Sunday, August 1, 2010

Faith vs. Evidence: Which Wins Out?

Although I, myself, have been accused of trafficking in faith, inasmuch as I have a First Principle—that being, evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience—on which all my reasoning is grounded, I remain somewhat in awe of the faith possessed by Christian theists: a faith that seems impervious to evidence-based attack. And make no mistake, the Christian faithful make no apologies for the secondary or tertiary (if not quaternary or quinary) importance they assign to evidence.

Consider this, from William Lane Craig, in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics:

“Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.”

Additionally, consider this, from Answers in Genesis, the pseudoscientific creationist website:

“By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
(Taken from The AiG Statement of Faith, accessible here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith)

In light of the overwhelming importance of “the witness of the holy spirit” and “the scriptural record” to Christians of a particularly devout nature, I cannot help but wonder what, exactly, could conceivably convince them that their beliefs are erroneous and that the bible, for all its poetry and rhetorical beauty, is a dusty collection of ancient mythology written by ignorant individuals for whom a wheelbarrow would be an exciting new technological development. In the spirit of probing this question more deeply, I present a brief thought experiment below.
Anybody who reads the bible objectively—without an agenda or an apologetics-related motivation—will admit that its authors believed the Earth was flat and still, with the heavens positioned above it, and with the Sun, moon and stars subservient to, and moving with respect to, it. Although I do not think anybody of intellectual goodwill could plausibly deny this, I nevertheless will provide a couple of passages to underscore the point.

He commands the sun, and it does not rise;
He seals off the stars;”

For the passage above, look at the celestial body to which the command is directed. The rising and setting of the Sun each day is based upon our movement with respect to it, and yet, in the bible, god commands not the Earth to stop spinning on its axis but, instead, the Sun not to rise.

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?”

For the passage above, it is rather difficult to imagine taking hold of an oblate spheroid from its “ends” to remove, via shaking, the wicked therefrom.
Do not focus too much attention on the quoted passages above, though, because I have no doubt whatsoever that committed Christians have already discovered “fixes” to such problematic passages (of which there were nearly innumerably many I could have chosen). The thought experiment is hypothetical in nature.
Suppose that, instead of its actual wording, Job 38:12-13 were phrased differently:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of this flat earth,
And the wicked be shaken off of its plane?”

For purposes of this experiment, presume that the rest of the bible is precisely as it actually is and, additionally, grant that the scientific evidence relating to astronomy, cosmology, geology, etc. is exactly as it actually is. When confronted with my revised version of Job 38:12-13, what would you conclude?

(a) That the passage, sometime over the years, became corrupted and, thus, lost its intended meaning? (For this experiment, presume that all extant witnesses have my revised wording, and none has the wording as it exists in the real world.)
(b) That the author of The Book of Job made a mistake, but that the author's mistake does not undercut the credibility of the rest of the bible?
(c) That the author of The Book of Job made a mistake, and that the author's mistake does undercut the credibility of the rest of the bible? (Please specify the extent to which the bible's credibility and, thus, your faith beliefs would be injured.)
(d) That the passage did not become corrupted and that the author of The Book of Job did not make a mistake because, in fact, astronomic, cosmological and geologic evidence notwithstanding, the Earth is indeed flat and similar to a plane?

I seek to get to the root of how deep—and, indeed, how unshakable—this abiding faith in “the witness of the holy spirit” and “the scriptural record” truly is.
And, as a quick add on, here is another thought experiment to which I would greatly appreciate an answer. Suppose that a foolproof time machine were invented, to which you and I gained access. Further, suppose that we took the time machine to 30 CE (replace the year if you disagree with the approximation) and set the location to be Jesus' tomb. Now, suppose that we bore witness to the crucifixion and subsequent entombment in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. Finally, suppose we watched for hours, stretching into days, and there was no resurrection. What would you conclude?

(a) That our presence affected the outcome and, thus, we prevented the resurrection?
(b) That, despite our 24/7 monitoring, which, for the thought experiment, we can presume was flawless, Jesus in fact was resurrected but we missed it?
(c) That, just maybe, Jesus was not resurrected after all, making Christianity false?

20 Comments:

Blogger Rhology said...

Suppose that a foolproof time machine were invented... What would you conclude?

It would go a long way toward casting doubt.
What about you? Since we're dealing in empty hypotheticals, what if you witnessed the resurrection?

9:53 AM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

If I witnessed the resurrection, it would certainly go a long way toward causing me to give some credence to "miracle" claims. At the same time, though, I would not exclaim, "Lo! A miracle!"

