December 20, 2007

Sifting Worldviews

I was once engaged in dialog with a thoroughly postmodern fellow who was insistent on the idea that we could not know objective truth, even if it existed. After arguing the case that it was not a hopeless cause, and that, in reality, his entire life depended upon the assumption of its existence, he finally asked me how one could achieve any sort of confidence regarding worldviews and religious truth claims. Here are 7 basic points that I offered for his consideration.

1) Truth sides with the preponderance of facts. The more clear and indisputable the fact the more heavily it may weigh in our consideration. For example, if all discovered ancient manuscripts fundamentally agree with the Bible we have today, then it is more reasonable to believe that Scripture has been faithfully preserved than that (as some skeptics claim) it has been corrupted by countless copies, translations, and tamperings of the church.

2) Truth must be rational. Truth claims must be internally consistent and non-contradictory. Consistency does not establish truth, but its deficiency surely negates it. It may be fashionable to question the law of non-contradiction these days, but even the most anti-rational eastern mystic looks both ways before he crosses the street; for he knows that it is either him or the bus, but not both.

3) At least some aspect of the truth claim must be verifiable. It may not spring forth ex nihilo from the mind of man with no association to concrete reality. Since many claims of truth are falsifiable we may use negation as a tool to lead us to truth via a back door process of elimination. For example, the book of Mormon claims that the American Indians are the descendants of Israel, and if it can be demonstrated that they are actually of northeastern Asian descent, then the credibility of this book is impugned. (Note: this seems to have been done via DNA analysis.)

4) We may derive truth or truth indicators via credible authority. Credibility manifests itself through subject matter expertise, record of accomplishment, and character. For example, if a religion's founder were found to indulge in immoral1 pursuits or made counter-factual claims, then it would be reasonable to suspect the religion itself.

5) Truth works. We must be able to use it effectively, build upon it, or live it out. If we must reach outside of a truth system for practical reasons, then it must be considered false or inadequate. For example, if the moral relativist is compelled to moralize then he has surrendered his position.

6) Truth is justified by its explanatory scope. The explanation that accounts for the greatest number of facts and observations is the most likely to be true. For example, with each new epicycle added, the Ptolemaic model of the universe decreased in credibility.

7) Truth has predictive power. A true proposition will not only have present corroborative evidences, but will successfully identify what may be found in its support in the future. For example, the Big Bang theory of cosmology is so compelling exactly because its many predictions have been proved out one by one, while the theory of evolution should be held in suspicion for quite opposite reasons.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

End notes:

1. I know it may be begging the question to call the founder immoral unless we take into account the standard by which he presumes us to judge morality.

Labels:

13 Comments:

At 12/20/2007 2:13 PM, Blogger SLW said...

A very nice gradient, indeed. I particularly like point #5, despite the fact that believers are often assailed as not adhering to it. Although I hesitate to make pragmatism the acid test of all truth, anything purporting to be truth must function within context it addresses.

 
At 12/20/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Regarding point 5, sometimes people use this as a subjective brush off: "I'm glad you found something that works for you." And your point is accurate that others complain about Christian behavior, as though the religion breeds hatred and violence by its very nature. However, I think it is slightly more accurate to charge us with hypocrisy, since the teachings of Christianity declare that we should NOT be hateful and violent; good and consistently lived Christianity is what "works." I say "slightly more accurate" because Christianity also insists that we are imperfect and that we cannot consistently live victorious over sin. So, we could only be rightly charged with hypocrisy if we taught that Christians were perfect, or that in order to be a true Christian one must live perfectly in obedience to its moral teachings. We are claiming neither. In fact, in order to join our "club" you must first admit that you are hopelessly imperfect (a sinner).

Regarding your pragmatism observation, it is very true that in most cases people do not come to faith by years of deliberating over the evidences (though I have heard interesting claims to that effect, and in my own case faith came simultaneously with the dawning realization that Christianity was all philosophically coherent and profound). The role of the Holy Spirit in salvation implies that something beyond merely sifting evidences is occurring here. But I would argue that Christianity is not contrary to reason. If it is indeed true, then this must be the case.

BTW, as I've said down another thread, I'll be away for several days. Merry Christmas to you Stephen, and all my other visitors.

 
At 12/23/2007 2:19 PM, Blogger Jim Jordan said...

