those fail to show up, then it casts doubt on my belief, while if they do, it supports it (though not generally by the same factor in each case). The distinction in the hard sciences is primarily that we can anticipate a large number of highly precise experiences and test them in ways which reduce the probability of error, thus allowing us to have very high degrees of certainty in our beliefs. In the softer sciences, we have to resort to collecting larger amounts of weaker evidence; and so on. History, done well, is simply at the softer end of this scale rather than being in any way categorically separated from it.

    • Randy Gritter

      Science shows us the resurrection is a miracle. If your sister said dead people rise all the time then we would not think of it as a miracle. But that science is really trivial. We have been very sure dead people don't rise for a long time. That is what makes it a miracle. Science can also play a role in evaluating the evidence. For example, dating some of the documents involved. But basically we have the testimony of people and it boils down to whether we believe them.

      • primenumbers

        "But basically we have the testimony of people and it boils down to whether we believe them." - for which if we study psychology (a science) we'll have a much better time of knowing whether to believe them or not.

        • Randy Gritter

          I thought about that. I just don't think it is helpful yet. Even modern witnesses where psychologists can interview them we don't get a ton of help in discerning who is telling the truth. Just old fashion gut feelings that they would have had 2000 years ago are still about as well as we can do. So the fact that Peter and John and Paul and others told the story and they were believed by many at the time is going to be more reliable than the best theory of psychology.

          • primenumbers

            You miss my point - it's not about interviewing witnesses to see if they're telling the truth or not. Witnesses are notoriously un-reliable, but that's an aside. The issue is the basic psychology of belief, confirmation bias, expectation bias and how cognitive dissonance will most often dissolve in favour of self rather than truth. In other words, people rarely admit they're wrong, and are often even less likely to admit they're wrong when they've publicly staked their self on being right.

            Of course, when you say "and they were believed by many at the time", you ignore that they must have been not-believed by vastly more people than believed them, and belief is no indicator of truth as any examination of those that believed Joseph Smith will demonstrate.

          • DAVID

            The issue is the basic psychology of belief, confirmation bias, expectation bias and how cognitive dissonance will most often dissolve in favour of self rather than truth. In other words, people rarely admit they're wrong, and are often even less likely to admit they're wrong when they've publicly staked their self on being right.

            What you seem to be saying is that the witnesses of the resurrection "believed" in the resurrection and therefore did not really "witness" anything. The gospel accounts do not support this interpretation. No one was expecting the resurrection and almost no one believed even when they heard about it. Even when they saw Jesus, their initial reaction was not "resurrected person" but "ghost."

          • primenumbers

            It's not unknown for people to see ghosts of dead loved ones. The resurrection story coming much later would be a theological rationalization (of the ghostly visions) fitting into the gospel authors knowledge of the OT etc.

          • DAVID

            The resurrection story coming much later would be a theological rationalization (of the ghostly visions) fitting into the gospel authors knowledge of the OT etc.

            The concept of resurrection is not well-documented in the OT. The concept of an afterlife is, itself, rarely expressed in the OT, and only in vague terms. To the extent that the concept was used in Jesus' time, it was seen as something which would take place at the end of the world. It was certainly not expected to happen to the Messianic king which the apostles took Jesus to be.

            The "ghostly vision" idea does not fit well into the gospel accounts, which are explicit about Jesus' physicality after the resurrection. For example, Jesus walked in on the frightened apostles and asked them for a piece of fish. He took it and ate it. Also, he invited one of the apostles (Thomas) to put the apostle's finger into the holes in his hands and into the wound in his side.

          • primenumbers

            The ghostly vision would be the even, the physical presence the story based on the event. There's no need to explain a real physical presence, just the presence of the story. Remember, all we have are the non-contemporary anonymous stories - we don't have access to the actual events or even know if the events occurred or not.

          • DAVID

            Remember, all we have are the non-contemporary anonymous stories - we don't have access to the actual events or even know if the events occurred or not.

            I guess I would point out a distinction made by Randy, earlier in this thread: "it boils down to whether we believe them." The fact that we don't have access to the actual events does not, in itself, indicate whether the gospel accounts, which transmit the events, are trustworthy or not. The "ghostly vision" hypothesis makes sense but only if you've already established that you cannot trust what they are saying. So why shouldn't we trust them?

          • primenumbers

            It shouldn't be for me to suggest theories like I did on why the gospels are written the way that they are. However, I did put a theory forward full-well knowing that it's just a theory, and I don't really have evidence why my theory should be taken other than any other theory.

            I think that if we're in a situation with only a small amount of evidence, that is non-contemporary and anonymous, comes from and through believers etc. the "right" answer is, I think, agnosticism.

            Interesting point that "it boils down to whether we believe them." - agreed. It's about belief and a chain of belief. That is why it all comes back to epistemology and human psychology. The other gotcha is that if you're on the end of the bell curve on skepticism, everyone else in that chain of belief is less credulous than you are, or in other words, they have a lower evidentiary threshold than you do. With concepts like that in mind, you can see why I find it hard to believe on such a tenuous chain of belief.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are also explaining why a new scientific paradigms must wait for older scientists to die off.

          • primenumbers

            Yup. People have a vested interest in promoting their own ideas to the detriment of other, perhaps better ideas. It is good for us in all fields to be aware of the issues of cognitive biases and how they work.

          • Randy Gritter

            Bias is pretty well understood even by ancients. Modern psychology gives some terminology but people have always been skeptical and with good reason. But when you are not dealing with judgement like 2 legs being the same length or a pancake being shaped like the Blessed Virgin Mary. When you are dealing with undeniable realities like Jesus appeared to me and spoke to me at length and he was very much alive then your bias disappears. Either the person is lying or they are telling the truth.

          • primenumbers

            You appear to have a very limited understanding of cognitive biases. I suggest you read "Mistakes were made (but not by me)" and then we can continue the discussion.

          • Randy Gritter

            This is known as the phantom argument fallacy. That some book or some guy somewhere has this great argument that I just can't present now. Bias is understood. It does not mean nobody's judgement carries any weight. If 5 people see you shoot someone you can give the jury this book and they will be convinced none of them saw anything? That seems problematic. The first question I would ask is what are the biases of the books writers. If bias kills the validity of all human thought and observation then why are they immune? We see bias in our opponents all the time. Rarely in ourselves/

          • Octavo

            "phantom argument fallacy"

            Sometimes it's really the "I'm at work and don't have my library here right now" argument. I run into this when someone tries to argue young earth creationism here. It's not a fallacy to say, "go and do some biology reading before we can even communicate."