I like to think I would say, "An observation, so far unique, points us to a presumption that, under conditions still undetermined, a deceased human being can come back to life. Here we have a fact of nature in apparent contradiction with several other facts of the like sort. The contradiction arises from our ignorance, and clearly shows that the science of human physiology must be reconstituted or, to speak more accurately, that it has never yet been properly constituted."
(Hat tip, Anatole France)

But, yeah, it would certainly shake me up.

1:51 PM EST  
Blogger Rhology said...

Here we have a fact of nature in apparent contradiction with several other facts of the like sort.

?? What other facts are you referring to? The fact that most all other people don't come back to life after they die? How does that provide an apparent contradiction? What about "most other all people don't come back to life" says "it is impossible for ppl to come back to life"?


that it has never yet been properly constituted."

It is the paucity and weakness of the counterarguments against the resurrection that make me think that you would not in fact be much shaken up by direct observation of the resurrection. You'd figure out some way to explain it away b/c you don't want to believe it.
Another route to that destination - I've asked you to provide evidence that evolution occurred. You've never provided any that was any good, but you go on believing it.

2:55 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

Jolly,
You are absolutely right! I no longer believe the bible!! Furthermore, I am going to write a strongly worded letter to the television station managers in my local area asking why I should believe anything their meteorologists say!!! I have, in various instances, heard ALL of them refer to the time of tomorrow's "sunrise" and "sunset". How preposterous!!!! Don't these people know that the earth revolves around the sun and the sun doesn't actually rise?!!!!! You have opened my eyes, Jolly. I never realized just how easy it was to take somebody's words in as woodenly literalistic a way as possible in order to avoid believing what they tell me. I am now free to be a meteorological nihilist.

7:57 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Andrew,

Would you argue that the individuals who cobbled together the bible subscribed to a heliocentric theory of the solar system?

10:42 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

"Would you argue that the individuals who cobbled together the bible subscribed to a heliocentric theory of the solar system?"

What difference does it make? Your purposeful refusal to let a figure of speech be a figure of speech proves absolutely nothing other than that you are too biased to read the bible fairly, and on it's own terms.

6:43 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

I should clarify by saying that I don't think the bible addresses heliocentrism vs. geocentrism directly or indirectly. That is why it doesn't matter what the biblical writers thought.

10:36 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

It certainly matters for the purposes of your analogy.

For the meteorologist analogy to be relevant, the underlying suppositions would have to be the same. All modern meteorologists, including those who talk of the Sun "rising" and "setting," subscribe to a heliocentric theory of the solar system. They are deliberately and knowingly speaking in a colloquial and shorthand kind of way.

If the bible's cobblers did not have the same underlying assumptions, the analogy fails.

1:31 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

No, it really doesn't. The problem here lies in your faulty presuppositions. God is the primary author of the bible and he knows that the earth orbits the sun. It is certainly possible that the human author of Job did not know that. Then again, maybe he did. It is fallacious to make the assumption that ancient=ignorant. Anyway, you were saying in your article that the bible says earth is flat and the sun orbits the earth. It doesn't say that. It can be made to imply that if you come to it with the right(wrong) set of presuppositions. However in perusing your blog and reading some of your interactions with people such as Rhology(and others), it has become clear to me that your world-view is a tangled mess of contradictory presuppositions and beliefs; and given the fact that you cannot even intellectually justify your own beliefs, I have no real reason to trust your assessment of the bible.

4:53 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

No, it really doesn't. The problem here lies in your faulty presuppositions. God is the primary author of the bible and he knows that the earth orbits the sun. It is certainly possible that the human author of Job did not know that. Then again, maybe he did. It is fallacious to make the assumption that ancient=ignorant.

Herein lies the power of The Argument from Mundanity. As you so eloquently wrote, "God is the primary author of the bible and he knows that the earth orbits the sun." This is what gives The Argument from Mundanity its force. The bible does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. Nothing about the universe's enormity. Nothing about the universe's actual age. Nothing about the germ theory of disease. Nothing about the atomic theory of matter. Nothing about common descent. The bible is simply too mundane to be the product of omniscient inspiration.


However in perusing your blog and reading some of your interactions with people such as Rhology(and others), it has become clear to me that your world-view is a tangled mess of contradictory presuppositions and beliefs; and given the fact that you cannot even intellectually justify your own beliefs, I have no real reason to trust your assessment of the bible.

Insofar as you are a believing Christian theist, which is to say an individual whose brain is addled by nonsense due to inculcation, indoctrination or what have you, your critique of my worldview and intellectual coherency can be safely discarded.

My First Principle has been repeated ad nauseam and has not changed: "Evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience." Inasmuch as the evidence for supernaturalism--including gods and inspired texts--is profoundly weak, I reject supernaturalism, while remaining open to convincing, compelling evidence.

5:44 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

"The bible does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century."

Could a Phd in astrophysics write children's book?

"Nothing about the universe's enormity. Nothing about the universe's actual age. Nothing about the germ theory of disease. Nothing about the atomic theory of matter. Nothing about common descent. The bible is simply too mundane to be the product of omniscient inspiration."

Ah. The book doesn't meet Jolly's standard of what God should be revealing in a book. What was that you said about self-importance a few posts ago?

"My First Principle has been repeated ad nauseam and has not changed: "Evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience."

Can you demonstrate the soundness of that first principle using evidence?

"Inasmuch as the evidence for supernaturalism--including gods and inspired texts--is profoundly weak, I reject supernaturalism, while remaining open to convincing, compelling evidence."

Your going to have to prove that the evidence for Christianity is "profoundly weak" before I can take you seriously. First, since you have asserted "ad nauseam" that "Evidence is the best, most reliable way..." you'll have to stay consistent and prove using evidence that this evidentialist position is true. In other words you will have to assume what you have argued for in order to go about demonstrating the validity of your epistemological starting point. Or, maybe evidence isn't your first principle after all. Jolly, you may have to admit to assigning a secondary, or tertiary importance to evidence. Tsk, tsk.
Of course I could be wrong. Maybe you can somehow prove that your first principle is valid without the use of evidence, or with the use of evidence without having to first assume the validity of your first principle.

6:55 PM EST  
Blogger Rhology said...

Inasmuch as the evidence for evidentialism--including minds to understand evidence and immaterial laws by which to judge it--is profoundly weak, I reject evidentialism.

IOW, when it comes to your titular question: Faith vs evidence - which wins out?
The answer you've just given for your own position is that faith wins out - faith in your own First Principle, for which you can adduce no evidence.

8:11 AM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Could a Phd in astrophysics write children's book?

Probably not. Bronze Age desert tribesmen are more adept at writing them.


Ah. The book doesn't meet Jolly's standard of what God should be revealing in a book. What was that you said about self-importance a few posts ago?

You, and other Christians, contend that the bible is the product of an omniscient deity’s verbal, plenary inspiration. When the bible contains no new information about the natural order, this seems, nay, is woefully unsupported.


Can you demonstrate the soundness of that first principle using evidence?

I can to some extent, although it is, in a sense, beside the point because First Principles are not proved but, rather, taken as an interrogatory starting point. The best I can do--and all I have to do--is show that my First Principle is self-subsisting as opposed to self-annihilating.

Firstly, law-enforcement officials, detectives and investigators depend enormously on evidence to solve crimes, which are shrouded in doubt and uncertainty. Without reliance upon evidence, investigators would be impotent to solve puzzling crimes.

Secondly, the most effective and respected judicial systems in the world are predicated on the weight of the evidence. Evidence is used to determine guilt or innocence and, even though the system is imperfect, it is the best yet known in contemporary society. Indeed, upon having been convicted on the strength of the evidence, many guilty parties eventually admit their guilt.

Thirdly, the entire scientific enterprise is centered firmly on evidence, and science has been instrumental in innumerable advancements in the past several centuries. Marshaling evidence has granted us knowledge about the natural order--knowledge that has led to predictions that have been subsequently vindicated--and given us the ability to innovate products and technologies successfully.


First, since you have asserted "ad nauseam" that "Evidence is the best, most reliable way..." you'll have to stay consistent and prove using evidence that this evidentialist position is true.

Again, a First Principle is an interrogatory starting point. It's an axiom...a postulate...a basic, foundational proposition or assumption. You can no more split a First Principle in an attempt to "prove" it than you can split a gold atom to get a smaller smidgen of gold. In other words, the First Principle represents the decisive terminator of the explanatory regress. As I stated earlier, all that must be done is to demonstrate that a First Principle is self-subsisting, as opposed to self-annihilating; this test has been passed.


Rhology,

IOW, when it comes to your titular question: Faith vs evidence - which wins out?
The answer you've just given for your own position is that faith wins out - faith in your own First Principle, for which you can adduce no evidence.


