From Jerusalem to Salem: A Conversation with Matt McCormick

Posted on 09/06/11 24 Comments

After being ignored by all the essayists of The End of Christianity for so long it’s nice finally to get a little attention. And now Matt McCormick has responded to my critique … promptly … on a holiday (Labor Day) … courteously … with arguments. Looks like I hit the jackpot.

Thanks for joining us Matt!

Now down to business. Matt has not disputed my claim that his essay has evidence of confirmation bias. So those points stand (for now anyway). Instead, our discussion in the thread has focused on a couple other matters: properly basic belief about the resurrection and the Salem Trial argument. In this post I’m going to engage critically with a couple excerpts from Matt’s comments in the previous thread.

To begin with,  Matt provides a very helpful characterization of his argument:

“The Salem Witch Trial argument is directed at someone who thinks that the historical evidence is the sole body of information that is relevant to deciding what is reasonable to think happened in history, not at someone who thinks they can just magically sense historical events in their minds.”

My first observation in response is that this is a rather strange focus for an essay in a book on The End of Christianity. After all, that book aims to provide a case against good old mundane Christian belief, the kind held by pew warmers the world over. But good old mundane Christian belief has never included the belief that “historical evidence is the sole body of information that is relevant to deciding what is reasonable to think happened in history….” So out of the gate McCormick has written an essay which is irrelevant to the stated purpose of the book in which it was included. Perhaps this argument would be of interest to Van Harvey, author of The Historian and the Believer, but it simply isn’t of interest to the vast majority of Christians.

Perhaps Matt would respond “Well it should be.” But this brings me to my second observation: I am confident that Matt McCormick himself does not think “that the historical evidence is the sole body of information that is relevant to deciding what is reasonable to think happened in history”. I know he doesn’t because he isn’t crazy. And it really would be crazy to think this. Don’t believe me? Consider the example I already used (but which was apparently not processed) in my initial critical review:

“Another source of properly basic rational belief is testimony. For example, my history teacher tells me “The last spike in the Canadian railway was driven at Craigellachie in 1885.” Assuming I have no defeaters to that claim, I can accept that testimony in a properly basic way.”

On this account, the way I gain justification for the proposition “The last spike in the Canadian railway was driven at Craigellachie in 1885” is not through historical investigation. I don’t go to the national and provincial archives searching documentation of the event coupled with a site visit to Craigellachie. Rather, my justification for the proposition in question traces to my teacher’s testimony. Nor is Craigellachie an exception in this regard. This is true for almost all of what we reasonably believe (and know) about history. We reasonably believe (and know) it in a properly basic way through the testimony of others. Of course the trust we place in others is prima facie and it can be shown to be mistaken. But absent defeaters it is wholly reasonable to assent to my teacher’s testimony.

Has Matt shown that it is not possible for a Christian to reasonably believe (note that I didn’t say know; I just said reasonably believe) ”God raised Jesus from the dead” based on the testimony of others (for example, his pastor and his dad and N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas)? No. He didn’t even try to argue against this kind of properly basic doxastic process.

Let’s spend a bit more time thinking about the Canadian railway example. Where do you think my teacher learned that “The last spike in the Canadian railway was driven at Craigellachie in 1885”? Perhaps from his teacher. And his teacher in turn learned it from another teacher who read it in a book who learned it from another teacher who read it in a book and so on. The train of testimony justification (sorry for the pun) runs all the way back to eye witnesses. It is reasonable for me to believe this even if I cannot trace that unbroken line. (Indeed, nobody can trace it.)

If I have reason to believe there was such a train in the case of Christian belief as well running back to eye witnesses (some of the evidence for which Richard Bauckham lays out in Jesus and the Eye Witnesses) then why can I not reasonably believe “God raised Jesus from the dead” by the same doxastic process (testimony) that I believe the above mentioned Craigellachie factoid?

Now you might protest “But presumably there is evidence that 1885 Craigellachie was the site for the final spike. So if you want to you can confirm the proposition in question apart from the train of justification.” Yes, but nonetheless you don’t need to confirm it independently to believe it reasonably. Moreover, even if the original primary source evidence that is contained in provincial archives and elsewhere was lost, you could still reasonably believe it based on the train of testimony.