            It does come across as rude sometimes, though.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • primenumbers

            Absolutely you can have witnesses say they saw someone shoot someone yet it didn't actually occur. Eye witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Memories don't work like video tape, our senses are not as good as we make them out to be. We use our mental abilities to fill in gaps in our memory of events to produce a coherent (but not necessarily true) whole.

            " If bias kills the validity of all human thought and observation then why are they immune?" - people are not immune from bias, but it doesn't have to cripple all of human thought and reason either. We just have to be aware of it, how it manifests and therefore how best to account for it. That we don't see the bias in ourselves is exactly one of the major issues.

            I'm not making an argument via a book, just suggesting you need to understand the background to the argument I'm making. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do a background on the subject, so I'm referring you elsewhere for the background info you need. It's also a rather good, readable book you'll probably enjoy. I don't have a good online reference for the same kind of background material or I'd send you to such an article.

          • Randy Gritter

            I actually think I would enjoy it. I did convert from protestantism to Catholicism and one of the main reasons was that traditions bias our thinking so I needed to find a trustworthy tradition. My point about the witnesses is that at some point testimony should be believed. Just saying "bias" when you don't like an observation allows you to assert your own bias. It is harder but it is not impossible. I see a ton of bias in modern scholarship around biblical issues. I get that we are touching religion and that impacts people's thinking. So we need to be careful.

          • primenumbers

            "My point about the witnesses is that at some point testimony should be believed" - there's certainly a probability threshold of testimony belief. There are factors that reduce the probability a testimony is true, but the best way to increase the probability, probably the only way, is independent corroboration and good physical objective evidence. We lack both the physical and the independent when it comes to historical Jesus, hence my agnosticism on the subject. Couple that with what evidence we do have is anonymous, non-contemporary and only from and through believers, and you can understand my position.

            I'm ex-CofE myself. I stopped being religious due to the logical inconsistencies of God. I've only recently become interested in the history of Christianity, mostly through Christians on forums making historical claims that I've gone to the bother of actually researching rather than accepting their take on them.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            > We lack both the physical and the independent when it comes to historical Jesus,

            and for Plato (AFAIK) and for Julius Cesar (thought), What we have from them to know if they really existed, more than their supposed writings and ancient images?

          • primenumbers

            On Ceasar we have contemporary historical (and independent) accounts, physical evidence (coins, buildings, inscriptions) and so on. It's not a comparable situation to Jesus at all. This isn't Caesar (It's Tiberius) http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/ten-reasons-to-reject-the-apologetic-1042-source-slogan/ but it gives you the idea...

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            Well, ok, but my question is actually (I mean, my main point) How do you know that those things accounts for a real person and not for a fictional/non-existing character?

          • primenumbers

            Well we look at what is written about real people today as compared to fictional characters, what monuments are made, who is put on currency etc. The Queen is put on our currency, Harry Potter is not. We name buildings after Catherine Cookson, not one of the fictional characters from her novels. Real people are written about in history books, and history books have good references and a trail to primary evidence.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            hmm, well, thanks for the clarification on that.

          • Randy Gritter

            I did find a link here

            http://www.consider.org/library/text.htm

            What is talks about is some old fragments from the New Testament. There is one solid one from John that dates back to the early 2nd century. That means John was not written much later than orthodox date of around 90 AD. Internal evidence suggests John was written after the other gospels so that would make them all 1st century or close to it at the latest.

            There is one less solid one from Mark that puts it in the mid-1st century. That means at least parts of Mark existed while many apostles were still alive. Eye witnesses would have been available to react to what was written.

            The idea that none of the gospels were written by eye witnesses becomes not just unprovable but not really relevant. It is like if someone wrote about the Vietnam War today. Would we accept the testimony of someone who was not there? If we did would we accept it if it was contradicted by those who were there?

          • primenumbers

            "Eye witnesses would have been available to react to what was written" - perhaps they could have, but there's no evidence they actually did. And no evidence any contradictory evidence would have changed anyone's belief any more than it does today.....

          • Randy Gritter

            Speak for yourself. You may ignore eye witnesses as hopelessly biased and instead remain agnostic about everything. People back then took matters seriously.

            You talk about a reality where Jesus did zero miracles getting replaced within a few decades by a story where he did many. This happening for reasons that are unclear and in plain view without anyone noticing. Is that really the rational thing to believe?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            When you are dealing with undeniable realities like Jesus appeared to me and spoke to me at length and he was very much alive then your bias disappears. Either the person is lying or they are telling the truth.

            We have one firsthand account (that I know of—correct me if I am wrong) of someone claiming Jesus appeared to him—that of Paul. It is actually an exaggeration to call it an "account," since Paul says virtually nothing other than that Jesus appeared to him. He doesn't say what he saw or heard.

            Either the person is lying or they are telling the truth.

            Or perhaps you misunderstand what they are asserting, or perhaps they believe what they are saying but it isn't true.

            All you need to do is watch television after a natural disaster and you will see people saying, "The tornado was heading straight for my house, and the Lord made it go the other way." They certainly aren't lying. Many religious people believe God tells them what to do. They aren't lying (most of the time, in any case). They honestly believe they are getting instructions from God.

          • DAVID

            Or perhaps you misunderstand what they are asserting, or perhaps they believe what they are saying but it isn't true.

            'Such explanations are useful once you've established that what a person is saying (or what you are "hearing" him/her say) cannot possibly be true. In terms of this discussion, I think it means that you have ruled out the possibility of all miracles, or, at least, of this particular miracle.

      • stanz2reason

        Were we to invoke the supernatural to explain how the resurrection conflicts with fairly concrete biological knowledge, couldn't we then invoke the supernatural to say that the accounts of christ's life were all fabricated. That's even a miracle that is consistent with scientific knowledge.

      • severalspeciesof

        Science shows us the resurrection is a miracle.

        Um, science does no such thing. Can you explain how?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think he means that "if" it happened and no natural explanation could be found, then we could say its a miracle.

          • severalspeciesof

            Even then, the best science could say is 'we don't know, yet...'

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A good scientist would say, 'we don't know, but we *might* someday.'

            A good scientist would not be certain that everything will be able to be explained, even if everything has a natural explanation.

