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Re: [XTalk] re:miracles

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  • William Arnal
    ... 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
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 22, 2001
      At 10:52 PM 2/21/01 EST, tomkirbel@... wrote:

      >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
      >relevant question.

      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.

      This is my last word on the topic, I think (I hope) -- the issue strikes me
      as one that (rightly) wouldn't even be on the table in most other areas of
      historical inquiry. Makes me think, in fact, of my comments about Lenin some
      time ago. Shall we discuss whether Lenin was REALLY as high as the hills?
      Did he really shine with the brightness of the sun? Did the ground tremble
      under him, and did he lift great rocks in the hills? Did he battle winter? I
      have to wonder whether historians of Russia really sit around and debate
      these points, claiming that to deny them is to invoke an unproven
      metaphysical assumption. I suspect not. Those who are willing to engage in
      this sort of special pleading for Jesus, then, ought to be prepared to make
      the same kind of allowances for, say, Lenin. But if you do, chances are you
      won't get a lot of support from historians of modern Russia.

      William Arnal william.arnal@...
      Religion/Classics New York University

      please note my slightly revised e-mail address
    • Antonio Jerez
      I notice that Tom Kirby is still indulging in his love for metaphysics and pretentious balooney talk that may be to the liking of some on the list, but
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 22, 2001
        I notice that Tom Kirby is still indulging in his love for metaphysics and
        pretentious balooney talk that may be to the liking of some on the list, but certainly
        not to me. Since I don't want to waste my time unnecessarily in meaningless
        discussions I am happy to let Tom Kirby have the last word. I reckon that Bill Arnal
        has also found it a dead end to deal with folks like Mr. Kirby. If others on the
        list find it rewarding to discuss metaphysics with Tom Kirby I won't object, but
        as a historian I bow out without any regrets whatsoever.

        Antonio Jerez
        Göteborg, Sweden


        Once again into the breach :)

        I think it is clear by now that my standard as to whether miracles ought to
        be excluded a priori as a methodological assumption is "what is
        metaphysically possible?" coupled with the question, "what questions are
        still open for those participating in (or having a legitimate interest in)
        the field of study?" Other criteria are relevant, particularly criteria
        relating to epistemology, but at need we can do without these. By contrast,
        Antonio's criteria is "what falls within the parameters of current scientific
        theories?". Antonio is correct in thinking that criteria excludes the
        supernatural. The question that must arise is whether it is the relavent
        criteria. This question I have tried to adress in a number of ways.
        Antonio, on the other hand, seems to be content with re-iterating the point
        that by the criteria he accepts, the question is answered. He intersperses
        this with claims (not arguments) that any other criteria is nonsense.

        As a case of this last point, he writes:
        <<Thank for the clarification. Although the word "metaphysics" in the
        sense may deal with "what type of things exist", I take the word in the sense
        that it is commonly used today (= speculations about supernaural things and
        dimensions without any evidence). In that sense I'm not interested in
        Patently, the sense of the word "metaphysics" that is relavent to the
        discussion is the sense with which I use it, or the sense in which it is used
        by academic metaphysicians. This is because it is I who am appealing to
        metaphysical evidence, and it is to the studies of those metaphysicians that
        I appeal. To understand what evidence I am appealing to, therefore, it is
        necessary to interpret "metaphysical" in my way. I think Antonio takes the
        sense "as it is commonly used today" (by whom? and in what circumstances?)
        because he thinks there is no difference in practise between my sense and his.

        For Antonio's benefit I shall provide evidence from scientists, not that it
        is possible to walk on water (which I agree evidence does not exist, an
        irrelavent fact as that evidence is not examined by science), but that
        metaphysics is relavent. I draw your attention to the essay "Positivism,
        Metaphysics, and Religion" by Werner Heisenberg (My copy is in The World
        Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics, Timothy Ferris (Ed) (Little
        Brown and Co, 1991). The original can be found in Physics and Beyond:
        Encounters and Conversations by Werner Heisenberg, Werner Heisenberg
        (Translated by Arnold J Pomerans) (Harper and Row, 1971) Werner Heisenberg
        (discoverer of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) reports on a
        conversation between himself, Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli (of the Pauli
        exclusion principle) on the topic of metaphysics. All of them argued that
        the logical positivists dim view of metaphysics was unjustified. Heisenberg
        pointed out that for Philipp Frank (a logical positivist), " 'metaphysics' is
        a synonym for 'loose thinking' and hence a term of abuse." Niels Bohr
        responded (in part) by reffering to a lecture he gave in response to one by
        Frank. In that lecture he began by pointing out that "... [he] could see no
        reason why the prefix 'meta' should be reserved for logic and mathematics ...
        and why it was anathema in physics. The prefix, after all, merely suggests
        that we are asking further questions, ie, questions bearing on the
        fundamental concepts of a particular discipline, and why ever should we not
        be able to ask such a question in physics?" (The lecture to which Bohr
        reffered to has been published, but I cannot currently remember where.)
        These scientists recognised that many of the premises and arguments they had
        used in formulating quantum mechanics were metaphysical in nature. Examples
        of such metaphysical arguments in physics include Einsteins definition of
        simultaneity in formulating special relativity (Einstein began as a
        positivist but rejected this when he realised he had in fact used
        metaphysical premises in formulating his theories), Heisenbergs argument in
        establishing his uncertainty principle, and, most famously, Schroedinger's
        cat argument. Indeed, as Bohr said, " Positivist insistence on conceptual
        clarity is, of course, some thing I fully endorse, but their prohibition of
        any discusion of the wider issues, simply because we lack clear-cut enough
        concepts in this realm, does not seem very usefull to me - this same ban
        would prevent our understanding of quantum theory." (My emphasis)

