Thursday, September 16, 2010

Three Debates: The Resurrection and Christian Miracles

Russell DiSilvestro (a colleague in my Philosophy Department) and I are going to do a series of debates about the resurrection at CSUS (California State University, Sacramento--where our dept. is) next week, Monday through Wednesday.  Here's the run down:


Debate 1:  The Resurrection:  Jesus and the Salem Witch Trials
Monday, Sept. 20, Hinde Auditorium, Student Union, 3:00-4:15:

McCormick:  The resurrection has frequently been supported by appeals to the quantity and quality of historical evidence that we have, primarily from the Bible.  But by a parallel argument, we should believe that there were really witches with magical powers at Salem, Mass. where we have  evidence of greater quantity and quality.  Therefore, by the standards we already employ, we should reject the resurrection. 

DiSilvestro: Salem and Jerusalem are disanalogous in ways that make the latter stronger than the former. But in any event, the evidential case for a real resurrection at Jerusalem is strong enough to conclude that it happened.  If this implies that the evidential case for real witches at Salem is strong enough to conclude that there were some, so be it.  The obstacles to believing in real witches are not as impregnable as they seem. 

Debate 2:  Miracles and Probability from Lourdes to Lazarus
Tuesday, Sept. 21, Hinde Auditorium, Student Union, 3:00-4:15

McCormick:  Large numbers of alleged miraces at Lourdes, France and elsewhere that have turned out to be mistaken have shown us that miracle testimony is very unreliable.  These cases and other considerations reduce our confidence in testimony about the resurrection to the point that we must reject it. 

DiSilvestro:  Some of the differences between the miracle reports from Lourdes and the resurrection reports make the latter stronger than the former.  But in any event, the resurrection reports have features that should lead us to accept them.  Even if miracle reports are in general very unreliable, this should not lead us to doubting all miracle reports, and it should not lead us to doubting the resurrection reports in particular. 

Debate 3:   Does God Want Us to Believe in Miracles? 
Wednesday, Sept. 22, Hinde Auditorium, Student Union, 3:00-4:15

 McCormick:  The evidence we have for the resurrection and other miracles is sketchy at best.  It would be well within God’s power to produce compelling miracles.  Since he has not done so, it must not be God’s intention for us to accept them. 

DiSilvestro: There are several good reasons that God might have for allowing the available evidence for the resurrection to be just about what it is already, rather than more or less.  When these reasons are carefully considered, it should lead us be very skeptical about—indeed, it should lead us to to reject--the claim that God does not intend for us to believe in the resurrection.

It should be a good set of discussions and it will be well attended judging by the early interest.

Russell and I have also been slated to be interviewed on Capitol Public Radio with Jeffrey Callison on Monday morning at 10:00.  Tune in if you're interested.   http://www.capradio.org/

There will be videos of the debates and we'll get them posted soon.

15 comments:

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It amazes me that you can find someone who is a professor at a public university who will insist with a straight face that "the evidential case for a real resurrection at Jerusalem is strong enough to conclude that it happened".

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for reading Jeffrey. Interesting comment. DiSilvestro is a sharp guy. The inverse comment I usually get is: "It amazes me that we have openly atheistic professors with such poor reasoning abilities at a public university." MM

Explicit Atheist said...

I'll side with reasoning ability of atheists such as Matt McCormick over the lack of commitment to disinterested, impartial, single-standard evaluation of evidence of sharp guys like DiSilvestro every time, and furthermore, so should everyone else. On the merits, its no real contest.

pensiveblake said...

Simply showing us that most, if not all, miracle reports (e.g. those at Lourdes) so far are false won't have "shown us that miracle testimony is very unreliable". Suppose that several governments across the world announced tomorrow that alien contact has been made, and that many select members of humanity had been in the presence of and dialoguing with the aliens for the past three weeks. For example, the U.S. president, along with 50 members of the NAS, claim to have participated in the dialogues and have shared their experience at length on news interviews for all to hear. According to Matt, it seems their "alien testimony" here is "very unreliable", regardless of the evidence, simply because most, if not all, previous alien contact reports were false.

I think there's a lot more to criticize, but one point at a time.

Matt McCormick said...

It's nice to know, Pensiveblake, that you're considering the full argument and all of the reasoning before drawing a conclusion about how sound the argument is.

pensiveblake said...

No need for sarcasm. I didn't conclude the argument was unsound, I just gave an objection. Did I interpret what you said uncharitably? Did I get it wrong? If not, what's the problem?

Matt McCormick said...

It's disingenuous to play innocent now, Pensive. You read a one line synopsis of an argument that's part of a 40 page chapter in my book and you dismissed it with a sweeping, uncharitable, and unfounded objection. Are you here to actually think about the issues or just vent your hostility on people who don't share your views?