We have already treaded this exact terrain. You are using deliberately loaded language not because said language is called for or necessitated by the context but, rather, because you are trying to score a point. This is no different from somebody who might say, “American soldiers in Afghanistan have slaughtered thousands of Muslims since the conflict began.” Might this description be technically factual? Yes. However, the language is loaded to the point of gross distortion.

To have a postulate (noun form), one must postulate (verb form). To have an assumption, one must assume. If you wish to declare postulating an act of “faith,” then be my guest, but there is nothing organic to the situation to warrant such loaded language and the connotations of the word “faith” are gratuitous in this context.

2:12 PM EST  
Blogger Rhology said...

Interesting.
A concept you assume. Without evidence.
Does not equal "faith". OK, thanks! I think.

2:17 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew said...

"Probably not. Bronze Age desert tribesmen are more adept at writing them."

Couldn't handle the implications of the question. Resorted to childish ridicule. C'mon, Jolly. you're smarter than that.

"You, and other Christians, contend that the bible is the product of an omniscient deity’s verbal, plenary inspiration. When the bible contains no new information about the natural order, this seems, nay, is woefully unsupported."

Like I said: Ah. The book doesn't meet Jolly's standard of what God should be revealing in a book. What was that you said about self-importance a few posts ago?

In response to your response on your first principle, all I can say is that you should now stop demanding anybody prove to you the existence of God. That is, if God's existence is their epistemological starting point. After all "Again, a First Principle is an interrogatory starting point. It's an axiom...a postulate...a basic, foundational proposition or assumption. You can no more split a First Principle in an attempt to "prove" it than you can split a gold atom to get a smaller smidgen of gold."

Anyway, I think you have effectively ended the debate which centers on your original question. I know you will never admit it, but Rhology is right. You have admitted that you cannot prove your first principle. That is faith, sir. Faith wins out. Every time. Even for you.

3:57 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Couldn't handle the implications of the question. Resorted to childish ridicule. C'mon, Jolly. you're smarter than that.

Sometimes, I think ridicule of flagrant silliness is entirely appropriate. Matthew's attestation to a horde of zombies roaming about Jerusalem is possessed of the same veridical persuasiveness as Jack and the Beanstalk is, the latter of which could have easily swapped places with the bible's Jonah and the whale yarn.


Like I said: Ah. The book doesn't meet Jolly's standard of what God should be revealing in a book. What was that you said about self-importance a few posts ago?

The world, history will show, is littered with allegedly magic books. I merely ask that your magic book, whose text is supposedly subject of an omniscient deity’s verbal, plenary inspiration, present some persuasive internal evidence to substantiate so extraordinary an assertion.


In response to your response on your first principle, all I can say is that you should now stop demanding anybody prove to you the existence of God. That is, if God's existence is their epistemological starting point.

If somebody says, “I believe in the god of the bible and that deity is my epistemological starting point,” I can live with that. It strikes me as ludicrous, as well as an extremely poor interrogatory foundation, particularly insofar as its applicability, it would seem, is extraordinarily limited, but it is akin to those Christians who say, “I know god exists and that's that.” Well, OK.


Anyway, I think you have effectively ended the debate which centers on your original question. I know you will never admit it, but Rhology is right. You have admitted that you cannot prove your first principle. That is faith, sir. Faith wins out. Every time. Even for you.

The boldfaced portion contains the strawman challenge you have posed, either disingenuously or unknowingly. First Principles are not proved. If you “split” a First Principle and proved it to be correct, it would cease to be “first,” would it not? If you pressed farther back from your starting point, then you would have a new starting point, would you not? In order to have a postulate (noun form), one must postulate (verb form). You can use all the loaded language you want, but to call postulating “an act of faith” is a gross distortion meant only to score points rather than to zero in on actual apprehension of the concepts.

11:45 PM EST  
Blogger Rhology said...

Faith is not proved. First Principles aren't either. You might be all alone in your objection. And except for "I don't like that comparison", you're not giving many good reasons to think it doesn't stick.

8:03 AM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Rhology,

I do not see this discussion as being materially different from the one we had more than two years ago, and I do not have anything different to say now than I said then here and here.

5:41 PM EST  
Blogger Rhology said...

Yes, you are right. Thanks for linking to it - commenters come and go.

From icy Oklahoma, peace,
Rhology

8:26 AM EST  
Blogger Lvka said...

Faith vs. Evidence: Which Wins Out?


The person's true self or character.

6:21 PM EDT  

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