          • Christian Stillings

            Well, science itself is devoted to methodological naturalism. It's literally incapable of speaking on anything but causal physical relationships which are observable within the physical universe. If an event within the physical universe is somehow causally affected by something "supernatural", science is merely able to throw up its hands and say "well, that was weird."

            A scientist, however, may believe in a "supernatural" cause for an event; the more implausible the event as a purely natural phenomenon, the more justified he or she may be in saying that there was a "supernatural" factor at work. However, it's fair to expect the scientist to pursue natural explanations behind physical phenomena using science, even if he or she personally doesn't think that a particular phenomena can be completely understood in natural terms.

            One caution I must extend to atheists (particularly some who spend large amounts of time expressing their views on the internet) is that if there aren't some conceivable events which would actually register on the "supernaturally caused" meter, your meter's probably broken. Trent Horn addressed this well in a previous post: http://www.strangenotions.com/god-of-the-gaps/

          • josh

            Um, no. Science does not proceed from terms like natural or supernatural (or physical) in the sense you are using them. Science is only concerned with evidence, testability, coherence, consistency, etc.

          • Latitude89

            "Science does not proceed from terms like natural or supernatural (or physical)... it is only concerned with evidence, testability, coherence, consistency, etc."

            But wouldn't you agree that when you use the terms "evidence, testability... etc." to describe the concerns of empirical science, you're talking about them with reference to nature and the physical world? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we can all agree that the subject matter of empirical science and what we refer to as the scientific method is the material universe. However, while the scientist is perfectly justified in employing the scientific method to explore and uncover the truths of material reality, he errs when he tries to apply this same method to things that are not material and thus fall outside of his area of study.

            Thus, when an atheist asks for 'evidence' (by which he means empirical evidence grounded in a materialist understanding of reality) of God or supernatural cause, he is making an inherently contradictory request. By definition, God and any supernatural cause are immaterial, and thus are not the proper objects of the scientific method. And, as it has been pointed out here multiple times, the position that all truth must be empirically verifiable is itself not empirically verifiable.

            (Side note- I know it was probably just a harmless, jerk-reaction (and we all experience those from time to time!), but starting off a comment with "Um, no." is unnecessary and certainly not conducive to a charitable and productive discussion. I think it's important that we keep reminding ourselves to be respectful to one another.)

            -Ryan Maxwell

          • josh

            I added the 'um' to take the sting out. :)

            I wouldn't agree. Nature and the physical world are ideas which arise out of science, they don't precede it. (I'm speaking ahistorically here or course, science never sprung fully formed into existence and it's a long and ongoing process to remove the 'ideal' version from the cultural baggage of history.) Science is just about how you determine what can be reasonably believed.

            When an atheist asks for evidence s/he is asking for an observation about the world, without preconditions on what the world may be like, that, on the whole, makes God's existence most likely to be true. Now understand that 'the evidence' isn't really a matter of weighing up a single piece as sufficient or insufficient, nor is it taking all the facts 'for' something and balancing them against all the facts 'against'. It is a matter of looking at the sum total and deciding what fits everything best, in principle. So given the massive success of what you think of as the 'physical' picture of the world, we tend to continue with that paradigm and there is no sign of its failure. But the concept of science does not require any particular such picture a priori.

            You see, I can always come up with a hypothetical that doesn't produce any evidence, or that only produces evidence that looks like something else. But that doesn't have anything to do with physical/immaterial or natural/supernatural. These are called conspiracy theories, and a sufficiently powerful conspiracy theory can never be disproved. But that doesn't mean it is reasonable to believe in such a theory. It is reasonable to believe in that which parsimoniously accounts for all the available observations. It is unreasonable to believe in that which doesn't. That's science in a nutshell.

          • geekborj

            Your kind of science seem to go directly against Karl Popper's and many others. Accordingly, good scientific statements (hence theories and hypotheses) are only those that are FALSIFIABLE. Verifiable claims are even slim in becoming scientific since strict conditions are required such as low chances for random case.

            IMHO, everyone in science (atheists or theists or catholics) believe that the Universe (Nature or World) is ordered is a "precondition" and principle. The principle that cause precedes effect is another "precondition" in all scientific statements. One cannot simply escape the "baggage" of "ideal" culture. Scientists still think of ideal models. I write "ideal models" because it covers those that include inherent randomness (e.g. quantum formulation).

            The real issue here I think is whether reality is just physical or also includes non-physical realities. Science can deal with non-physical realities such as justice, love, beauty, ethics, and many others. Science can be physics, biology, and many others. The latter sciences are properly called physical sciences, though.

            -- Johnrob Y. Bantang

  • Dcn Harbey Santiago

    "simply father back"

    I do not claim to speack for Jimmy but I think he meant

    "simply FARTHER back"

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    Deacon Harbey Santiago

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Thanks-fixed!

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Thanks Brandon.

        By the way, I just finished writing a review of your "The Church and New Media" book for the Archdiocese of Baltimore Deacon's newsletter, which I intend to post in my blog as soon as the editor gives me the green light. I'll let you know when is up through your Twitter account.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Wonderful! I'd love to check it out. Thanks!

  • primenumbers

    "I wouldn’t say that these fall into the realm of science, though."

    History can be considered a science and the study of history can be approached scientifically. We must have a good understanding of psychology (especially the psychology of belief when considering religious subjects) and geography and biology and physics too when looking into history. Science helps us with old documents and artifacts, to date them, as does archeology. In short, there is nothing unscientific about well done history or historical analysis. (and I'm sure I mention just the tip of the iceberg above in how science informs history)

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Right, but science is the adjective, history is the noun. Historians use science and many other tools to do their work.

      • primenumbers

        "and many other tools to do their work" - and there comes problems if those tools don't have the proven validity or are rather too subject to confirmation or expectation bias. Carrier addresses a lot of the historical tools that Jesus historians use in his Proving History book.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Right. History is hard. And Carrier is also vulnerable to bias.

          • primenumbers

            "Right. History is hard." - indeed, and probably more susceptible to the cognitive biases of the historian than is generally accounted for.

            Sure he is - we all are. But he's put his thoughts in the book and you can read them and check them, but don't let your biases get in the way of your analysis of his look at historical methods.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here's a review that basically says, great method, poor application:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/review-of-richard-c-carrier-proving-history.html

          • primenumbers

            It's not a bad review. Carrier's work on looking at historical method is interesting and insightful. However, the first volume lacks a rigorous approach to the application of the historicity of Jesus.