Excellent reference guide to determining truth. Have a great Christmas!

 
At 12/26/2007 10:23 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

I always hesitate to respond. It has taken me six days of pondering to realize I am curious enough to post.

In dealing with your first point, “preponderance of the facts,” I would unflinchingly agree this is an outstanding way to determine what is most likely true, given the knowledge we currently have. But “preponderance” is a weighing of evidence. It is giving one side more “weight” than the other.

My question is this—who is doing the “weighing”? Due to our individual predispositions and make-up, we (even unknowingly) give a bit more benefit of the doubt to facts which bolster our position, and more closely scrutinize those which do not support it. I generally favor using a neutral to weight the facts, to see which preponderate. By “neutral” I mean a person who has no stake in the outcome. Using your example of textual criticism; someone who doesn’t care whether the Bible has been preserved or not.

To explain, I notice in your statement you qualify the “agreement” of ancient manuscripts as “fundamentally agree.” What is “fundamental”? Letter for letter? Word for Word? Paragraph? Concept? Doctrine? Clearly they do not agree word for word (otherwise we wouldn’t even have textual criticism, of course.) So what a person who holds the Bible was preserved is “fundamental agreement” a skeptic may not, and a neutral may not as well.

Who is weighing the facts to make the determination the manuscripts “fundamentally agree”?

 
At 12/30/2007 1:02 PM, Blogger larryniven said...

Amazingly, you've managed to reach a true conclusion (that truth can be known) from some practically worthless argumentation. I personally am amused by your numbers 3 and 5. That almost all of Christianity's actual predictions have failed to come true, and that its most stringent apologetics have been ad hoc (i.e., ex nihilo) explanations, points very strongly to the conclusion that we must reject it. Even if you don't recognize those points for the obvious truths they are, you must understand that Christianity has practically 0 verifiable content. At best, by your own criteria, this should leave you as an agnostic with respect to it.

Your point number five, insofar as it applies to anybody without resorting to fallacy, applies much more to the Christian than the moral relativist. Your own defense, that Christians merely need to lead "good and consistently lived" Christian lives, could be said of any religion - or no religion. Leading a good and consistently lived life, regardless of religious affiliation, would be enough to satisfy your #5. Moreover, even though you say Christians needn't "reach outside" Christianity "for practical reasons," Christians have, in fact, had to alter their ethical codes numerous times in the past - a process that, at this moment, is still ongoing. That you blatantly ignore these major policy shifts speaks to the bias you're working with.

That, though, doesn't seem to suffice - you must also misrepresent the relativist stance. Just as Christians can beg that they're "hopelessly imperfect" and therefore not hypocrites (which, in and of itself, strains the meaning of "hypocrites"), relativists can (and do) beg that they cannot help but moralize. Further, they can make this claim without appeal to the soul - a sufficient body of research now exists to place this instinct in the brain. The underlying fault in your number 5, of course, is the equivocation between truth, belief, and action. Metaphysical truth need not be supported by belief, nor does belief, no matter how widespread, need to correlate with truth; a person's explicitly held beliefs needn't dictate all of that person's behavior (ever jumped in your seat at a horror flick?), nor does an action, no matter how widespread, need to correlate with a common belief; finally, truth needn't dictate behavior, or else these questions would be moot, nor need action, no matter how widespread, point to a metaphysical truth. That is to say, not only is your point #5 equally harmful to almost every worldview, it doesn't even make any kind of philosophical sense.

So you can see why I find this post of yours hard to take seriously.

 
At 1/02/2008 4:04 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sorry gang. I'm just now reviewing my comments. Been playing with family and new toys, trying to catch up at work, and I'm sporting a bad case of apathy toward blogging right now (I seem to get that from Thanksgiving to New Years). I'll get back at you pretty soon, though. Good thing I don't get paid for this ;)

BTW, this isn't THE Larry Niven of Sci Fi fame is it? I used to love his books! That was a long time ago, though -- back in the Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark days.

 
At 1/08/2008 12:29 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,

Fair thoughts, as usual. You are correct that all facts are ultimately weighed through subjects. And subjects are, by definition, subjective.

I speak here in general terms. I think we can both agree that evidence somehow plays in to truth assessments. Well, at least assuming that our reasoning equipment is trustworthy and our rational intuitions reflect something about the "real" world. However, those are very deep presuppositions that I will set aside for now.