Note how different this is from Matt’s tendentious characterization of the position I presented. He described “someone who thinks they can just magically sense historical events in their minds.” This is a strange caricature. Here’s putting the shoe on the other foot. Imagine that Alfonso the atheist says he believes morality is a social construction. I don’t know whether Matt agrees with that or not, but I suspect he would find it distasteful if a Christian caricatured Alfonso’s views by saying “Oh you think you can just magically make up morality in your mind!” That’s not what Alfonso said. And I never said I magically sense historical events in my mind. I said you can gain justification for believing a proposition about history from testimony. You don’t have to limit yourself to first-order historical evidence.

Perhaps Matt is aiming his quip not at me and what I wrote but rather at Alvin Plantinga with his reference to doxastic mechanism called the sensus divinitatis and a doxastic process called the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit. That’s another conversation however. I’ve only appealed to testimony. But even if I had referenced the sensus divinitatis, it is hardly fair to marginalize it because it is “magical” (which I take to be code for “a process we don’t understand”). After all, as Matt knows, there is no agreement on how rational intuition works. I remember when I read Laurence BonJour’s In Defense of Pure Reason (Cambridge University Press, 1998). It is a first rate book by a first rate analytic epistemologist. But wow, is it ever “magical”. Philosophers have a habit of getting “magical” whenever they attempt to engage at a fundamental level with protean concepts like synthetic a priori knowledge, reference, property exemplification, et cetera. So I must say that Matt’s magical comments ring hollow.

Now for Matt’s second comment:

“I can sum up what I take to be the central matter pretty simply.  First, do you or don’t you believe on the basis of the historical evidence available to us that the people who were tried and convicted of witchcraft at Salem actual possessed magical powers?  Second, do you or don’t you believe on the basis of the historical evidence that is available to us that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?  I have argued that answering yes to both questions is consistent, but it is adopting too liberal a standard for historical arguments concerning supernatural claims.  Answering no to the first question and yes to the second is ad hoc and can only be defending with special pleading that is unreasonable given the poor quality and quantity of evidence we have concerning Jesus.  Answering no to both questions is consistent and reasonable given the evidence we have.  Some of the other issues are interesting, but I didn’t intend them to distract from the main Salem argument.”

I agree that there is more primary evidence available from the Salem trials than the death of Jesus. That’s indisputable. But the salient question is this: what is the most satisfactory explanation of all the available data? That is, which explanation maximizes consilience? I don’t think the best explanation for the Salem trials is demon possession or magic or otherwise supernatural, not least because it is quite easy to identify natural psychological and sociological factors which were operative and can provide a satisfactory explanation. But I am not aware of a comparable unified consilient explanation for the Jesus event and so Matt’s Salem argument is not compelling for me at all.

Now of course Matt will disagree  not least because we approache the evidence within different plausibility structures. I approach the evidence as a theist, while Matt approaches it as an atheist. And these different starting points inevitably shape the credibility we grant to various possible reconstructions of the data. But if Matt wants to argue the atheological case, he has to show that my plausibility structure is crucially deficient. He hasn’t.

This means that Matt’s argument fails on both counts: It fails to show that the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” cannot be reasonably believed as properly basic and it fails to show it cannot be reasonably believed as an abduction from the available historical evidence.

Share
  • AJ Smith

    This is a great post Randal. Your points are well taken. Thank you.

  • http://www.provingthenegative.com Matt McCormick

    Hmmm, well, this really doesn’t get to the core issues of my argument. One exercise that I run with my students is to have them spend time at the outset of an essay giving a clear, charitable, and accurate reconstruction of the author’s arguments they wish to criticize. I’m still not seeing anything like that in these posts. There is a lot of discussion of what I take to be irrelevant side issues. And I just don’t have the time, or frankly the interest, to pursue those. I could restate some of the argument, but it’s there in the chapter. It’s hard to tell, but it appears that in response to the Salem argument, you are taking the response that it is reasonable to reject magic at Salem, but it is reasonable to believe that the resurrection happened in Jerusalem. I have outlined several problems with that approach in the chapter, and I don’t think any of those have been addressed here, but maybe I missed them. I don’t think the chapter is so poorly written that they can’t be found, so I guess I’d just ask that you focus your attention on those and try to give a charitable and accurate reconstruction before offering the critical responses.

  • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

    Randal,

    One of your complaints about the chapter is that it doesn’t address the thinking of the ordinary Christian, but only those who rely on historical evidence for their belief in the resurrection. I think that’s a good point to make, but keep in mind that McCormick’s main focus with the argument is that historical evidence-based believers are being inconsistent by rejecting witchcraft at Salem. I took the other stuff at the beginning of the essay as setting up this context.

    As for your specific response to the main argument, it looks like you want to argue that witchcraft is not the best explanation for the data regarding Salem, but resurrection is the best explanation for the data regarding first century Christianity. It would be nice to see the two of you engage in a dialogue on the comparative evidence. It looks like McCormick’s burden would be to show you that your standards of evidence, and the kinds of reasoning you employ to defend the resurrection, would also commit you to witchcraft in Salem. That requires looking at specific evidence regarding the witch hunt, and specific evidence regarding first century Christianity.

    • randal

      “McCormick’s main focus with the argument is that historical evidence-based believers are being inconsistent by rejecting witchcraft at Salem.”

      How many Christians believe the resurrection because of their own independent historical inquiry? Percentage wise probably about the same number as there are Americans who believe Washington crossed the Delaware because of their independent historical inquiry. In other words, this is an incredibly small group and thus the reach of this essay, even if it were successful, would be extremely limited.

      I responded to your request in my most recent post by pointing out that the superior quality and abundance of data in the case of Salem does not mean the superiority of the witch hypothesis.

  • pete

    I hope I’m catching Matt’s argument in a charitable light, so I’ll state what I take it to be, while open for any correction by Matt himself:

    1a) We have historical sources that indicate that there was series of witch trials known collectively as the “Salem Witch Trials”

    1b) We should rightly reject that the defendants were witches that possessed supernatural magical powers.

    2a) We have historical sources that indicate that Jesus of Nazareth was executed by crucifixion early in the 4th decade of the first century AD / CE

    2b) We should rightly reject that Jesus of Nazareth was supernaturally raised from the dead by a supernatural diety.

    Issues of accepting the possibility of the supernatural from rejecting the possibility of the supernatural aside, I notice a dissimilarity between Matt’s comparisons of the Salem Witch Trials and the Resurrection:

    1) The Salem Witch Trials proper, were non-supernatural proceedings which were a reaction to alleged supernatural events.

    2) The here advocated Resurrection was a supernatural response to a non-supernatural event (the crucifixion), which was a reaction to a non-supernatural event (Jewish charges of blashpehmy and sedition against Jesus), which was a reaction to supernatural events (Jesus’ claim of divinity predicated upon the same reported miracles of Jesus), which were not viewed in Jewish culture as uniquely supernatural in themselves (Jewish OT scripture records the dead being raised, healings from leprosy, feeding of 100 men with scant resources….. we get the point)

    3) The result of the non-supernatural witch trials, were predicated based on testimony (real or malicious…. I’m agnostic on that point), ended in a non-supernatural conclusion….. execution…. no claims were made that the alleged witches rose fro the dead.

    4) The result of the non-supernatural trial of Jesus, resulted in a non-supernatural verdict of crucifixion, which had a further non-supernatural conclusion of death, which THEN had a stated supernatural consequence of resurrection from the dead, by non-natural means.

    I’m sure that we can all agree that raising someone from the dead is non-miraculous in itself (I myself have witnessed paramedics resuccitating a legally dead person who over-dosed on prescription pills).

    However, its the supernatural claim that God raised Jesus from the dead that is the sticking point.

    To compare the arguably logical rejection of the allegation that the witches at the historical witch trials weren’t really witches, does not make it de-facto logically necessary or plausible that we reject the supernatural consequences of the historical crucifixion of Jesus, especially in light of the after-the-fact witness testimony of the resurrection.

    Further contemporary dissimilarity can be evidenced by a court case where you have very similar allegations, but on the strenth of the witnesses, affadavit evidence, documentary evidence, and other “crime scene evidence” (DNA, archaelogy, whatever) one case renders a guilty verdict, while the other renders a not guilty verdict.