MM

pensiveblake said...

Sorry Matt, I think there's been a misunderstanding. I've voiced what I perceived to be an emotionless objection to the following claim: "Large numbers of alleged miracles at Lourdes, France and elsewhere that have turned out to be mistaken have shown us that miracle testimony is very unreliable."

I think my objection to that claim was reasoned and apt. It shouldn't have came off as combative nor uncharitable, but somehow you got that impression so I apologize. I'm *genuinely* expecting an emotionless rebuttal.

~Blake

P.S. I'm one of the guys whose looking forward to *reading* your book.

Matt McCormick said...

I've addressed this at length in earlier posts, but here's the short version: what Lourdes and millions of other false supernatural claims show us is that in general, human miracle testimony is highly suspect. They get it wrong millions of times for every case they get it right, if they've ever gotten it right. So when someone makes a new miracle claim, we're justifiably skeptical. And your example, Pensive, makes the point. If someone makes a alien contact claim, you'd be highly skeptical, as you should be. That doesn't mean, nor did I argue that, we shouldn't believe it no matter what the evidence. But we'd be foolish to just take such claims at face value.

pensiveblake said...

This seems to be the basic argument: "Given that very few, if any, miracle claims at Lourdes etc. are true, for any given miracle claim, the miracle's actually having occurred is, very unlikely". Are you saying its "prima facie" unlikely (option #1), or "all things considered" unlikely (option #2).

When you conclude in your response that "we'd be foolish to just take such claims at face value", it seems to me that you're going with option #1. Is that right? If so, I think I'd agree. Why? Because, for any given miracle report, that report is prima facie much more likely to be a lie or misunderstanding than it is to be an accurate miracle report (and the "Lourdes problem" could help justify that claim).
But then I'm confused--does DiSilvestro disagree? Would he debate that? I was under the impression that Christian theists in general had no quarrel with saying miracle reports are *prima facie* unlikely. Perhaps you're arguing that they should consider it even more prima facie unlikely than they already do?

Matt McCormick said...

Not exactly, Pensive. I'm not making Hume's argument here. The point is about the sources, not about the miracles. Humans are really unreliable sources of info about miracles. Period. And illiterate Iron Age peasants who are dedicated religious zealots for Jesus are even less reliable for a number of reasons. I'm not claiming that the miracle didn't happen. Even if it did, God's performing it as he did within the Christian history insured that it would be hopelessly obscured and sketchy. That's the irony here: even if the resurrection did actually happen, you shouldn't believe it because of who is reporting it and how they are reporting it.

MM

Jake said...

I love it. A public university professor confesses, at the outset of a debate that if need be, he's willing to assent to the existence of witches, which, after all, aren't that unlikely apparently. Fucking love it.

M. Tully said...

"But in any event, the resurrection reports have features that should lead us to accept them. Even if miracle reports are in general very unreliable, this should not lead us to doubting all miracle reports, and it should not lead us to doubting the resurrection reports in particular."

This is an historical claim. I would expect reputable historians, writing in reputable journals to treat it as an accepted fact using the widely agreed upon rules of evidence that reputable historians use.

They don't accept the resurrection as an accepted historical event. Why should I accept DiSilvestro's argument? Does he have some new ground breaking evidence?

Just saying your argument is true because it could be true, doesn't make it true. Or even worth considering.

M. Tully said...

"There are several good reasons that God might have for allowing the available evidence for the resurrection to be just about what it is already, rather than more or less. "

Well, there may be. But unfortunately, I can only judge the evidence for what it is. If there is an all powerful creator out there that would want to create a universe where sentient persons such as myself would evolve and come to understand that if you want to understand the universe that was created required arguments from evidence, and then require that the creator's existence must be accepted without evidence, then he/she must have known that a good number of people would be damned to hell for trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. I certainly wouldn't argue that that deity couldn't exist.

I would however ask, why should I care if it did? Whatever hell may be, it couldn't be worse than hanging out with a self aggrandizing deity as that one. At least with naturalism, unfortunate events are "nothing personal."

M. Tully said...

"Salem and Jerusalem are disanalogous"

I have to agree with DiSilvestro here. We have sufficient evidence to conclude that the atrocities of Salem did occur (you can read Mather's denial that he took part in them as evidence).

Real time confirmation of the resurrection in Jerusalem?

Oh, come on! The dead coming out of the grave? Astronomical events happening that are recorded nowhere in civilizations that we have a great deal of evidence would have been looking?

If I accept the resurrection, and I want to be intellectually honest, I also must accept the Loch Ness Monster, Big foot, and anal probing alien abductors.

If someone is good with accepting all of those, I can't call them inconsistent. I just want them to say it.