And I certainly agree that bias acts as a sieve to control what evidence gets in and is applied in our fact finding adventures. I have seen this in myself, and I see it regularly in others. For example, before I was a Christian I was willing to read almost anything related to metaphysics, spirituality, history, and science, no matter how left-field and speculative; but I was curiously unwilling to crack a Bible and see for myself what it had to say, or to seek out Christian responses to any issues I had with it. We must be aware of biases, but a bias toward an idea does not mean that the idea is false or that the bias itself is inappropriate. I am rather biased toward the veracity of mathematical and logical principles, but I doubt that you would hold this against me.

Some facts are more value-neutral than others, and so they can be assessed more objectively and assimilated more readily. For example, if I said that the nearest star was actually part of a trinary star system, you would probably shrug and file that away without much resistance as a tentative truth. But I could be just as wrong about that as the claim that Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Why the difference in criteria of acceptance? Well, one imposes no moral and intellectual baggage upon you and fits your current worldview; the other would require you to adjust your model of reality and possibly your lifestyle. For that reason some alleged facts require a great deal of presuppositional groundwork to first be laid and may be highly resisted for purely volitional reasons. And, conversely, some ideas (even incredulous ones) will be uncritically slurped up because they are supportive of cherished beliefs, or provide refutation for competing beliefs.

The best palliatives for bias are the recognition of its inevitable existence, the genuine desire for truth over preference, and the acquired ability to flush out and justify the presuppositions upon which any idea is made reasonable or implausible.

I appreciate your methodology of depending upon "neutral" parties in fact assessments. I would go further and say that we might strongly depend upon something affirmed by an "expert" whose own beliefs would have predicted otherwise. As far as trying to find a neutral party regarding "whether the Bible has been preserved or not," I tend to think that most everyone disinclined toward Christianity would like to think (and probably assumes) that the Bible has indeed been intentionally altered. It was my default assumption as a non-Christian, and the only opinion I ever heard voiced. However, the hype of the street critic is not always reflective of critical scholarship.

Since neutrality is a slippery thing, the only way to effectively make my case to a skeptic is to use statements of those who are not Christians and often argue against orthodoxy. So, I might point out Elaine Pagels, who admits that the early and apostolic Christians held to a bodily resurrection (but simply makes the case that it was advanced for political/power reasons), or John Dominic Crossan, who admits that most of Scripture was written within a few decades of Jesus' death, and Bart Ehrman, who says "we know pretty much exactly what the [original] text said" (but they both simply argue that the mythological overhaul had been squeezed in prior to putting pen to paper).

As I've said before, guys like Ehrman are mincing words and syntax, and I'm glad to have them do that, since that makes for a more accurate end product; but even the most divergent ancient manuscripts are still describing the same events, which include troubling things like miracles and astonishing things from the mouth of a supposed mere mortal. Perhaps I would be more troubled if the textual critics were looking at variants like, "Jesus walked on water" vs. "Jesus washed in water."

 
At 1/09/2008 12:14 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Paul,

Thank you for the response. I agree some claims have a greater impact upon us, requiring us to give them greater “value.” I would also agree that generally our predispositions will have greater play upon claims with greater “value” when defining “value” this way. To some extent. Being humans, more than one aspect can be utilized when assigning value to claims—not just predispositions.

I am less impressed with experts than you are, perhaps. There are two reasons for this:

1) We can find an expert for any proposition. In the legal field, we are often required to have experts. Medical experts on a person’s injury. Engineers on product liabilities. Accident reconstructionists, Body mechanic experts, real estate experts, etc. And for every expert I find who supports my position, you can find two (2) who completely disagree.

Have you studied global warming at all? I can find experts with more letters after their name than most alphabets who will claim the earth is doomed, or that we are just fine, or anywhere in between. If one is inclined to read an expert, there is bound to be another who is as qualified who completely disagrees.

2) Even with experts, we still utilize our own biases in evaluating their statements. We tend to give those experts who support our position the benefit of the doubt, while scrutinizing the experts who counter our position.

paul: I would go further and say that we might strongly depend upon something affirmed by an "expert" whose own beliefs would have predicted otherwise.

I agree. But how do you resolve this in light of your position on Ehrman? Here was a fellow who was a conservative Christian, is an acknowledged expert in the field of text criticism (even Dr. Wallace confirms this) and became a non-believer because of his own study. Should that grant weight to his affirmations in the field?