    It is a false assumption to claim that just because we can logically or arguably necessarily reject the Salem claims of witchcraft that we ought to logically and necessarily reject the claim of the resurrection.

    I hope that was a charitable and honest representation of Matt’s correlation between Salem and Golgotha.

    I just don’t see how Salem can be credibly applied to the resurrection.

    But I stand open to be corrected if merited.

  • Robert

    … good old mundane Christian belief has never included the belief that “historical evidence is the sole body of information that is relevant to deciding what is reasonable to think happened in history….”

    The resurrection of Jesus is a historical question. It cannot be answered by our caprice, but no one can weigh all the evidence and find the true Bayesian probability either. If God directly tells us that Jesus raised from the dead, that is evidence. Assuming we are not mistaken on the source (God), it’s darn good evidence!

    But let’s assume God has not directly told us. He hasn’t told me as far as I can tell, so what should I do? On this, I agree with Randal: I should look at all the evidence I can, including the trusted testimony of others as evidence.

    Here’s where I think Randal and I differ: Randal calls belief on testimony “properly basic”. Robert thinks testimony is just another kind of evidence that goes into the overall estimation. It is not “properly basic” any more than empirical evidence would be.

    Randal, do you agree on this difference between us?

    Another difference I see is that Randal appropriates the testimony of the gospels higher than I do. I think there are good reasons to doubt what they say based on what they say, but Randal would probably think these doubts are too strong.

    Matt’s Salem argument attacks this second point. He wants Joe Christian to see that the evidence we have from the gospels is not very good – not even as good as Salem. That does not bring an end to Christianity by itself, but since so many apologists wax eloquently on the “reliability of the gospels”, it is a good contribution to the book.

    Randal, rather than say “Matt did not address my properly basic testimony-train apologetic”, I think you should refute the idea that the gospels are not good primary sources for Jesus resurrection. I think that was the point of comparing them to the documents of Salem (Matt please correct me if I am wrong).

    It seems to me that testimony trains are weak evidence for the resurrection if the primary sources of the gospels are not reliable. Can you address this Randal?

  • Patrick

    Randal Rauser: “I don’t think the best explanation for the Salem trials is demon possession or magic or otherwise supernatural, not least because it is quite easy to identify natural psychological and sociological factors which were operative and can provide a satisfactory explanation.”

    One natural psychological factor that can provide such an explanation is the nocebo effect, which the reverse of the placebo effect. So, when people due to a suspected person’s behaviour felt bewitched, they showed psychogenic symptoms of disease. The following references from scholarly works point to this effect as an explanation for the efficacy of witchcraft:

    Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem, New York 1969, pp. ix-xiv;

    Edward Watts Morton Bever, Witchcraft in Early Modern Wuerttemberg, Diss. Princeton (N.J.) 1983, pp. 12-23.

  • Patrick

    In a paper entitled “A Bayesian Analysis of the Cumulative Effects of Independent Eyewitness Testimony for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” philosopher John M. DePoe argues for the reliability of the testimonial evidence for the Resurrection, based on Bayes’ theorem. The paper can be read in the following link:

    http://www.johndepoe.com/Resurrection.pdf

    • Robert

      Thanks for the link. I suspect just from the title that this application of Bayes has a serious flaw. The testimonies of early Christians we have on record are not independent. See the comments from user:bentarm in this thread.

      I’m not sure the paper makes this mistake, but I predict that it will.

      • Robert

        Confirmed. I read the paper and here is where skeptics will cry foul:

        The New Testament provides an impressive list of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus: Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18), other women (Matt. 28:9-10), Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), ten disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25), eleven disciples in the upper room (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5), seven disciples fishing (John 21:1-23), eleven disciples on a mountain (Mark 16:15-18; Matt. 28:16-20), the disciples at the ascension (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3- 8), two men on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-23), over five hundred at one time (1 Cor. 15:6), James (1 Cor. 15:7), and Paul (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:9-18; 1 Cor. 9:1). From these passages, one could count as many as five hundred twenty eyewitnesses. But for the sake of charity, I shall assume that some of these eyewitnesses’s testimony (for whatever reasons) should not count. In fact, I will designate that n=10, supposing that as many as five hundred ten of the recorded eyewitnesses are in some way disqualified.

