Monday, January 10, 2011

Further Exchanges With Atheist DagoodS About First Premises, the Place of Evidence, My Annoying Socratic Methodology & Supposed Inconsistencies, Etc.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_FOIrYyQawGI/TRJ53rGs7-I/AAAAAAAADII/BvMOQSUgnlo/s1600/Foundation.jpg
If the foundation (or premise or presupposition) is weak, what is built upon it will collapse.


This one occurred over on DagoodS' blog and is sort of a continuation of my post, Dialogue With an Atheist About Miracles and the Influence of First Premises on One's Methodology and Openness to Evidences and Proofs (vs. "DagoodS"). His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

However, I am not interested in “challenging his [i.e., my] first premise” for three reasons: 1) We approach “first premises” differently. Not that one of us approaches it correctly, and the other incorrectly. Just differently. (Welcome to human diversity!) He appears to claim predispositions prohibit a person being convinced by the evidence;

I've explained this at least three times now; maybe four, but you don't grasp it for some reason. Let me do it again, briefly, then:

I never said that it prohibited a person from changing their mind; only that it is a profound factor involved in the process and certainly not one that can be ignored or minimized, as you have been doing, in your rush to extol the glories of evidence (something I never disputed in the least, being an apologist by trade, with a blog called Biblical Evidence for Catholicism).

I peel it back a layer by claiming it is evidence that change one’s predispositions.

I say it is both: it's symbiotic. But obviously I place a higher relative emphasis on first premises than you do.

Every day I attempt to change a person’s mind regarding their position. I do not, in my career, say, “Gee, Opposing Counsel. You are predisposed against my position [not exactly a surprise!], so I can’t change your mind.” Nonsense—I point out evidence strong enough to cause the person to change their mind. Same way when we try to convince others to vote for our candidate, or what restaurant to eat at, or what stocks to buy in our portfolio.

Of course. Since I don't dispute this at all, it is irrelevant to this particular dispute on the relative importance of presuppositions and predispositions.

Moreover, legal disputes about wordings in contracts or what acts occurred or didn't occur and how they relate to the law are quite different from disputes about abstract ideas and Christian theology.

I honestly cannot think of another situation in life where one attempts to persuade another person, and doesn’t utilize evidence. I cannot think of any other situation where one would claim predispositions are a bar to being convinced.

Then you have quite a bit of pondering to do. Go read some Socrates. You can't lose by doing that.

I do think bias and prejudice and predispositions can inhibit one’s analysis of evidence. Both bias for and bias against. So Dave Armstrong’s point has some validity. I’m just uncertain there is anyway to change another person’s bias without using evidence.

So you acknowledge something in what I am saying, and I don't disagree with your point at all, as far as it goes, so we're not nearly as far apart as you suppose.

2) All I wanted to discuss was the Resurrection, and it would seem regardless of Dave Armstrong’s first premise—he agrees with me. So why should I argue against it? grin

Not sure what this means . . .

Although not completely clear (more on this in my third point), it would seem he believes the historical evidence is not sufficient to demonstrate the Resurrection happened. That it also requires a change in one’s predisposition [there’s that “first premise” thing] which requires God to intervene with grace and faith.

Christians believe that grace and faith are required to believe in any Christian doctrine (or miracle), and they come ultimately from God. That is Christianity 0101 and we can't pretend that this is not the case simply because we are talking to atheists who reject those categories. We are what we are, and Christian worldview is what it is. I'd be a lousy apologist if I told you otherwise, because it wouldn't be honest.

In other words, without a nudge from God—one can’t be convinced by the historical evidence alone that the Resurrection happened.

Since you have to believe in God, it seems to me, to believe in a miracle in the first place, that would appear to me to be the inexorable conclusion. If you deny the existence of the God Who performs the miracle, then how in the world can you believe in the miracle? It's a matter of simple logic. All of these things stand or fall together. If you believe in God, you believe in such things as faith (in the very act of believing) and grace (the power to believe). I think the historical evidence is sufficient if there is no bias that precludes it from the outset from being compelling. But in many cases (not all) such a bias is present, and it is decisive against believing it.

It logically follows from a solely historical approach, the Resurrection is not plausible.

I'm not saying that. I am saying that there are always factors beyond abstract, coldly logical, facts-based historiography. As you know, there are even many theories of how to do historiography, so the philosophical realm always enters the equation (just as it necessarily does in physical science).