        Logical-positivism (with its view that metaphysics was meaningless, and hence
        irrelavent nonsense) almost secured consensus support in english speaking
        philosophy departments in from the 30's to the 50's. It was discovered,
        however, that no principled distinction could be made between physics and
        metaphysics. Consequently logical -positivists are a rare breed in
        philosophy departments now a days (though not, apparently, out side of them).
        This problem (no principled distinction) means that no principled method can
        be found to rule metaphysics as irrelavent that does not also rule physics to
        be irrelavent. Applied to the present case, if the discoveries of science
        are relevent to the issue of whether Jesus walked on water (Antonio's
        position), then in principle, metaphysics is relavent to the same issue (my
        position); and any attempt to rule metaphysics as irrelevant is unsound.

        I will note in passing that Antonio's current position appears to be that he
        is not knowledgable on metaphysics, has no interest in becoming knowledgable
        on metaphysics, is not interested in adressing metaphysical arguments, but
        that his opinion as to the relevance of metaphysics in this area is to be
        preffered to the opinion of those who are knowledgable in metaphysics. That
        seems to me a brave position to espouse.

        Should Antonio seek to become knowledgable in metaphysics he will find some
        willing to suport his cause. (I suggest he reads WVO Quine, or Daniel
        Dennett.) He will not, however, find a consensus of opinion in his favour.
        Nor will he find a consensus of opinion amongst scientists that science
        precludes the miracles reported about Jesus. Indeed, I doubt he will find a
        single article in a peer reviewed science journal in which a scientist argues
        that science has shown that the miracles reported of Jesus could not have
        occured. (He will find such articles in philosophy journals, but, I
        reiterate, no consensus.) So why is Antonio so determined to appeal to
        science as the basis of his opinion when the question asked is not admited as
        a scientific question either by scientists or by metaphysicians?

        This brings us to the relevance of consensus. A lack of consensus on a
        particular point is an indication that experts disagree. Were all the
        experts agree on an opinion, it seems reasonable to assume that opinion as a
        basis of investigation in a different discipline. We may, if we wish,
        dispute that opinion. But then the onus is on us to become expert in the
        relevant field and argue our case. Those who agree with the opinion can
        appropriatly cite the views of the experts, and need not press their case any
        further to make use of the theory in question.

        Where no consensus exists, we may still cite the opinions of experts in a
        field to use as evidence in presenting our case. But because no consensus
        exists we ought to present the basic arguments for the opinion, outline
        counter-arguments and cite experts who agree and experts who disagree with
        our opinion. This, it seems to me, is just the standard requirement to fully
        cite and canvass relevant evidence. (Of course this standard is relaxed, as
        always, when knowledge of the relevant evidence can be reasonably assumed.)

        My point is that were consensus exists amongst experts, we need not ourselves
        fully canvass the relevant arguments. Therefore, for Antonio to establish
        his case he need not present arguments showing that miracles could not occur.
        He need only show that his opinion is the consensus opinion amongst
        metaphysicians (the relevant experts) or even amongst scientists (those he
        considers the relevant experts). In fact he can do neither, for no such
        consensus exists. Instead he wishes to impose consensus about a metaphysical
        question as a methodological requirement for historians (who are not experts
        in metaphysics) when no such consensus exists amongst the metaphysicians.
        This would be astounding enough (were it not so common place), but he also
        wishes to impose this methodological requirement without arguing the merits
        of the case, and with the presumption that those who object to his
        methodological standard carry the burden of proof.