          • Octavo

            This is why I'm not a big fan of Carrier. He's like a smart, well researched, young earth creationist.

          • David Egan

            Here's Dr. Carrier's response - http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2522

  • stanz2reason

    Jimmy... thanks for the response.

    From a tactical position I see the value of not tying god into a particular scientific theory, as if that theory sinks it'll take god along with it, and at the very least spares you an embarassing backtrack. I am curious what sort of scientific progress short of the aforementioned time machine might you be looking for.

    Jesus did exist, he did die, and he did rise again. The Christian faith claims these, and if any of them is false then Christianity is false.

    I wouldn’t say that these fall into the realm of science, though.

    It's convenient that such claims aren't falsifiable beyond a shadow of a doubt. It also doesn't seem that the resurrection as it's described and generally believed doesn't fall within the realm of science, such as what happens to our bodies when we die, more specifically what happens to a brain that hasn't gotten oxygen for 3 days, are matters we have a fairly clear biological picture of.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      You are saying that the resurrection of a three day old dead body is physically impossible. The Catholic Church totally agrees with you.

      • stanz2reason

        Forgive me for copying and pasting an identical post I noted below, but the answer remains the same:

        Were we to invoke the supernatural to explain how the resurrection conflicts with fairly concrete biological knowledge, couldn't we then invoke the supernatural to say that the accounts of christ's life were all fabricated. That's even a miracle that is consistent with scientific knowledge.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I could evoke the supernatural to explain why your reply just popped up but why would I?

          • stanz2reason

            Sure you can. So at the very least I take it you understand the absurdity of invoking magic to explain something that has an alternative plausible explanation. You would say that's ridiculous, would you not?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. But Christians are not saying the Resurrection is magic. We are saying it is a miracle. Miracles by definition are not possible by the normal laws of nature.

          • Octavo

            Magic and miracles are subsets of the same fictional concept: willworking.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You will have to explain how you know miracles are fictions.

          • Octavo

            The more we gain understanding about the universe, the less likely the supernatural appears to have an antecedent in reality. So far as we can tell, everything we experience can be reduced to non-mental attributes.

            There are some things we don't fully understand yet, such as how our internal mental narratives are generated from brain tissue, but the trend is wholly one sided. For instance, we discovered that diseases are caused by parasitic microorganisms and sometimes complicated bits of proteins. We don't discover that diseases are actually caused by demons.

          • SJH

            Interesting conversation. It seems to have lead back to the original point of the original article, the miracle of creation vs. proving that the Big Bang was not the beginning. If it is proven that the Big Bang was not, in fact, the beginning, that would not disprove God's existence. Science and empirical evidence can never disprove God's existence because it can only deal with the natural. Even if you showed that there was a natural cause to every so called miracle that ever occurred, then that does not prove that God does not exist. There is always the option that God used natural means to bring about His desired outcome. Does religion always trump science in the eyes of the religious, no it should not. Science, however has its limitations. As religious people, we should be looking towards a combination of science, philosophy, history and our own personal experiences to determine truth. Where we combine all of these and find a happy medium where there are no contradictions is where we can live confidently until new information is presented. If the new information contradicts our previous conclusion then we should modify it accordingly.

          • Octavo

            " Science and empirical evidence can never disprove God's existence because it can only deal with the natural."

            This is misleading. Science does not disprove things. It can falsify hypotheses, however. In fact, anytime an idea is advanced, scientists use a concept called the null hypothesis that they use to represent the idea that the idea isn't true. Science can test many claims, supernatural and natural. A brief look at the history of science can show many instances in which this has happened.

            Heck, James Randi used to have a show in which he would test supernatural claims every episode. He would state after a test that science has not disproved the supernatural claim - it has instead shown that the results are statistically equal to random chance. I think Youtube has a few archived copies of some episodes.

          • Sample1

            Thank you for saying this!

            blockquote> Miracles by definition are not possible by the normal laws of nature
            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are welcome. Anyone could have told you that.

          • stanz2reason

            Yes, thank you. It makes my job easier pointing out the problems when you offer it to me on a plate.

          • Sample1

            Anyone could have told you that.

            That I'm not so sure about. Would the charter members of the 1st centuryJewish schismatic sect (aka Christians) see the miracle/normal law distinction as you see it 20 centuries later?

            Something changed.

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes and no.

            First century followers of the Way knew five loaves and two fish don't feed 5000 in the normal course of things, which is why John calls then "signs."

            They would not have used the insights of empirical science to distinguish the normal workings of nature from miracles.

          • stanz2reason

            Miracles & Magic... They are in fact the same thing.

            Miracles by definition are not possible by the normal laws of nature.

            Replace 'Miracles' with 'Magical Acts' and explain to me the difference.

          • Vuyo

            Magical acts can be explained. Mirrors, slight of hand, trap doors, smoke, hypnotism etc.

          • stanz2reason

            i'm not referring to illusionists in the Criss Angel / David Copperfield vein. I'm referring to wizards & dragons & genie of the lamp supernatural magic. Is that more clear?

          • Vuyo

            I think magic does thinks that even miracles won't. For example turning a frog into a prince, or shrinking small enough to fit into a rabbit whole. I think the differences are subtle but exist.

          • stanz2reason

            What is the difference between the magic of snow white eating the poisoned apple, lying dead in a coffin and coming back to life after being kissed by the prince, and the magic of jesus dying on the cross, lying dead in a crypt and coming back to life?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            One is a fantasy and the other is a reality.

          • stanz2reason

            I'm at a loss as to which is which.

        • Christian Stillings

          Were we to invoke the supernatural to explain how the resurrection conflicts with fairly concrete biological knowledge, couldn't we then invoke the supernatural to say that the accounts of [Christ's] life were all fabricated. That's even a miracle that is consistent with scientific knowledge.

          I agree that once the "supernatural hypothesis" is on the table, anything is hypothetically possible. I also think that, as we have no way of disproving the "supernatural hypothesis" (or even getting it below 50%, but that's a rabbit trail for another time), it's hypothetically possible that all our beliefs about history are false because supernatural forces have tampered with all the evidence. Even if an atheist says "but I don't believe in the supernatural!", he or she still has no way to demonstrate the falsity of said possibility. When both theists and atheists do history, both assume that the historical records are valid without any way of actually demonstrating this.