        The author believes that out of the Christian canon we have at least 10 people with “fair and independant” testimonies. From this the author does the math and finds the probable truth of the resurrection is at least 99.99%. If 10 fair and independant people living 2,000 years ago say a man rose from the dead, we should think that 9,999 out of 10,000 times the story is true! The author calls this result “striking”. I agree.

        He goes on to say that since the “eyewitnesses for R had nothing to gain, faced intense suffering for their testimony, possessed upstanding character, and not a single recorded witness gave testimony to the contrary”, we should remember that these are not just ten random people, but 10 people with good reasons to give a true testimony. (Maybe 9,999 out of 10,000 is actually generous.)

        This argument moves me a little toward believing the resurrection. If the sky is blue, I want to believe that the sky is blue. If Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, I want to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

        However, I do have concerns. Overall, I suspect the author is misusing Bayes. (Not the math itself, but the numbers he plugs in.)

        1. How would the author apply this standard to other seemingly independant miracle stories of other religions? A great example is the contemporary Hindu Milk Miracle testified in 1996 by thousands of independant observers in different parts of the globe. Should we give this a 9,999,999,999 out of 10,000,000,000 chance of being true since “T” would be in the thousands?

        2. How does the author distinguish between stories about 500 people seeing the risen lord and 500 (or 10) real, independant and fair accounts?

        3. If there are 10 people who said the non-canoical stories of Jesus were true, (e.g. his boyhood miracle-pranks) would the author conclude that those stories are also 99.99% true? If not why, and how do those defeaters not apply to the resurrection of Christ?

        • Patrick

          In an interview atheist blogger Luke Muehlhauser had with Christian philosopher Lydia McGrew the latter answered to the objection that we have far better evidence for witchcraft being practiced in Salem and for the Hindu milk miracle than for the Resurrection as follows (source: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10555):

          “Sure. As you can probably imagine, of course, I’m not going to agree that we have far better evidence in those cases. One of the things we need to realize it’s not ever just a matter of nose-counting. You never just say, “Oh, we have ‘N’ witnesses here, and we have ‘N’ times 10 witnesses over here, so this must be better.” Instead, we have to be always, always comparing explanations, looking at those explanatory resources. How well can we explain the evidence given the supernatural explanation? And how well can we explain it given no supernatural occurrence?

          Now in the Salem case, the so-called evidence was not even publicly available in principle, and this was actually controversial even at the time. People objected on this basis; it was what was called ‘spectral evidence’. And the supposed victims said that they saw the specters of the accused people afflicting them, which could not be independently checked. There was a writer in the Deist controversy named Charles Leslie, and actually that’s right around the same time, late 17th century.

          He wrote “A short, easy method with the Deists.” And one of the things he pointed out was that the first criterion for detecting a miracle is that it has to be the sort of thing of which men’s outward senses can be the judge. So, for example, if someone is dead, and other people are out there saying that he’s alive, you can go check. You can go see if the body is there. But there was no way of checking these claims in the Salem witch trials. They could say whatever they liked. These were supposedly holy, private visions of the specter.

          And they suffered no repercussions. Nobody got in trouble. Nobody was turned around and burned or hung for having given this evidence. So the possibility of outright lying had to be extremely high because there was no particular motive not to; there was no penalty.

          And we also are sometimes dealing with children who had the suggestion of witchcraft made to them by authority figures. In one case, a child … I don’t have the name here, was sick, and a doctor came. And the doctor suggested to the family, for all we know in the hearing of the child, that this might be caused by witchcraft. So we have vast resources, it seems to me here, for a purely natural explanation, which means there’s not going to be traction for that Bayes factor.

          To put this in colloquial terms, if natural explanations can do a good job of explaining the evidence that we have, then we’re not going to be justified in reaching for a supernatural explanation. And I really believe that’s true in the Salem case. Now in the case of the Hindu ‘milk miracle’, I looked this up and did a little research on it, and I was actually able, to some extent, recreate this in my own kitchen.