The same thing I am saying. Only by adding a theological element [that can only come from God] could one believe the evidence.

You are putting a slant on it that I do not place there. You're molding my view into a caricature of what it actually is. And let me hasten to add that I don't think you are being deliberately dishonest. You just don't grasp fully what I am saying and so you "repeat" my view back incorrectly and inaccurately. I've already explained it several times, including in person, but you don't yet comprehend what I am saying. And so one wonders after a while why that is.

On a quick side note, I personally think this is a terrible approach to take with deconverts. The last thing we wanted to hear when going through the pain of doubt is that the only way to relieve the doubt would be to have God intervene.

I didn't say it was the only way; I simply said that in Christian thinking, one can never dismiss faith and grace from the overall picture. I think atheism requires far more faith than Christianity does (faith defined broadly as belief in axioms that one cannot absolutely prove).

And since the deconvert is still going through the doubt, that means God is choosing to not intervene, meaning the deconvert is screwed.

He is in trouble if he chooses to reject what he knows to be true. The problem with most atheists is that they don't believe what has been shown (from our perspective) to be true. They truly, honestly do not accept the belief, and I say that it is usually because of false and illogical thinking they have picked up somewhere along the line. We are what we eat.

3) I have historically had a very difficult time keeping Dave Armstrong consistent. I could point out even more monster discussions where it takes numerous comments to nail down his position, and even then he continues to waffle back and forth as convenient.

Right. All this shows me is that again you did not grasp the nuances and subtleties of my position. It's all quite consistent. You may disagree, but it is consistent (just as I say atheism is usually profoundly consistent if one accepts its first premises, but I reject those).

Personally, I think it comes from the “Cut. Paste. Pound.” style he utilizes in internet communication—resulting in a constant search for contrary positions, but that eventually conflict his own stance.

You're entitled to your theory as to my alleged profound inconsistencies. It's a ridiculous, desperate one, but I do greatly enjoy it for its entertainment value.

Like I said, when he doesn’t use this style—in person—he is far more enjoyable.

With nine talkative people in a group I never have time to pursue any one line of reasoning that I would set forth to a 50th of the depth that I can do in writing. That is why writing is the best medium to do that. In person, socratic dialogue only works if there are two people and both are willing to do it and to stay on a very particular, focused topic. That rarely happens in a group of three, four or more (very rarely happens even with two!), so live, in-person conversation proceeds upon very different lines (usually jumping all over the place with ramblings and stories and humor and digressions regularly entering in). I can only (in that scenario) make a few points here and there and hope that they stick and have any effect at all. I still enjoy it, but it is far less efficient or constructive in arriving at truth than written dialogue.

Socrates wasn't very popular, as we know, and was eventually killed because he made people so angry with his constant questioning. People don't like it. So I don't expect people to like it much when I follow his method. Folks simply don't enjoy having their views critiqued.

Is the historical evidence sufficient to conclude Jesus physically resurrected from the dead?

We've been through this three times now (including a careful explanation in person two nights ago). Go read what I said again. This is not some game where you get me to incriminate myself "on the stand" by an inadequate short answer. It's a serious philosophical issue. I've explained it over and over, and your asking the simple question yet again, shows me that you continue to not comprehend what my position is. But I have already stated it repeatedly. So just go read it!

I explained my position at excruciating length in our previous exchange: Dialogue With an Atheist About Miracles and the Influence of First Premises on One's Methodology and Openness to Evidences and Proofs.

Thanks, Dave Armstrong,

According to your comments in the monster thread , the historical record is not sufficient—one must also have a certain will, faith and grace.

So you agree with my second point—the historical evidence by itself is not sufficient. Now, I do believe it logically follows that a supernatural explanation is therefore not plausible, based upon the historical evidence itself, and here you disagree.

Can you explain how the historical record is not sufficient to conclude the Resurrection, but it is more plausible to conclude a Resurrection? I would think “more plausible” is a higher or equal standard to “sufficient.”

I have written about all this "evidence" [i.e., the place of premises] stuff at length. It is too complex to summarize briefly. You can put it in whatever box you like.

I haven't entered into a discussion of the evidence [for the resurrection] itself; only factors that influence how one interprets that evidence.

We've been talking about two different things all along, and neither wants to talk about what the other wants to discuss.

Why one believes in the Resurrection would be for a great variety of cumulative reasons (just as I would say about Christianity in general or theism itself).