          Is it possible that every account relating to Christ's earthly life is fabricated? Sure; it wouldn't even require a miracle. However, when we operate according to probabilities instead of possibilities, things like Christ's historicity as at least a real man seem pretty clear.

          • stanz2reason

            Even if an atheist says "but I don't believe in the supernatural!", he or she still has no way to demonstrate the falsity of said possibility.

            There seems to be a lot of confusion here what burden actually falls on the skeptic with regards to such claims. Were I to claim the existence of smurfs or thundercats, do you think it a reasonable stance to say it is your problem to falsify my claims? The evidence-less supernatural hypothesis is yours to prove, not mine to disprove.

            However, when we operate according to probabilities instead of possibilities, things like Christ's historicity as at least a real man seem pretty clear.

            The evidence for some version of historical jesus is debatable, but it's a claim that is supported enough in my mind to make fairly. Bear in mind this in no way lends the slightest bit of validity to a supernatural jesus.

          • Sample1

            I'd really like to know where this misunderstanding is taught.

            ...not mine to disprove.

            It's a persistent and needlessly pernicious error in reasoning. Needless because there is plenty of room for dialogue without it. But with it, well, one may as well say they're an engineer who finds success building bridges out of cream cheese and toothpicks. The effect is the same: instant dismissal.

            Mike

          • stanz2reason

            ummm.... what?

          • Sample1

            Oh, I should have pasted more, I can see how I could be misunderstood. Thanks for telling me.

            I'm talking about the "you can't prove a negative" canard that you witnessed too (not that you are employing it).

            As an aside, after explaining the burden of proof formula, I've never witnessed a believer say, "oh, you know what? I see why my position is not reasonable in that way."

            I'd like to know where believers are being taught this fallacy but when I ask, I never get an answer to that either.

            Mike

          • Christian Stillings

            Regarding the first part, I was merely pointing out that neither the theist nor the atheist actually has any way to demonstrate that historical evidence is actually valid. One believes in a being which has the power to tamper with all the evidence and the other doesn't; however, as their respective beliefs don't affect the actual truth or untruth of the "supernatural hypothesis", even the atheist must concede that the relationship of historical evidence to actual history is unverifiable per se given the possibility that the "supernatural hypothesis" is true and the evidence has all been tampered with.

          • stanz2reason

            There are levels of verifiability. You could date physical items (see 'Shroud of Turin'). You could compare different texts from similar eras (ie. were you to find a reference to an iPhone, there's good reason to doubt authenticity). You could compare certain accounts to reasonable geographic realities, say, claims for a mountain or river when there are none. You can compare claims for resurrection to biological decay upon death.

            I grant the same amount of legitimacy to the 'supernatural hypothesis' as I do to one that hypothesizes garden gnomes making your lawn grow. Why even bother talking about anything if you're going to deux ex machina everytime you're backed into a corner? Diving for the gaps between realistic certainty and Humeian certainty is just so intellectually lazy.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "It's convenient that such claims aren't falsifiable beyond a shadow of a doubt."

      Jimmy never said that. History can certainly falsify these claims. All someone needs to do is provide historical evidence--or even plausible theories--to prove either 1) Jesus never existed or 2) Jesus never rose from the dead.

      Yet none have been provided in the last two-thousand years. This doesn't mean the claims *can't* be falsified, only that they haven't so far.

      • stanz2reason

        I never said he said that. I'm saying that.

        How might one go about falsifying beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of Jesus (historical or otherwise)?

        How might one go about falsifying beyond a reasonable doubt that had Jesus existed that he died in the manner generally accepted?

        How might one go about falsifying beyond a reasonable doubt the resurrection? I might say that the obvious invocation of magic to support your claims should be sufficient proof, as I doubt you'd find such claims plausible in any other context of your life. I suspect that's not likely to move you.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Do you mean how would one prove those things never happened? Prove Jesus didn't exist, or he wasn't crucified, or he didn't rise from the dead?

          • stanz2reason

            Yes. Short of the aforementioned time machine.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think those things are not absolutely falsifiable (which is why atheists like to substitute words like "dragon" or "fairy"), but a reasonable person could reject them, given sufficient evidence.

            Carl Sagan believed Jesus Christ was an alien and that is something that can't be falsified either but I think common sense would rule it out.

            Isn't a more reasonable approach not to try to falsify a claim about Christ but to ask what level of proof can be reached in favor of that claim?

          • Octavo

            "Carl Sagan believed Jesus Christ was an alien and that is something that can't be falsified either but I think common sense would rule it out."

            I find that highly doubtful. Got a source other than his Sci Fi novel for that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. Poundstone's "Carl Sagan," p. 21, quoted in Artigas & Giberson's "Oracles of Science," p. 149.

            I don't hold it against him.

          • Octavo

            Hard to find previews online. Might be worth going to a library for. Thanks.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sagan was fascinated by the idea of superintelligent and way more advanced creatures on other worlds coming here. If they did, with their incredible technology, their actions would look like miracles to us primitives.

          • Octavo

            As far as I can tell, he thought that it would be awesome if extraterrestrials visited the earth, but in his later years he said that there was insufficient evidence to believe. The biographical remark about Jesus seems to have been made in his teenage years. Unfortunately, I got that from a review, since I don't have the actual book handy.

            Edit: Thanks @stanz2reason. I didn't see your comment before posting.

          • stanz2reason

            I posted a link above to the book and pages in question

          • stanz2reason

            Octavo... save yourself the trouble and read it here (http://books.google.com/books?id=GhFNzTQGSvIC&pg=PA149&lpg=PA149&dq=Sagan+Oracles+of+Science+jesus+alien&source=bl&ots=e6gXp64lVK&sig=RksHVmZJ_jguNfmW-_v8xNnh-n0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=r9zBUaSYH-n64APdFw&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Sagan%20Oracles%20of%20Science%20jesus%20alien&f=false)

            It grossly misrepresents Sagan's view to claim that he held Jesus to be an alien. This book is a retelling of a retelling of a retelling of a conversation that happened when Sagan was 17 years old in 1951. Furthermore, the sentiment behind the conversation was that of a young kid attempting to reconcile what was taught from religion with how he observed the world. This was the eager hypothesis of a kid, not the opinion of one of the great minds of the 20th century.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Interesting. Did he change his view?