          I used water because it’s not as messy as milk. I have a piece of tile with an unglazed back, and I got a little spoonful of water, which is what they were offering to the gods, the idols. They were offered with spoon. So I had a spoon, and I dipped the corners of the tile into the water. And I was actually able to soak up water from that spoon, although it took a while, because a square tile is not a very good shape. An elephant trunk would be a better shape.

          Now this ‘milk miracle’ involved a vast number of different people. One thing I want to emphasize is when you say, “Oh, there were so many people”, but they weren’t all attesting of course to the very same event. They were attesting to different tokens of what was allegedly the same type of event.

          So you could have different explanations in different cases. And some people easily could just be lying; nobody was there checking every single event. But, it does appear that, in at least in one case, an investigators used food coloring, and verified that something like what happened in my kitchen was happening, that the statue was soaking the milk up. Naturally, it was getting all over the underside of the statue.

          And, of course, another possibility, in some cases, you could just be fooling yourself. You look at, you stick something into a little spoon, and it’s easy to say, “Well, you know, maybe that went down, that level went down.” There could have been a variety of non-supernatural things going on here, but I would say that that capillary action probably is what kept off that hysteria, and probably happened in more than one case.

          So, then, we have to look at the power of different types of explanations. We have to compare that explanatory power. And many purported miracles won’t stand up to that types of investigation.”

          • http://www.provingthenegative.com Matt McCormick

            Thanks Patrick. As far as I can tell, this is the first post on this blog and comment list that presents an objection that is more or less relevant to my central argument. As I said before, I have outlined several problems with this sort of ad hoc splitting of the cases between Jerusalem and Salem in my chapter in The End of Christianity. No one has bothered to address those objections. In fact, it would appear that several of the people who are roundly dismissing my arguments haven’t bothered to read the chapter at all. Additionally, McGrew, although not as bad as many of my critics here, is engaged in this sort of skewed analysis: Ditto, Munro, Scepansky, and Apanovich, “Motivated Sensitivity to Preference-Inconsistent Information” http://faculty.kent.edu/updegraffj/gradsocial/readings/ditto.pdf

            The gist of the thoroughly documented phenomena is this. When we encounter information that does not fit well with our preferences, we analyze, critique, and object with more vigor and more critical scrutiny than information that tells us what we want to hear. “If preference-inconsistent information initiates more effortful cognitive analysis than does preference-consistent information, then people should be more sensitive processors of information they do not want to believe than of information they do want to believe.” Interestingly, the authors are saying here that it’s the additional cognitive effort that’s required to think hard about the contrary information that initiates what amounts to intellectual laziness.

            Consider the enthusiasm, skill, and energy that Rauser puts into defended Wright at great length in these blog posts while effectively ignoring the central thesis, argument, and responses to objections in my chapter. No rhetorical effort and no convoluted ad hoc rationalizing is spared, as McGrew shows, when it comes to finding a way to salvage the case for Jesus, but any misconstrual, straw man, ad hominem attack, or distraction is permissible when it comes to objecting to McCormick.
            Then notice that several people have criticized me for invoking an unfair standard of proof for the resurrection whereby only historical evidence that shows the logical necessity of the resurrection would be sufficient. McCormick is wrong to reject the resurrection because no historical argument can show that the resurrection necessarily occurred. See also: Pete: “It is a false assumption to claim that just because we can logically or arguably necessarily reject the Salem claims of witchcraft that we ought to logically and necessarily reject the claim of the resurrection.”
            I just did several word searches on my chapter and no where do the words “logical,” “necessity,” “logical necessity,” or any variants occur. At no point do I invoke any such unattainable standard of proof, and anyone who could be bothered to read the chapter closely and think about its arguments with the intent of understanding them would have seen that. But it’s far more common, and Rauser and many of those commenting here are no exception, for someone embedded deep in Christian ideology to have resolved that whatever McCormick has to say must be mistaken because it is not favorable to Jesus. It is the incompatibility of my argument with your favored conclusions that seems to driving many of these criticisms, not a thoughtful or responsible consideration of the arguments themselves.