        Antonio responded to the point about consensus, saying:

        Antonio appears to have a higher opinion of "creation scientists" than I do,
        for he includes them in the discipline of science, whereas I do not think
        they are scientists at all. To establish this point I need not show how
        ridiculously easy it is to demonstrate that "creation scientists" do not
        adhere to accepted academic standards; I need only point out that no
        creationist articles are published in peer reviewed scientific journals. In
        fact there is a greater consensus in science that the earth is four and half
        billion years old (and that humans evolved from apes) than there is in favour
        of the special theory of relativity. The consensus in favour of these three
        facts is such that any apeal to them in HJS may be made without further
        justification (by my principles). Lest Antonio thinks I am applying a double
        standard here, I am quite happy for him, in establishing the consensus in
        science in favour of his opinion, only to consider academic publications.
        Alternatively, let him present evidence that theists constitute a lunatic
        fringe in metaphysics, theology or science.

        I will further point out that if the appeal to consensus is irrelevant, the
        consequence is only to establish a burden of proof on us for any argument we
        wish to use. The point of establishing a consensus is it saves us having to
        canvass the arguments.

        Antonio also says:
        <<And I doubt that any arguments or evidence whasoever will persuade Tom
        that his "metaphysical supernaturalism" is nothing more than a figment of the
        imagination, although logical from a philosophical viewpoint. To return again
        to the
        specific part of Curtis' "metaphysical supernaturalism" that started the
        discussion; what kind of evidence would it take for Curtis' to discard a
        phenomenon that has never been attested - like walking on water? Or has Tom
        Curtis dug up some evidence of the possibiliy of this phenomenon (outside his
        ancient texts and philosophical speculations) that I may have bypassed? If so
        I'm sure most of us on the list would be happy to see it.>>

        First, "metaphysical supernaturalism" in many guises, and more particularly
        theism in a number of different guises is not just "logical from a
        philosophical point of view", it is (like naturalism) coherent both from a
        logical and a metaphysical point of view so far as I know. Therefore it
        survives as a candidate meta-theory of the universe. As such I wish it to be
        tested against additional evidence. Such tests are hard to come by (as is
        the case with many theories in particle physics), so I object when a possible
        test of some theistic theories is removed on ill grounded methodological
        grounds. The removal of such tests from consideration would make it
        impossible to falsify my metaphysical naturalism, and consequently make that
        theory an empty doctrine. The difference between us is not that I am a
        theist who is unwilling to put my theism to the test, but that I am an
        atheist who wants to put my atheism to the test. I object when other
        naturalists try to evacuate that doctrine of meaning in one of the few area's
        it might be put to the test.

        Finally, when I said:
        >Thus when Antonio makes his repeated appeals to
        > his wide travels (and his equally frequent aspersions against those he
        > presumes to not be as widely travelled as he), I have taken this to be an
        > appeal to the evidence of science (rather than the ad hominem attack it
        > appears to be). I have then pointed out that "science" does not support
        > case because it does not examine the question.

        Antonio responded:
        <<This is patently wrong. There is a discipline called parapsychology that
        try to
        study the unexplained and "miraculous" in a scientific way. So far I do not
        think any serious parapsychologist, no matter how much he may wich to, has
        able to offer any sign that it is possible to walk on water. The simple fact
        that the closer you look into supposed miracoulous phenomena like glossalia,
        out of
        body expriencies, walking on hot coals, demon posession etc etc the less
        miraculous they become. Does Tom Curtis have any evidence to the contrary? >>

        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
        relevant question.

        << >I have also pointed out that
        > scientists do no share a consensus on the issue in question.

        Let's take a look again at the specific question that got the discussion
        started. Can Tom Curtis name any scientist that has studied a phenomenon
        like walking on water and concluded that it shouldn't be ruled out? Or is Tom
        Curtis putting
        forward himself and his buddies the "creationist scientists" as the ones who
        appear to
        split the consensus on the issue.>>

        Antonio, can you show me a single peer reviewed scientific paper arguing that
        Jesus walking on water (or any other miracle) could not have occured? You
        have not established yet that science or any scientist in their professional
        capacity establishes the point on which you wish to rely. You have certainly
        not established that there is a consensus in science to that point. It would
        behove you to establish these points before you ask me to show the consensus
        does not exist. If fact, as a start, it might be wise to show there is a
        single scientific paper dealing with the issue. That at least would
        establish that some scientists consider themselves to be the relevant experts.


        Tom Curtis

        I'll leave the rest to Bill Arnal. I'm sure he can take care of pricking the
        filled with pretentious philosophical hodgepodge better than myself.

        Best wishes

        Antonio Jerez
        Göteborg, Sweden

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