          • stanz2reason

            From reading that bit I don't think you could say it was ever a view he had, only 1 of countless ideas he had. There's no evidence he seriously adopted that view. You're talking about the man whose famous for, amongst many things, saying "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". It's highly doubtful that he believed such a thing.

      • primenumbers

        "to prove either 1) Jesus never existed or 2) Jesus never rose from the dead." - History works the other way around. These things are to be proven, not to be shown to be false. Plausible theories to explain Christianity and the resurrection belief have been put forward, yet we can hardly expect believers to change their mind on mere plausibility or possibility. Belief doesn't work like that.

        Although what I think falsify means in this context is "what reasonable positive evidence could we expect today that demonstrate a character from anonymous non-contemporary stories lived, died and was resurrected, given those events supposedly occurred nearly 2000yrs ago".

        • Kevin Aldrich

          To address your first paragraph, many or most people reach a point at which they question the things they have been told and may change their beliefs accordingly.

          About your second paragraph, they were not anonymous non-contemporary stories. They were the testimony of eyewitnesses.

          • primenumbers

            If you read some of the tales of Scientology and what utter hardships people went through before they actually changed their beliefs, I think my take on the psychology of belief is correct.

            That's your problem right there - we don't have eye-witness testimony of Jesus. You can say otherwise until you're blue in the face, but we just don't, and that's the root of the issue right there were you're claiming knowledge of something we don't have knowledge of. I must admit your error here was something only evangelicals engaged in, not Catholics. I thought Catholics took a more scholarly view on gospel authorship.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what you mean about my error. Jesus' followers started preaching about what Jesus taught them and they witnessed, and those oral teaching were passed down to others. In the case of the Gospels, written accounts were put together. The Gospel writers selected from them, from other oral testimony, and from their own direct experience.

          • Octavo

            Right, what he's saying is that the gospels weren't written by those eyewitnesses. At best, they're second hand accounts written by non-eyewitnesses. At least, I think that's the current consensus of historians.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            At least, I think that's the current consensus of historians.

            I would say it is the consensus of Biblical scholars that none of the New Testament documents were written by eyewitnesses to the earthly life of Jesus. There are Biblical scholars who do claim at least some of the New Testament authors were eyewitnesses. I believe I demonstrated the other day, by quoting Raymond Brown's Introduction to the New Testament, that he did not assert any of the New Testament authors were eyewitnesses. Raymond Brown (no longer living) is a towering figure within Catholic Biblical scholarship. He also bends over backwards to argue for the plausibility of traditional claims and Catholic doctrine that may appear to be contradicted by the Bible itself.

          • Randy Gritter

            Raymond Brown is a towering figure in liberal biblical scholarship. I would say he basically accepts the anti-supernatural bias of the modern mind. I would expect everything he says to be basically in line with what an atheist would say. The trouble with that thinking is that it begs the question. If assume going it the bible does not contain descriptions of real supernatural events then we end up concluding it could not have been written by eye witnesses. So you complete the circle claiming the events were not supernatural because we don't have eye witness accounts.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I would say he basically accepts the anti-supernatural bias of the modern mind.

            I can only say you seem not to be at all familiar with Raymond Brown's work if you think he "accepts the anti-supernatural bias of the modern mind."

            Can you supply some evidence for making that claim? Or as Q. Quine would put it, "Got evidence?"

            It is very important that you answer this. You have said something false about one of the most revered Catholic Biblical scholars of our time.

            Here's a quote from Wikipedia: "Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has written presenting the infancy narratives and John’s Gospel as historically reliable, was personally complimentary of Brown and his scholarship, and has been quoted as saying he "would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown".

            How do you account for that? Do you think Benedict XVI approved of anti-supernatural approaches to the Bible?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I account for that by recognizing that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was personally committed to a prudential reading of the signs of the times, which saw in the American Revolution a framework within which the Church could find a modus vivendi, as opposed to the French Revolution.

            Congenial, and contributory to, this prudential decision, was a personal acceptance on the part of Cardinal Ratzinger of the provisional conclusions of modern scientific consensus concerning the age of the world, the causes of observed biodiversity, and, crucially, the techniques and tools of modern historical critical and text critical scholarship (if not their conclusions, especially in the case of Raymond Brown).

            This prudential decision was the most important taken by the Roman Church (more than only Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict) in centuries.

            Its consequences are, manifestly, disastrous at this point, and verging upon the catastrophic.

            By their fruits you shall know them.

            It is not looking good at this point for the entire Vatican Two project.

            Quite to the contrary in fact.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Matthew and John were written by Apostles. Mark was with Peter and Luke with Paul.

          • Andrew G.

            While this is the traditional view, the fact is that there is not one shred of evidence to support it, and very strong evidence against it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In my experience, when someone says there is not one shred of evidence for something, you are meeting a debater.

            According to Eusebius, a text of Papias from about the year 125 attributes the second Gospel to Mark. Justin Martyr says the same thing (about 155). So does the Muratorian Canon (about 180).

            You can dismiss all that but don't they at least provide a shred?

          • Andrew G.

            Even if we take Papias' statement at face value, we do not know that Papias was referring to the works we have as 'Mark' and 'Matthew', and several good reasons to believe he was not. We know, for example, that the GMatthew that we have was written in Greek, not Hebrew; that it is not an eyewitness account or a record of sayings but a reworking of GMark; that GMark is too short, and probably too diverse in sources, to be a compilation of 'everything he had heard' from Peter; and so on.

            And we don't have any reason to trust Papias' statement even if it weren't so obviously inconsistent with the texts; Papias was not regarded highly even in his own time, his work (which as a collection of third-hand oral tradition might have been extremely valuable) was not widely copied or preserved and the scattered quotations that survive amply indicate the unreliability. Even Eusebius has a low opinion of him.

            If Justin ever attributes a gospel to Mark rather than referring to "memoirs" of unnamed disciples, then I've never heard of it, and I can't find any references that have, nor have I found it so far in Justin's works. Do you have a citation for that? (Justin, as one of the earliest witnesses to actual gospel content, is pretty heavily studied on this question.)

            By the time of Irenaeus and the Muratorian Canon the traditional attribution has apparently become widespread; but notice Irenaeus' completely spurious argument about why there must be exactly four gospels.

            The mainstream position of biblical scholarship is that none of the gospels were written either by eyewitnesses or by their traditionally attributed authors, and this position is supported by many lines of evidence including the content of each, the literary dependences between them, the connections between the differences between the gospels and the historical events, and so on.