            • Patrick

              One can certainly not complain that there haven’t been attempts to give purely natural explanations for the records concerning the Resurrection. It’s simply that such natural explanations appear to me less plausible than the traditional Christian one. Of course, for someone who rejects the supernatural any natural explanation seems more plausible than a supernatural one.

              This is not the case with respect to witchcraft. There are natural explanations for its efficacy that appear to be very plausible. This certainly applies to those who reject the supernatural, but also to those who hold the view that there are supernatural phenomena.

            • randal

              “Consider the enthusiasm, skill, and energy that Rauser puts into defended Wright at great length in these blog posts ….”

              At great length? I pointed out that Matt misrepresented Wright’s views, turning them into a strawman. If I defended Matt’s views against similar misrepresentation I’m sure he wouldn’t be complaining!

              “No rhetorical effort and no convoluted ad hoc rationalizing is spared….”

              That very statement is a “rhetorical effort”. Matt isn’t offering any argument or rebuttal here. He’s just speaking in vague generalities in a desperate attempt to draw the spotlight away from my critique.

              “But it’s far more common, and Rauser and many of those commenting here are no exception, for someone embedded deep in Christian ideology to have resolved that whatever McCormick has to say must be mistaken because it is not favorable to Jesus.”

              Okay, great, now Matt has resorted to psychologizing about my “indoctrination”. Yet another attempt to deflect from the critique I’ve offered. Disappointing.

          • Robert

            Patrick,

            Great points all around. I doubt the Milk Miracle and Salem Witchcraft for most of the same reasons. If a Bayes analysis came back saying either of these events were really supernatural, I’d doubt the numbers that were plugged in.

            Does Bayes-craft supporting the resurrection run into this same problem? I admit some uncertainty. I can think of good reasons to doubt the fairness, reliability and independence of early Christian testimony, but I can see why some people find the testimony convincing.

            The thing I like about Bayes is that it brings people to say (and think about) exactly how much a bit of evidence should count.

        • Patrick

          Looking at 1 Corinthians 9,1 and 15,5-8 one might ask if Paul had any reason not to tell the truth. Not only was his testimony the cause of much hardship (see 1 Corinthians 4,9-13, 15,30-32, 2 Corinthians 11,16-33), but in addition he had to fear that in the end he would turn out to be a false witness about God (1 Corinthians 15,15). According to Philippians 3,3-10, before his conversion Paul was a well-respected member of the Jewish community, so he didn’t have to become a Christian to win fame. From 1 Corinthians 9,3-18, 2 Corinthians 2,17 and 1 Thessalonians 2,9 one can see that Paul was not looking for financial advantage. Therefore, such a motive for his activities can also be ruled out.

          Apart from the Resurrection a Bayesian analysis as outlined in DePoe’s paper provides us with a tool to assess miracle claims. Descriptions of miraculous and paranormal events to which it can be applied can be found in the following biography of the Lutheran theologian and pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Blumhardt):

          Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

          In particular informative in this respect are the chapters “The Events Surrounding Gottliebin Dittus” (pp. 162 ff.), “The Awakening Spreads. Healings” (pp. 202 ff.) and “Healings” (pp. 326 ff.).

        • Patrick

          In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of other miracles than the Resurrection that amount to first hand testimonies of these events. They can be found in Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5. These passages wouldn’t make sense if no miracles or miracle-like events had happened. In addition they imply that the addressees of the respective letters had experienced such events. Consequently there were quite a number of witnesses.

  • The Atheist Missionary

    The only thing more enjoyable than listening to the Bible Geek while piling firewood is enjoying a Zywiec while McCormick lays the counter-apologetic boots to Rauser. Oh sweet Thor, I love it …

    • toryninja

      And just as TAM’s confirmation bias leans him towards McCormick, my confirmation bias leans me towards Rauser ;)

      • randal

        Very wise. Stick with the winning team.

      • Walter

        My waffling puts me on the agnostic’s fence and causes me to occasionally cheer and boo both sides. :-)

  • The Atheist Missionary

    BTW, Dembski is really frying my brain.

    • randal

      Ugh, that sounds like Hannibal Lecter behavior.

  • Pingback: Index to My Partial Review of The End of Christianity « Biblical Scholarship