Or even more problematic for you (I would think) would be Dr. Collins. Another conservative Christian who is an acknowledged expert in genomes, affirming evolution. Do you strongly depend upon his affirmations?

An example of how biases can effect our evaluation of what experts say: I have to question how you pick and choose your experts and what they say. You agree with Pagels as to claims about a bodily resurrection, but do not agree with her dating of the Gnostic Gospels (if I recall correctly.) You agree with Crossan as to “dating” (sorta) but not to his position on a historical Jesus (I suspect.)

Would you find it persuasive if I pointed out an Old-Earth Creationist is correct about the age of the Earth, and therefore supports my claim of evolution? Of course not. My picking and choosing certain claims of certain Christian experts would have little impact upon your giving other claims I make greater weight. In the same way, you picking a small part of Pagels or Crossan, but ignoring the rest demonstrates a bias in the very nature of picking.

Which is OK—we all do it. I just wanted to point it out as an example of why expertise does not move us much off the same perpetual problem of prejudice.

I agree all textual criticism does is search for the earliest writing; to attempt to see where changes crept in. Textual criticism has little care or concern about the actual content; for example, we use textual criticism to determine the original (as best we can) of Euclid’s Elements as well as New Testament writing.

You originally wrote: For example, if all discovered ancient manuscripts fundamentally agree with the Bible we have today, then it is more reasonable to believe that Scripture has been faithfully preserved than that (as some skeptics claim) it has been corrupted by countless copies, translations, and tamperings of the church.

Which would seem to be focusing on preservation. Which is why I asked about how we determine “fundamentally agree.” (By the way, the manuscripts actually disagree quite a bit—it is the reason we have textual criticism! If they agreed, textual criticism would not be necessary.) Now, however, you have switched to talking about the content; not preservation:

Paul: …but even the most divergent ancient manuscripts are still describing the same events, which include troubling things like miracles and astonishing things from the mouth of a supposed mere mortal.

These are two different questions. A fiction can be faithfully preserved; yet still a fiction. A truth can be textually corrupted, and hopelessly lost. When I asked about textual criticism, I was referring to preservation—not content. Sorry for any confusion.

Finally, one thing you said I would comment on:

Paul: I tend to think that most everyone disinclined toward Christianity would like to think (and probably assumes) that the Bible has indeed been intentionally altered.

Yes. So do those inclined toward Christianity. So do right-handed people. And left-handed people. And women and men. I have never seen any claim the additional ending to Mark was unintentionally altered. Metzger writes at length as to how the Johannine Comma was deliberated included. Metzger also lists one of the causes of textual variances as intention, due to doctrine.

So why are those “disinclined toward Christianity” incorrect on this point?

 
At 1/15/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,

I have to agree with you regarding the problems inherent in depending upon expert testimony. And the fact that we are the ultimate arbiter of which expert opinion gets applied in justifying our own beliefs is the biggest problem of all. This is why very smart people can be very wrong if they possess very big and mistaken biases.

I think most of the problems with diversity of opinion among the "experts" themselves boils down to two things: 1) the related data is incomplete or equivocal and 2) the issue is political or value-laden. So, an expert in chemistry might be trusted because the field suffers little from either of these handicaps, while an expert in "global climate change" is up to his neck in these concerns.

Unfortunately, we are largely stuck depending upon experts for many of our opinions, since we ourselves have neither the time nor resources to deal with the related primary source data, though the Internet certainly makes it convenient to do a little legwork for ourselves :) However, there is less danger in depending upon the raw data that the experts affirm rather than the conclusions that they make by assembling the data that they find to be relevant.

I agree. But how do you resolve this in light of your position on Ehrman? Here was a fellow who was a conservative Christian, is an acknowledged expert in the field of text criticism (even Dr. Wallace confirms this) and became a non-believer because of his own study. Should that grant weight to his affirmations in the field?

I think Ehrman's problem was one of poor presuppositions, which he did not derive merely from his studies. According to his testimony, it was a surprise to him when he discovered textual variants (of any degree, it would seem). As I argued in my blog on this issue, his conclusion does not follow that for the message to be inspired it must be perfectly preserved. I think that this conclusion goes on to instill further flawed presuppositions in his thinking, like that the original manuscripts were profoundly "edited" versions of true history and oral tradition. Perhaps something is a warranted conclusion from the fact of textual variants, but it is surely not a bulletproof deductive argument for radical liberalism or deism (however it is he'd be classified).