          • primenumbers

            The writings of Papias describing the gospel don't sound remotely like the gospel of Mark we have (an out-of-order series of anecdotes rather than a carefully constructed story narrative). According to Papias Mark "had neither heard the Lord nor followed him", which makes him a) not an eye-witness and b) not the same Mark. Eusebius didn't think all that highly of Papias' mental capabilities though... (which I guess cuts both ways)

            Although Justin Martyr doesn't name the Gospels, but talks independently of the memoirs of the apostles, but we're not sure if that's a synonym for the Gospels or some other writings (or perhaps a scribal interpolation). JM provides no verbatim quotes or citations from the Gospels. He quotes freely from the OT though and apocryphal works. He never mentions Matthew, Mark, Luke or John by name. That JM was writing middle 2nd century and doesn't direct quote from the Gospels must be of some concern to Christians.

            The Muratorian Canon is probably the first naming we have (of Luke and John, anyway) - showing when the traditional naming came into use. Of course, it doesn't demonstrate at all that those names mean who wrote them, just that that was the time when those names were used.

            "You can dismiss all that but don't they at least provide a shred?" - they provide a fascinating insight into early Church history, but they don't really help us know that the names used are in any way correct. What it does show is the Gospels came before the names, which fits in with the standard historical view that they're anonymous and it's only tradition that names them.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Matthew and John were written by Apostles.

            Not according to the New American Bible, found on the web site of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and also the Vatican web site.

            Gospel of Matthew

            The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Matthew 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

            The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material (principally, sayings of Jesus) not found in Mark that corresponds, sometimes exactly, to material found also in the Gospel according to Luke. This material, called "Q" (probably from the first letter of the German word Quelle, meaning "source"), represents traditions, written and oral, used by both Matthew and Luke. Mark and Q are sources common to the two other synoptic gospels; hence the name the "Two-Source Theory" given to this explanation of the relation among the synoptics.

            Gospel of John

            Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. John 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (John 1:1-18) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel. Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus' discourse in the upper room (John 14:31; 18:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original.

            Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (John 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (John 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

            The gospel contains many details about Jesus not found in the synoptic gospels, e.g., that Jesus engaged in a baptizing ministry (John 3:22) before he changed to one of preaching and signs; that Jesus' public ministry lasted for several years (see the note on John 2:13); that he traveled to Jerusalem for various festivals and met serious opposition long before his death (John 2:14-25; 5; 7-8); and that he was put to death on the day before Passover (John l8:28). These events are not always in chronological order because of the development and editing that took place. However, the accuracy of much of the detail of the fourth gospel constitutes a strong argument that the Johannine tradition rests upon the testimony of an eyewitness. Although tradition identified this person as John, the son of Zebedee, most modern scholars find that the evidence does not support this.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have the same statements in my NEB. These are the consensus of contemporary scholars, not authoritative pronouncements of the Magisterium, although obviously neither the USCCB nor the Vatican sees a problem for the Faith with this consensus.

            I'm personally skeptical about what contemporary scholars say about anything after observing modernist theologians in the Church and every kind of Marxist scholarship in the humanities for the last 45 years.

            My favorite edition (Navarre) generally has no problem with the early datings and traditional authorship.

          • primenumbers

            By "error" I mean stating "they were not anonymous non-contemporary stories".

            "Jesus' followers started preaching about what Jesus taught" - we have later non-contemporary anonymous stories that say this. That doesn't mean that this actually occurred and we certainly cannot assume that such occurred in reference to showing that the non-contemporary anonymous stories rely upon that chain of teaching.

            "and those oral teaching were passed down to others" - an unevidenced assumption. I'm aware that people have tried to make the "oral teaching" argument, but it's not exactly convincing, and the argument above also applies that it would be inappropriate to assume oral teaching in proving the legitimacy of the gospel accounts.

            "The Gospel writers selected from them" - certainly the non-contemporary anonymous authors of the Gospels could have selected from any oral tradition they were aware of or actually existed. But what evidence do we have that it actually occurred?

            "and from their own direct experience" - again, we lack the evidence for this assumption.

            I mean, possibly all you say could have occurred. It's reasonably consistent. But then again, lots of reasonably consistent things could have occurred that leave us with what we have today - the four anonymous non-contemporary gospels. What we lack is good evidence, hence what we can at best say is that we really just don't know.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your agnosticism is reasonable.

          • primenumbers

            Thanks Kevin. That's appreciated. I'm pleased I was able to articulate why I'm agnostic on the issue. I really do think that we really don't have anywhere near enough evidence to make a confident determination of fact.

            On the other hand, I also understand how a believer can look at what leads me to agnosticism on this historicity issue and turn that into a "pretty darn certain" belief. I don't agree obviously, but I do understand, and that understanding comes mostly from understanding of cognitive biases and the psychology of belief.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. Beautiful girl or old crone?

    • Christian Stillings

      It's convenient that such claims aren't falsifiable beyond a shadow of a doubt.

      I'd prefer "incidental" to "convenient". For almost 2000 years, the only way to discuss the "Resurrection hypothesis" is via historical evidences and not via the kind of natural science which is done in the lab. It's not as though the Church once claimed "Christ's resurrection can be demonstrated in the lab!" and then backed away from this claim upon the dual advent of modern science and post-Enlightenment skepticism.

      It also doesn't seem that the resurrection as it's described and generally believed doesn't fall within the realm of science, such as what happens to our bodies when we die, more specifically what happens to a brain that hasn't gotten oxygen for 3 days, are matters we have a fairly clear biological picture of.

      I agree that biological processes like decomposition are something upon which natural sciences, accessible in the present, are able to comment. However, if a Divine Will is hypothesized behind any event, there's no reason that any physical loose ends could not be wrapped up by Divine work. Does decomposition happen within three days? Yes. If God was behind the Resurrection, could he have corrected any physical corruption in Jesus' body which was the result of decomposition? Also yes.

      • stanz2reason

        I'd prefer "incidental" to "convenient".

        I'll stick with 'convenient'. Akin rightly says that if any of the 3 (existence, death, resurrection) are false the whole house of cards comes down. It's convenient that the pilars holding up the christian worldview can't be falsified (or verified) beyond a shadow of a doubt... unless of course the supernatural portion of jesus's existence & resurrection (the death seems relatively simple in comparison) seem implausible enough to dismiss outright.

