Antonio and Bill seem to want this discusion wrapped up, and I have no
objection. We are rapidly approaching (or have passed) the point of simply
restating arguments without raising new perspectives. Before concluding,
however, I wish to clarify a few points. Firstly responding to Bob Schacht's
email of Feb 20 (for which, thank you Bob), Bob wrote:
>One argument that was thrown out appears to be the pluralistic "respect"
>argument. That is, since some people did in fact fervently believe in
>these things, it is arrogant for us to conclude that their beliefs are wrong.
. . . Nevertheless, strength of belief is not necessarily a good
guide to any general validity of that belief. Unfortunately, the world is
full of fanatics whose beliefs are rather strong. For example, think how
your sentence might read in the context of Nazi Germany.>>
I agree, and in fact rejected the argument presented. That section of my
email was a quote of Bill's earlier posting. You may have been confused
because I use the AOL brackets quotation method (<< ...>>) rather than the
standard indent method (>).
<<The issue for those of us unwilling to restrict ourselves to naturalistic
assumptions is, by what methodology can we distinguish true reports of the
supernatural from false reports? Since walking on water is the example
being used on this thread, perhaps we (but not Antonio and Bill) might
agree that walking on water is possible. But then how can we ascertain
whether *this particular* report of walking on water is valid?>>
The implied question of your comments is, "if we let go of methodological
naturalism, will we be in a position were any thing goes?" I would think the
same methods we use in determining if "natural" events occured should be
sufficient. For example, we have little difficulty determining that Jesus
was probably not born in Bethlehem (natural event), and in this case the same
evidence allows us to determine that he was probably not born of a virgin
(supernatural event). Admitedly there may be cases on which we must remain
agnostic on the basis of immediate evidence. These, I assume, we can
determine on the basis of the theory we accept given the more obvious cases.
There seems no reason to fear that we will sink into a morass of shoddy
<<> Relativism demands that you do not reach certain conclusions (or at
> least not to forcefully) because it may offend people.
Relativism really is not about giving or not giving offense; it is about
the basis of judgment. No cross-cultural judgment is possible without
asserting the superiority of one set of values over all others.>>
You are correct in that this is the standard justification of relativism. I
disagree. I think that for any two cultures there will be a common set of
values which is a subset of the values of each culture. This creates a
common ground for those of good will from which discussion and critique can
<<How are we to decide whose values are superior? Antonio and Bill have made
judgement that the values of naturalism are superior to all other values.
Theirs is the view that the values of "science" transcend all cultural
particulars and form an objective, "etic" view that transcends all
culture-bound "emic" views. Except that I'm not quite sure how Bill
entertains this somewhat positivist view of the universe with what he knows
about postmodernism (which he knows more about than I do). I thought that
postmodernism had shown that positivism was merely a western belief system
with pretensions of superiority. Perhaps he will explain.>>
We procede, of course, by letting go of our assumptions and values as
preconditions of debate. If our prospective dialogue partners will not let
go of those preconditions, debate with them will be, in the end, futile. By
letting go of our preconditions, however, we can still learn their views and
make a comparison of the two world views with some measure of objectivity.
<<>...I assume in HJS we use the scholarly standards of appeal to evidence
>and reason, not to authority. I assume we also expect formaly presented
>work to clearly and meticulously presented so that evidence appealed to
>can be checked, and reasons examined. Given this, what other
>methodological standard should we impose? I think there is a simple test,
>any additional standard is bad unless it is redundant. A standard is
>redundant, of course, only if in the long term it does not effect the
>results of the enquiry. Therefore any standard that passes this test may
>be a good strategy, in that it speeds up the enquiry, but at need we can
>do with out it.
Well, there is a tendency (e.g., the introduction to The Five Gospels) to
maximize rather than minimize the methodological standards. You seem to be
content with an irreducible minimum. Critical scholarship often seems more
interested in the unexpandable maximum.
>...In making my case I have used two assumptions. The first is that
>theories are tested against other theories. ...
You put it better earlier: Theories are to be tested against *evidence,"
not other theories. Theories are only tested against other theories in the
sense that both are tested against the evidence, and the one that does a
better job of explaining the evidence is supported.
And yet, more than evidence is required. When the Copernican system was
first proposed against the system of epicycles, the Copernican system was
*not* more accurate (at least, not at first) for the purpose of navigation.
The Copernican system eventually was adopted (in part) because it was a
simpler system that answered new questions better than the Ptolemaic
system. So methodological supernaturalism requires not only that it explain
the evidence better, but that it do so without invoking Deus ex machina
explanations unnecessarily when natural explanations suffice.>>
Current standard epistemologies claim that we test our theories by comparing
them with other theories. Any theoretical debate becomes a comparison of the
relative virtues of two or more theories in explaining the facts. The
Copernican/Ptolemaic comparison illustrates this view (indeed is the paradigm
example presented in arguing for this view). Copernicus' theory, though
initially less faithful to observation, was always the better theory on other
grounds. (Consensus does exist on this point, though debate continues on
what the relevant grounds were.)
Turning now to Bill Arnal, he wrote:
<<At 10:52 PM 2/21/01 EST, tomkirbel@...
>Now as I understand parapsychology, it examines certain claimed phenomena
>claimed by some to be supernatural. It does not examine the question, "can
>supernatural events occur at all?" Therefore it does not examine the
No, this is NOT the relevant question, and in my LONG earlier post I
explained why. The issue is in fact NOT, however much you want to make it
one (to support your position) a metaphysical issue. That miracles CAN occur
(i.e., logically, philosophically, and so on) is not the question at hand.
It just isn't, sorry. The question is, "did THIS miracle occur?" When that
question is answered, "no," on the grounds that it's "too miraculous" (or
the like), this in fact does not rule out miracles per se and in all
instances -- it simply suggests that the evidence in this case is not
sufficient to outweigh the intrinsic implausibility of the story. That
intrinsic implausibility, please note, is embedded within the definition of
"miracle" itself -- it is not a metaphysical assumption.
I wonder why this is so hard for folks to see, or why they run off into
irrelevant discussions of philosophy, when what we're dealing with here is
probably THE most basic rule in any historical reconstruction. No, I don't
mean, "miracles don't happen," I mean, "your account should make PLAUSIBLE
use of the evidence." That's all. Presumably if I claimed, say, that
Shakespeare wrote the entire NT in 1600, everyone on the list would dismiss
this out of hand. Why? For philosophical reasons? Well, no; because it's
implausible in light of both the evidence and what we know about how things
usually happen. It is (metaphysically, philosophically, logically)
IMPOSSIBLE for Shakespeare to have written the NT books? No. Is it
IMPOSSIBLE for someone later to have back-translated it all into Greek? No.
Is it IMPOSSIBLE for all earlier MSS to be forgeries from after
Shakespeare's time. No again. Is it so enormously unlikely as to not be
worth talking about? Hell, yes. In light of what we know about human
behavior, about the way forgeries are perpetrated, about consistency in
writing stkles, about the ages of inks and paper, and so and so on, a
scenario like this would have to have an ENORMOUS amount of evidence in its
favour to counteract the dismissals, and in fact, it does not. So also with
any claims about Jesus' miraculous deeds and such, coming as they do from
self-contradictory and unconfirmed ancient documents written by
non-eyewitnesses with serious axes to grind.
Could Antonio be convinced that a miracle happened? Could I? Yes, in theory,
probably. But only if the evidence were of such a character as to make
other, more intrinsically (or prima facie) plausible explanations (lies,
hallucinations, lierary fictions, etc., etc.) impossible or less likely.
That sure isn't true of the NT (or other) miracles ascribed to Jesus.>>
Thankyou for a very clear statement of your perspective. Your argument rests
on two premises: that we should make plausible use of the evidence; and that,
as a matter of fact rather than theory, accounts including miracles are
always implausible. Now I agree with the first premise. In fact the most
plausible theory is always the best theory. Of course, we must define
"plausible" appropriatly. What is subjectively plausible to you is not the
same thing as what is subjectively plausible to a fundamentalist, and I do
not think you would accept a fundamentalist's theory and yours as being of
equal value. You must provide some objective criteria of plausibility. Of
course, if you try to supply that you are immediatly involved in issues of
epistemology and metaphysics.
THAT is the reason I disagree with your second premise. Plausibility is, in
the end, determined on the basis of some theory. Is it plausible that a man
should walk on water? No, obviously not. Is it plausible that the "Son of
God" should walk on water? I don't know, but it is far more plausible than
that any arbitrary man should walk on water. How then should we assess the
plausibility of the account of Jesus walking on water? One question that is
relavent is, how plausible is it that Jesus was the "Son of God"? These are
metaphysical questions. Now you wish to restrict assessments of plausibility
to using scientific theories as a basis. Others think that certain
metaphysical theories are viable options, ie, that there is a theistic god,
that Jesus is the "Son of God", etc. The plausiblity of Jesus walking on
water is quite different using their theories than it is using yours. If you
insist, however, that their assesments of plausibility is bad historical
method, you are insisting on a metaphysical precondition in historical method
whether you think of it that way or not.
I do not expect you to agree with this. I think, however, that it does make
the issue clear. Hopefully you will give it some consideration and realise
that those who disagree with you on this issue are not simply being obtuse.