Or even more problematic for you (I would think) would be Dr. Collins. Another conservative Christian who is an acknowledged expert in genomes, affirming evolution. Do you strongly depend upon his affirmations?

He seems not to find the idea of evolution problematic to his theology, so I'm not sure that this is an ideal example. However, I will admit that he gives me pause; but three things make this less than a closed case. 1) He has a bias, conscious or not, toward reconciling evolution with his theology: it would be the end of his career as he knows it to come out against evolution. 2) I don't think that he was advocating for the purely naturalistic version of evolution which someone like Dawkins has in mind. 3) I find the data that he ascribes to evolutionary causes to be highly equivocal. I have fewer reservations over his findings than over his conclusions. He is certainly a respectable scientist, but that is a different thing than a philosopher of science or a theologian.

You agree with Pagels as to claims about a bodily resurrection, but do not agree with her dating of the Gnostic Gospels (if I recall correctly.) You agree with Crossan as to “dating” (sorta) but not to his position on a historical Jesus (I suspect.)

First, this does not negate the fact that they do grant certain things that are problems which their own theories must work around, and which also happen to be defeaters for the claims of certain other theories (proposed by skeptics). It is not unfair to at least point to that much of their work beyond what else may be uncontroversial to some skeptics.

Where I tend to agree with them is when they are merely affirming the direction that certain well established data appear to be pointing — uncontroversial stuff that has a short trail between data and conclusion. Where I take issue is when they make strained conclusions based on their own metaphysical presuppositions. Crossan seems to be a materialist; his approach is, "since gods don't incarnate and resurrections just don't happen, we need to deconstruct the text to find the real Jesus or to find a metaphorical way to interpret it." Pagels has similar presuppositional issues that appear to stem from her fondness for Gnosticism (and possibly feminism [I have less exposure to her]).

Would you find it persuasive if I pointed out an Old-Earth Creationist is correct about the age of the Earth, and therefore supports my claim of evolution?

It would certainly be fair to incorporate that point of agreement if you thought it supportive of your case. However, while a longer timeframe is consistent with the theory of evolution, it does not consist of direct evidence for it.

In the same way, you picking a small part of Pagels or Crossan, but ignoring the rest demonstrates a bias in the very nature of picking.

Again (or differently stated), what I am pointing to in their work relates to things higher up stream in their thinking, i.e, starting points or data constraints. Where I take issue is with their more tenuous conclusions downstream. I think the terminus of their streams of thought is guided by the topography of their own presuppositions.

(By the way, the manuscripts actually disagree quite a bit—it is the reason we have textual criticism! If they agreed, textual criticism would not be necessary.) Now, however, you have switched to talking about the content; not preservation

If "disagreement" is defined as stating the same ideas in different terms, or grammatical variations, then, yes, there is much disagreement. However, it is, in fact, the essential content with which I am concerned; yet it could be said that the very words are largely preserved as well, in that textual criticism is one of the very blessings that aids us in removing the tarnish of the ages from the original writings.

Yes. So do those inclined toward Christianity. So do right-handed people. And left-handed people. And women and men. I have never seen any claim the additional ending to Mark was unintentionally altered. Metzger writes at length as to how the Johannine Comma was deliberated included. Metzger also lists one of the causes of textual variances as intention, due to doctrine.

So why are those “disinclined toward Christianity” incorrect on this point?


What I mean is that there seems to be a bias toward thinking there was a malicious conspiracy to doctor and/or invent the truth. Perhaps my complaint was merely against the garden-variety skeptic, who says things like, "The Bible is just a translation of a translation of a translation ..., which was written way after the apostles were dead. We have no way of knowing what really happened." In the absence of any true knowledge of history and textual criticism, it is curious that the default assumption is often the worst-case scenario — an assumption unparalleled in regard to other ancient literature. But, it is certainly also true that many of those inclined toward Christianity, like the early Ehrman, have a naively rosy view of the manuscript transmission.