        However, if a Divine Will is hypothesized behind any event, there's no reason that any physical loose ends could not be wrapped up by Divine work.

        I cringe... literally cringe when reading an otherwise thoughtful coherent posting that just downshifts into invoking divinity to explain things. Is that a line of reasoning you'd invoke in any other aspect of your life? If you walk into the kitchen and find a child next to a broken cookie jar who tells you it was angels who did it, might you consider that a plausible explanation?

  • Raymond

    I generally agree with Akin that Messinger misunderstood him and inferred far more than what I think his original piece implies, which was simply not to put all our eggs in one basket in claiming that the Big Bang proves God, (though I think the Big Bang evidence is stronger than Akin seems to imply).

    That being said, I think Akin errs in claiming that there is no empirical evidence in favor of the resurrection. In this case empirical evidence would contrast with say, a purely logical or mathematical issue (Leibnez's cosmological argument, for instance). Empirical evidence refers to more inductive reasoning used to gather evidence (where observation comes in) and assess how that evidence confirms or disconfirms a given hypothesis. In this case, assessing evidence for the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead with include establishing certain facts, (the empty tomb, appearances of the risen Christ, origin of Christian belief), that are themselves supported by empirical evidence (the gospels claim of women witnesses, for instance).

    History is different from other sciences, and obviously to claim we can only believe what we have scientific evidence for runs into all sort of problems and even contradictions (since then we would need to use science to prove science, which is circular thinking). Still, I've heard history compared to geology; it studies, in the present, the remains of the past, to determine what the past was like. This strikes me as empirical, as opposed to strictly abstract, reasoning. Obviously, history is not just like science for the reasons Akin mentions (we can't recreate the Norman Conquest in a lab).

    Finally, I want to point out that Akin could address her claim that Atheists determine truth by reason and evidence and Catholics somehow don't. This is simply mistaken. Catholics asses the truth of a position by appealing to reason and evidence (whether scientific, historical, or other type).

  • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

    Funny how you've managed to have a rebuttal post from a Catholic for every atheist post you publish (well, both of them).

    • Octavo

      Hey, I like that! That sort of back and forth is healthy.

      • Ben

        It would be healthy if there were atheist rebuttal posts to Catholic articles too.

        • Octavo

          The last article totally was.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          Ben,
          Have you submitted one for consideration?
          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • bugmenot3

          It's also odd that the Catholic posts get promoted on the Strange Notions twitter while posts written by atheists don't.

          • Octavo

            I think they need the benefit of the doubt on this one. It's good of them to post atheist articles here once in a while. I would think that they might feel ethically conflicted about promoting an atheist point of view.

  • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

    «The most astonishing thing about miracles is that they happen.»

  • ChanaM

    Thanks for this response! You're absolutely right that I took a much broader interpretation of your argument than I should have. What I want to ask, then, is how we know the Kalam Cosmological Argument to be correct. My understanding is that it's a rational argument, subject to philosophical and logical spheres of argument, and not theological ones. If that's true, then if the philosophical consensus came to see the KCA as false, would you reject your belief in God? Is your belief in the KCA orthogonal to your belief, necessary for it, or some combination?

    While it's true that history isn't a natural science as we understand it, it is still an empirical endeavor. Nothing in science, even physics or biology, is 100%. It just becomes increasingly likely with each additional piece of evidence. Similarly, history can, through looking at evidence, come to consensus which scholars have more and less credence in. If the consensus came, then, that Jesus was highly unlikely to have existed, would you defer to the scholars, or not? Is your belief in the existence of Jesus Christ a historical claim, or not?

    And I must say that it is not merely a historical claim to say that Jesus rose from the dead. The consensus in biology is that that is not true. Is the resurrection of Jesus a biological claim? Is biology wrong in saying that people cannot rise from the dead? It seems that this, too, must be a supernatural claim rather than an empirical one.

    I look forward to your response!

    • Raymond

      Can I try a partial answer?

      1. We know the KCA is correct if it is a valid argument (which is not typically disputed) and if each individual premise is more likely to be true than not. This especially means the key premise "The Universe Began to Exist." One could be reticent about placing too much weight on scientific evidence, but still admit that given the current state of affairs, Cosmology still suggests that a beginning is more likely than not (As Vilenkin recently commenting at a conference in honor of Hawking). Even if one doubt this, one might still accept the KCA on purely philosophical grounds (impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition). Finally, even if one rejects the KCA, this need not entail atheism since one might be a Christian on other grounds (fine-tuning argument, moral argument, evidence for Resurrection, or personal experience of God)

      I completely agree that history is an empirical endeavor and that the claims Christianity makes about Jesus (existed, died, rose) are historical claims, as I think Akin does (when we says this is not in the realm of science, but history.

      As to Biology, it is relevant, but not quite for the reason you think. Christianity claims that the Resurrection was a miracle, a *naturally* impossible event. Hence, Christians agree with the claim of Biology that dead men don't (naturally rise)! On the contrary, if a natural resurrection was possible, this would not support Christianity; it would disprove it because something Christians claim to be a miracle would not be a miracle at all!

      Rather, you must distinguish between two claims:

      1. Jesus rose naturally from the dead
      2. God raised Jesus from the dead.

      Everyone, Christian and atheist agrees that 1' is impossible. But we disagree on is 2. Though this is a supernatural claim, it is still empirical (historical) because it can be supported by empirical evidence. For instance, if we have facts like the empty tomb, appearances of the risen Christ etc. and these are more probable on the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead than on the negation of that hypothesis, then they count as evidence (possibly strong evidence) that Jesus rose).

      • primenumbers

        The validity of KCA is disputed though. It relies upon equivocation and word-play. Indeed often it's the premises themselves that are attacked, but that is not to limit the attacks on the argument from all and every angle.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Prime, I'm interested in your first couple sentences. Can you elaborate on those?

          • primenumbers

            I can only really do so in response to a formal presentation of KCA. If I'm to show word-play and equivocation, I need to show it on the exact words being used and how they change meaning through the presentation of the argument.

  • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

    “I HAVE nothing but general information; but it is fairly general. What surprises me in people younger, brighter, and more progressively educated than myself is that their general information is very sketchy.”

    ~G.K. Chesterton: “Illustrated London News,” 6/18/32

    Chesterton will see that on the combox from this site for sure xd