As I have said before and stated to [his atheist friend] Jon on my blog a few minutes ago, if you guys read the best Christian defenders of the Resurrection from an apologetic standpoint, you will be unpersuaded by me, because they are the experts and I haven't delved that deeply into Resurrection apologetics myself. I always recommend that folks go read the best arguments they can find if they are really interested in something.

At least give it your best shot by reading the best the opponent has to offer. And on this topic, that certainly isn't me. I have other areas I specialize in and emphasize.

Here are some further thoughts I expressed to someone else in the same combox:

I take the greatest pains not to accuse someone of being a liar, dishonest, immoral, etc. I do that in person as well. When I was with DagoodS and several other atheists two nights ago I stated more than once that I was not accusing anyone of such a thing; I was simply honestly disagreeing with them. I also was just as hard on Christians who immediately demonize atheists as immoral persons or act like asses and quite intolerantly, simply due to their atheism. That's absolutely wrong, too. Many Christians may act like that and it is a shame (so do many atheists against us, believe me). I am not one of them.

I like the man (DagoodS), and he has said some nice stuff about me, too, I see. He showed kindness to me at the meeting, asking about the job I lost and how the search for a new one was going. I like most of the people in this atheist group. They are a friendly bunch and a lot of fun to gab with. I have a great time at the meetings (I've now attended four).

He seems to want to go so far with me, and then gives up. I apparently exasperate him. That's fine. Obviously, I have another interpretation of all that. :-)

I'll be critiquing more of his stuff, time-permitting. It's very time-consuming because there is a significant amount of error and illogical thinking, so one has to definitely have a large block of time available to do the hard work of demonstrating why this is the case! :-) It's always much harder to refute an error than to assert it. Takes much more laborious time and effort.

* * *

We had a further exchange in DagoodS' combox (1-7-11):

And then one day we learn it [Christianity] is wrong . . . And then one day, someone comes along and removes the ring.

How can you change such a massive belief-structure in "one day"? And (not to beat a dead horse, but . . . ) how do you switch in one day without deciding to all of a sudden reverse your premises upon which your prior belief-system was built? In one fell swoop you have to reject many scores of individual Christian tenets. That occurs at the presuppositional level.

You're again making my argument about the primacy of premises over against particular evidences. The latter play a very important role, but when the rubber meets the road, and one converts to Christianity or deconverts away from it, premises are always primary.

That's how the atheist can all of a sudden adopt a whole new set of atheist assumptions and beliefs following from them. It's a switch from one to the other because you put on a set of new glasses; a new filter, and you see "everything" differently with them on.

(1-7-11)

I've also responded to yet another failed example of yours, of alleged Bible contradictions:


You keep making flimsy arguments of this sort and I'll be more than happy to show how the reasoning fails. Perhaps one day you'll try another tack in opposing Christianity and the Bible. This one ain't workin' very well. :-)

(1-7-11)

Dave Armstrong,

This blog entry was not about you, not for you, not to you.

Never said it was. If I am not supposed to comment on your blog unless the post under which I comment is "about" or "for" or "to" me, just let me know! I don't see anyone else here held to such an absurd standard.

Therefore (unsurprisingly) you completely misunderstand it, and once again fail to support your claim regarding predisposition changing before evidence convinces.

And just as unsurprisingly you miss my entire point. Who said I was trying to support my claim? I was asking you to explain your view, but you took a pass, obfuscated, and engaged in obscurantism.

I’ll give you a hint: It is our predisposition towards Christianity—emotional, intellectual, familial, societal, or environmental or a combination of these—that causes us to wrestle with it. If we weren’t predisposed toward it, we wouldn’t have to wrestle!

(DagoodS: 1-7-11) (my reply: 1-7-11)


6 comments:

Jon said...

Since you have to believe in God, it seems to me, to believe in a miracle in the first place, that would appear to me to be the inexorable conclusion. If you deny the existence of the God Who performs the miracle, then how in the world can you believe in the miracle? It's a matter of simple logic.

Like we said the other day, Dave, it's not that we think God must not exist so we don't believe in miracles. We see no evidence of miracles, so we don't believe in God (due to the lack of well evidenced miracles among other reasons).

I don't believe in God. This does not mean I could never accept a miracle. It's that I need good evidence for a miracle. This would affect my beliefs about God. It's the same point DagoodS is making. It's kind of obvious that atheists and Christians "start" at different places, in the sense that right now I believe different things than you do. But when we say we don't believe the resurrection occurred this is just another instance of the lack of the needed evidence. It's not that we must conclude that due to our atheism. It's that the evidence doesn't justify belief in a miracle, so we retain our atheism.

Remember, everyone at the table said yeah, miracles are possible in the sense that we could never know that there can never be any kind of God that can alter natural laws. We do think, since we've concluded that there is no God, that miracles won't happen. But if you have good evidence present it. We'll consider it.

It's kind of frustrating because when you make this point you imply that we aren't able to evaluate the evidence for a miracle because we are so blinded by our commitment to the non-existence of God. The implication is that we are behaving irrationally. I'm sure you believe we are irrational, but for the purpose of a productive discussion it's good to have the presumption of good faith.

Let me comment on one other statement you made:

You just don't grasp fully what I am saying and so you "repeat" my view back incorrectly and inaccurately. I've already explained it several times, including in person, but you don't yet comprehend what I am saying. And so one wonders after a while why that is.

Once again I think you would be best served to just state arguments instead of confidently asserting that someone fails to grasp what you have said. What we think is that we are drawing out the logical implications of what your view entails even though you won't concede the point. Of course we don't expect you to agree. We expect you to say no, you've been misunderstood. When we say you are being inconsistent we expect you to deny it and say that in fact we simply aren't grasping the nuances of your position. I think a better, less aggravating way of replying is just to explain your view, explain why you think our claim is a caricature of your position, and then let the reader decide who has made the persuasive case. To pontificate about how our view is a caricature or a straw man just isn't useful. Showing it is useful.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Jon,

Like we said the other day, Dave, it's not that we think God must not exist so we don't believe in miracles. We see no evidence of miracles, so we don't believe in God (due to the lack of well evidenced miracles among other reasons).

I don't believe in God. This does not mean I could never accept a miracle. It's that I need good evidence for a miracle. This would affect my beliefs about God.


Exactly. To have a miracle means there is a God (unless you can explain a miracle some other way; I am unaware of how one would, in my limited knowledge). You say this yourself further down below. This is my point. If you accept the miracle, you simultaneously accept God, but an atheist doesn't accept that by definition; therefore, obviously they won't accept a miracle as long as that is the case. They could possibly change their mind, of course (many atheists have and many former Christians like you have, and then they will be a theist as well as believer in [this] miracle.

It's the same point DagoodS is making. It's kind of obvious that atheists and Christians "start" at different places, in the sense that right now I believe different things than you do. But when we say we don't believe the resurrection occurred this is just another instance of the lack of the needed evidence. It's not that we must conclude that due to our atheism.

The Resurrection is completely meaningless under an assumption of atheism. It would be a miracle (performed by Whom?). You have to be a theist to believe in it. So it boils down to the good ol' theistic arguments in the end.

It's that the evidence doesn't justify belief in a miracle, so we retain our atheism.

That's a different proposition. You claim the evidence is insufficient. I am examining why you believe that, because I think factors are in play beyond the evidence itself.

Dave Armstrong said...

Remember, everyone at the table said yeah, miracles are possible in the sense that we could never know that there can never be any kind of God that can alter natural laws. We do think, since we've concluded that there is no God, that miracles won't happen.

Bingo! That is what I am saying. Disbelief in miracles goes hand in hand with atheism and agnosticism. You state this yourself; yet when I do it is controversial for some reason: something perfectly obvious and hardly even arguable.

But if you have good evidence present it. We'll consider it.

Go read the books by the big shots. If they don't convince you (just like they don't convince DagoodS), I won't, because I haven't studied the issue as closely as they have. I'm a big believer in letting the most qualified person defend something.

It's kind of frustrating because when you make this point you imply that we aren't able to evaluate the evidence for a miracle because we are so blinded by our commitment to the non-existence of God.

It does have a profound effect. Our interpretive grid affects how we evaluate evidence. That is true for Christians, atheists, Rastafarians, and three-toed, green-eyed, red-haired moth catchers; everyone.

The implication is that we are behaving irrationally.

Of course, I think that. You think that of me. Ho hum. But it is more than that. The will is also often involved, and hostile presuppositions are in play.

I'm sure you believe we are irrational, but for the purpose of a productive discussion it's good to have the presumption of good faith.

Good faith is something altogether different. I'm not saying anyone is dishonest; only irrational and (from the Christian view) lacking faith and grace, which are also necessary.

Dave Armstrong said...

Once again I think you would be best served to just state arguments instead of confidently asserting that someone fails to grasp what you have said.

Sometimes they don't! I'm the world's biggest expert on my own opinions. Since I have explained my position over and over: did in my last written exchange with DagoodS; did in person two nights ago, and he keeps asking me over and over, despite my repeated answers, what do you expect me to conclude? He either doesn't grasp my answer, or he is trying to wear me down, thinking I am playing some kind of game of equivocation, or am waffling, as he stated today.

But that he doesn't understand my answer is evident from what he keeps repeating over and over. I don't know how else to explain my opinion; sorry.

What we think is that we are drawing out the logical implications of what your view entails even though you won't concede the point.

He is saying things that flatly contradict what I have clearly stated, as if my own belief is something it is not. That's different from drawing out implications or doing a reductio: something I do constantly myself.

Of course we don't expect you to agree. We expect you to say no, you've been misunderstood.

In this case I am: my position is being portrayed as something it is not, and it is because (I think) the subtleties of it are insufficiently understood.

When we say you are being inconsistent we expect you to deny it and say that in fact we simply aren't grasping the nuances of your position.

Indeed.

I think a better, less aggravating way of replying is just to explain your view, explain why you think our claim is a caricature of your position, and then let the reader decide who has made the persuasive case.

Since I have already done exactly that three or four times (once at great length) why am I required to do it yet again? That's why I said (paraphrase), "just go read what I already explained at length."

You get aggravated that I am aggravated by having to repeat things over and over, only to be asked the same blasted question again, as if I have explained nothing, and then having my own position distorted in a public setting, to be something it is not. We all have our frustrations, don't we, Jon? My aggravation is, I say, far more justified than yours about me.

To pontificate about how our view is a caricature or a straw man just isn't useful. Showing it is useful.

Again, I am under no obligation to "show" what I have already shown three times. It's an insult to my intelligence and yours if I were to bow to such an absurd demand.

There is such a thing as a straw man. We're all guilty of falling into that at times. Since it really happens sometimes, then there is a real need to call a spade a spade and point out when it is happening.

Jon said...

As I understand you you are saying that my lack of belief in a resurrection follows from my lack of belief in God. I'm saying it's the opposite. My lack of belief in God followed the fact that I was not convinced of any miracle, resurrection or whatever.

This is actually precisely true. When I rejected the resurrection of Jesus I became a theist. I was still persuaded by things like the design argument. Then I was an agnostic. Today I'm an atheist, but back then I wasn't.

You are right that DagoodS has attributed claims to you that flatly contradict what you have said at other times. That's because we think your statements contradict one another. Drawing out the logical implications of one statement sometimes leads to other statements that contradict what you've said at other times. You of course think he's failed to do that, but don't just say that he's failed to understand you. Try to show it or show that he's erroneously drawing out the implications of your view.

And I'm not saying you haven't tried to show it. I'm just saying that in addition to trying to show it you've pontificated on how he's all wrong and misunderstanding you. The pontifications I regard as judgments that are best left to the reader.

Dave Armstrong said...

As I understand you you are saying that my lack of belief in a resurrection follows from my lack of belief in God. I'm saying it's the opposite. My lack of belief in God followed the fact that I was not convinced of any miracle, resurrection or whatever.

In either scenario, the two go together. So you are agreeing with me far more than disagreeing.

This is actually precisely true. When I rejected the resurrection of Jesus I became a theist. I was still persuaded by things like the design argument. Then I was an agnostic. Today I'm an atheist, but back then I wasn't.

What's the next phase? :-) Nihilism?

You are right that DagoodS has attributed claims to you that flatly contradict what you have said at other times. That's because we think your statements contradict one another.

"Think" is the key word. You wrongly think.

Drawing out the logical implications of one statement sometimes leads to other statements that contradict what you've said at other times. You of course think he's failed to do that, but don't just say that he's failed to understand you.

I do when that is the case. He not only claims I am illogical by drawing out the implications, but that I am waffling, which is a different claim.

Try to show it or show that he's erroneously drawing out the implications of your view.

I've done more than enough. I'm bored with it now. He gets bored with my topics; that works both ways.

And I'm not saying you haven't tried to show it. I'm just saying that in addition to trying to show it you've pontificated on how he's all wrong and misunderstanding you. The pontifications I regard as judgments that are best left to the reader.

What you call pontifications are simple statements of fact and logic. Nice melodramatic touch, tho!