I think that the vast majority of the variants are, in fact, of the unintentional variety. And, to the contrary, I've actually heard the case made that the ending of Mark was originally lost and then (partially or fully) recovered at a later date. Even the Johannine Comma may be a case of marginal notes in one manuscript (or a family of manuscripts) having later been mistakenly taken to be a source text correction. When one is copying text that includes annotations, it can be difficult to know whether those annotations were the thoughts of the copyist and/or owner of the text, or if the annotations were legitimate corrections made by the original copyist. But of course, I recognize my own present bias toward assuming that most copyists acted with integrity. However, there does seem to be good reason to think that this was largely the case, and so it is not unreasonable to give a hearing to any of the generous, yet plausible, explanations for the variants.

In any case, assuming only intentionality, the miscellaneous worst-case variants fail to add up to whole-cloth insertion of doctrines; they are generally consistent with the greater body of uncontested writings. To say that the existence of such variants mean that the entire work is a fiction would require rather elastic premises and would be an example of the extreme pessimism in the absence of data that I complain of in the garden-variety skeptic.

 
At 1/16/2008 7:37 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Paul, I wanted to say something about number six. I was talking with an atheist friend of mine about a month ago about the moral argument for God. Toward the end of it, I said that God has a lot of explanatory scope. If it turns out that God is the source of objective morality, then that also explains how it is that we are able to apprehend morality. God created us with this capacity.

He responded that it is precisely BECAUSE God has a lot of explanatory power that he doubts God. God, he said, could be used to explain just about anything unexplainable. It's too convenient, he said.

How would you have responded to that?

 
At 1/16/2008 12:39 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sam,

God, by definition of being the creator of all things, would necessarily have great explanatory scope within the context of the creation. You can't hold that against Him; it makes no sense to disbelieve in God because His existence could explain many of the mysteries of life and nature. Should we have disbelieved Newton because his gravitational theory explained too much about the movement of the heavens? Was his theory and mathematical models too convenient to be plausible?

What your friend could rightly complain about is that God can potentially be offered as a direct cause for some things when in reality the explanation is some secondary cause (or at least involves secondary causes). For instance, saying God causes lightning rather that affirming that electrostatic discharges are involved. But this is no defeater to the concept of God, only a criticism against hasty conclusions. He might complain about God-of-the-gaps thinking, but he could be equally accused of science-of-the-gaps thinking. In fact, you could feign disbelief in science "because it explains too much."

He might then argue that the scientific explanations are tangible and proven explanations, but a theistic explanation is merely filler for scientific ignorance; science has a great track-record for answering questions, so we should give it the benefit of the doubt. There is something to that, but science has certain theoretical limitations. There are questions that we ask that science can either say nothing about or for which it has no means of proving its theories. (Why is there something rather than nothing? How can matter be self-conscious? What is morality? What is love? Why is the world so religious? Why are the laws of physics so exquisitely tuned? What is the meaning of life?) The very fact that we ask such questions, and think of them as being the most profound to ask, is itself a further mystery that begs explanation.

Will he punish a "theory" because it too well succeeds in tying up all these problematic questions and more? Does he think atheism more plausible because it leaves so many loose ends? Maybe he likes the loose ends — the mystery of the unknown and unknowable — but there is a difference between what is preferable and what is reasonable.

 
At 1/16/2008 12:42 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Paul, one last comment.

When I bring up certain concerns, and certain statements regarding textual critcism, or experts, I notice you indicate you are referring to “the street critic” or “the garden-variety skeptic.”

If we are looking at the preponderance of the evidence, if we are looking at weighing the evidence, shouldn’t we be looking at the best evidence each side has to offer? I question why, when you refer to the other side’s position, you only use “the street critic” or “the garden-variety skeptic”? If I only used evidence as known by the average churchgoer—would you be impressed with my ability to smack such evidence down? Of course not! You would correctly want me to address the best Christianity has to offer—not the “street Christian” or “the garden-variety Christian.”

Not only can our biases affect how we weigh evidence, they also can affect what we claim the other side is saying. (On a related note, although I did not address it, your point no. 5 is a prime example. Moral relativists define morals differently than absolute moralists. Hence when each says “that is not moral” each is saying something different. To claim moral relativists undercut their own position when they say something is not moral is demanding they define morals the same way a moral absolutionist does. They don’t. In other words—it is misrepresenting (albeit unintentionally) the other person’s position.)

See “preponderance of the evidence” requires three things:

1) Evidence for the proposition;
2) Evidence against the proposition;
3) A weighing of (1) and (2) to determine which is more likely.

Not only do I see bias in No. 3—the weighing, I am seeing bias in No. 2—the presentation of what those who argue against your proposition are really saying.

You further dismiss experts like Ehrmans or Collins when they disagree with you based upon presuppositions, yet embrace what they say when it conforms to your presuppositions. Is that treating their claims accurately?

If I dismissed ALL Christian claims simply from the basis Christians hold to supernaturalism, would I be presenting the evidence as a Christian would? Of course not! (Nor, I think, would you be much impressed with my take on “truth” if I dismissed everything every Christian said, unless it agreed with what I say, based upon their presuppositions.)

Paul: Where I take issue is when they make strained conclusions based on their own metaphysical presuppositions.

Is your own bias and your own presuppositions getting in the way?

Paul: The best palliatives for bias are the recognition of its inevitable existence, the genuine desire for truth over preference, and the acquired ability to flush out and justify the presuppositions upon which any idea is made reasonable or implausible.

Not sure if you can stick with this. I question whether using ones own subjective “ability to flush out and justify the presuppositions” is an appropriate way to determine truth. I still think a neutral, uncommitted to either prospect, when presented with the best each proposition has to offer is the better way to determine what is most likely true, based upon the knowledge we have now.

You can take or leave my comments. As always.

 
At 1/20/2008 12:09 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dag,

You said: I notice you indicate you are referring to “the street critic” or “the garden-variety skeptic.” If we are looking at the preponderance of the evidence, if we are looking at weighing the evidence, shouldn’t we be looking at the best evidence each side has to offer?

This is a good point, which I have made elsewhere myself, but I do not think it is one which I am guilty of ignoring. Since my replies included responses to your own ideas, as well as those of scholars like Ehrman, Pagels, and Crossan, I think it would be unfair to judge that I was only concerned with the arguments offered by the garden-variety skeptic.

I think the problem is that I originally made this sidebar comment: "I tend to think that most everyone disinclined toward Christianity would like to think (and probably assumes) that the Bible has indeed been intentionally altered. It was my default assumption as a non-Christian, and the only opinion I ever heard voiced. However, the hype of the street critic is not always reflective of critical scholarship." I was then led to revisit the point by your follow-up comments (which evoked further talk of garden-variety skeptics), yet I thought that I had neatly tied together the flaw of the street critic and the scholar in the closing remarks of my last comment.

You said: Moral relativists define morals differently than absolute moralists. Hence when each says “that is not moral” each is saying something different. To claim moral relativists undercut their own position when they say something is not moral is demanding they define morals the same way a moral absolutionist does.

It is certainly true that when they speak of morality in their leisure they ascribe different meanings to it, which I contend amounts to mere preferences. However, in spite of how they claim to define it, when push comes to shove they manage to act just like us moral realists/objectivists (I avoid the word "absolutist," since it invokes an un-nuanced impression of my position). When a moral relativistic PETA member claims that my love for steak has moral parity with the Holocaust, and does so with angry and judgmental language, I think she is pressing the boundaries of her philosophical entitlement.

You said: You further dismiss experts like Ehrmans or Collins when they disagree with you based upon presuppositions, yet embrace what they say when it conforms to your presuppositions. Is that treating their claims accurately?

Does it not make sense to see a difference between the straightforward facts that they affirm and the conclusions they draw from those facts? Some things involve fewer presuppositions to affirm. For instance, Collins could say, from his studies, that humans and apes share X number of genes in common. A claim like that, assuming it is properly quantified, may be easy to affirm or disprove. However, if he adds a "therefore" to that data we have something more than mere data to inspect.

You said: Is your own bias and your own presuppositions getting in the way?

I have to wonder if you are as skeptical about your own biases as you are about mine. Do you live in a limbo of uncertainty or do you feel confident in your rejection of Christianity?

I still think a neutral, uncommitted to either prospect, when presented with the best each proposition has to offer is the better way to determine what is most likely true, based upon the knowledge we have now.

That sounds good, in theory, also assuming that this "neutral" has the perfect ability to weigh evidences and propositions. However, as I said before, there are some ideas for which one can be less biased for/against than others. If matters of religion and ultimate truth do not invite bias, then I cannot image what would.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN