So Many Scholars, So Many Believers

People who are passionate enough about an issue to debate it use many different arguments to make their case.  Obviously some arguments will be better than others.  What we all try to avoid when debating an issue is misunderstandings — clarity before agreement.  Sometimes we aren’t clear when making our case, and other times our ideological opponent — who may not be inclined to be charitable to missteps — will pounce on what they perceive to be a fallacious argument.  One such accusation is argumentum ad populum, or arguing that something is true because a lot of people believe it. Let me say first that the objection is a valid one and many Christians do mean to be making their case this way.  However, more often than not, this is a misunderstanding of the Christian’s intention when making his point.

When a Christian says something akin to, ‘the majority of [New Testament] scholars…’, the desired conclusion isn’t: therefore it’s true.  I’m not suggesting that because most scholars agree on X that this fact alone proves my point.  I’m saying my conclusion isn’t a spurious one.  My case is supported by educated people whose job it is to study this subject and reach a professional conclusion.  And that my conclusion isn’t merely wishful thinking or personal preference but is actually backed by legitimate academic sources, therefore my argument deserves serious consideration.

What I’d like to suggest to a skeptic brandishing the ad populum club is to ask for clarification.  When everyone is on the same page as to what it is that’s being argued it makes for better discussion.

Comments

  1. Ooooh, you mean http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Argument_from_admired_religious_scientists

    I get the distinct impression here that you’re trying to simply validate your argument from popularity.

    You’re still basically saying, “Well, I can’t produce the evidence needed to support my assertion, but look how many religious scholars agree with me.”

    I’m not suggesting that because most scholars agree on X that this fact alone proves my point.

    That’s exactly what you’re doing – it’s still an argument from popularity.

    • I get the distinct impression that even though you claim to be “honestly” you are willing to use anything you can latch on to discount or misrepresent a theist’s claims. So even when i try to clarify you are more interested in trying to make it fallacious than dealing with what is actually being said. Its like you NEED a straw man to fight.

  2. I don’t really understand your reply. You sound upset over the principle of the argument itself.

    If you don’t want me to fight a straw-man, John, just stand up and make the statement so it won’t be misrepresented and we’ll take it from there.

    • The statement is the post, which clarifies the claim “most scholars…” but rather accepting the correction, you insist on attributing an application that results in a fallacy. You do this a lot. Someone tells you what they mean, then you insist they mean something else, then “refute” what YOU said they meant.

      You do whatever you can to turn the arguments into fallacies so you can dismiss them without having to deal with the arguments themselves.

  3. Z,
    I enjoy your links. Here’s a couple excerpts from the last two you posted:

    “Since most people in general believe in a god, and since all scientists are people, it makes sense that a high number of scientists believe in a god, whether or not this is derived from their understanding of science. However, this tendency toward belief does not make the assertion of any god being true.”

    I absolutely agree.

    “The fact that a person is an expert in one field does not grant expertise in unrelated fields.”

    I absolutely agree.

    “Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy because the fact that many people believe something does not make it true.”

    I absolutely agree.

    “One special case is that in which a statement is said to be true because it is believed by most of the experts in the field (9 out of 10 dentists recommend Brand X toothpaste!). For example, if most astronomers say that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of the other way around, then that is very likely to be true.”

    I absolutely agree.

    Now, given our agreement on the above statements, I have a question: Are you an recognized expert in any sort of theological, biblical, or philosophical studies? If not, then why do you set your opinions about evidence as any more valuable than my opinions?

  4. @ John

    So you’re upset with me because I point out what kind of fallacy you commit?

    Please realize that everything said after going along with said fallacy is simply a waste of time because you’re just building on false premise.

    @ tumeyn

    I’m glad you enjoyed the links.

    To answer your question, we must have an agreement about what can be admissible as evidence. http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Evidence

    Unfortunately for most of the discussions that take place on this website, the argument is essentially boiled down to the evidence, or lack thereof.

    The latest argument, it appears, it the rebuttal of the argument against the fallacy committed.

    • I love how you cite iron chariots as though it’s some kind of source.

      But if you don’t get what I wrote about, then either I overestimated your willingness to have a reasonable discussion, or I underestimated your ability to comprehend.

      I’ll leave it for you to determine.

  5. Dear readers:

    I love how you cite iron chariots as though it’s some kind of source.

    Note the attempt to discredit the reference.

    But if you don’t get what I wrote about, then either I overestimated your willingness to have a reasonable discussion, or I underestimated your ability to comprehend.

    Note the personal attack as a diversion. The problem John has with the fallacy is never addressed.

  6. Marshall Art says:

    Z,

    I checked the link in your response to Tumeyn and it is clear you are not seeking agreement based on reality, but on what best serves YOUR standards of admissibility. As such, you have never truly responded to my request that you show reasons to believe that the testimonies of Biblical authors and/or the people of which the authors speak are not worthy of belief. The evidence hear is testimonial and testimony IS evidence in a court of law. What’s more, the numbers of people all testifying to the same thing strengthens the testimonies of each and thereby grants validity to the testimonial evidence heard in a court of law.

    Assume the hypothetical murder by icicle. The weapon melts and no hard evidence is to be had. All that is left is the people who saw the murderer plunge the icicle into the victim. To dispute the testimonies of the witnesses, the defense must show that the witnesses were liars or somehow incapable of truly seeing what they claimed to have seen.

    The Bible is full of such testimonies and if you want to dismiss the Bible as evidence, you must provide some reasonable explanation for why the credibility of the authors or the people on whom they report should be questioned.

    What’s more, the Bible is rarely used as the ONLY evidence for God, but merely one piece of evidence.

    Another story that makes my point is the Miracle of Fatima, foretold to the three children months before the incident. The numbers of people in attendance was reported in the range of 70,000, including non-believers and members of the press. In one report I read, the muddy ground was perfectly dry after the event, which lasted about ten minutes, and those who threw themselves down into the mud in fear were clean afterwards. Do the testimonies of 70,000 people prove the miracle occurred? Well, if each of those 70K were actually interviewed and all stated something fantastic took place, only a fool would dismiss the testimonies as unworthy as evidence.

    Dismissing testimonial evidence out of hand is convenience, but not intellectually honest.

  7. Marshall Art says:

    I note a few comments being made while I wrote the above. It seems ironic that Z will discount the Bible, but put total faith in the source of his choice. Why is THAT testimony more worthy?

  8. @ Marshall

    You obviously didn’t really understand what I wrote to Turneyn about witness testimony, so I would advise you to read the “discussion page” again.

    The bible is full of unbelievable stories and you have every right to believe them, but that doesn’t make them true.

    If you have any evidence for god, please feel free to present it at any time.

  9. Marshall Art says:

    I haven’t read the “discussion page” at all, so I have no idea what you may have said to anyone there. I’m dealing with what you’ve written here. Whether or not a story sounds believable or not has nothing to do with whether or not it is true. A rational person would find the idea that Obama was elected with no discernible track record of accomplishment or articulated plan for governance would find his election to be extremely unbelievable, yet, sadly, it happened.

    The testimonies of the Bible IS evidence because testimony IS evidence.

  10. Marshall,
    To bring you up to speed with this conversation, go read the comments on the “discussion page” since June 20 – then feel free to chime in.

    As for my last statement, it still stands. If you have any evidence for god, please feel free to present it at any time.

  11. Mashall Art says:

    First of all, Z, I can “chime in” anytime I damned well please. That’s just for your understanding of where you rank in the department of Giving Permission. Secondly, thanks for wasting my time by referring me to the discussion page. It did not shed any light that was necessary.

    You sought to dismiss witness testimony (written or otherwise) as insufficient evidence. The problem here is as I have pointed out. You need to show why the testimony cannot be believed in one way or another. What “evidence” have you that would suggest any of the Biblical authors were liars? Another way of asking is what evidence do you have that any historian (which is what the Biblical authors are) are telling the truth? You can suspend your opinion until YOU are satisfied (though I would wager parkas and space heaters will be passed out in hell before that happens), but you cannot insist there is no evidence for God (which is used as a proper name for a particular god, so capitalization is standard and good ettiquette), as long as the Bible is around. It is one piece of evidence and there has been nothing found to suggest it is wrong on its major point. There has been nothing discovered to prove or suggest that any of the Biblical authors were willing to lie about what they reported, that they colluded with other authors to invent stories which the others would corroborate later, that they profitted in material gain or political power by telling the story of God.

    Courts of law always use testimonies as evidence and with enough testimonies by enough witnesses that corroborate a story, no material evidence is absolutely necessary. The only chore is determining if the witnesses were motivated to tell a lie or could not be accurately aware of the facts of the incident in question. In the case of histories, one can suspend judgement until such time as it can be written off as false or accepted as truth. But as John has suggested, and seems so apparent, you represent those atheists who won’t be satisfied with anything short of a personal introduction to God Himself. That’s coming.

  12. Because of this problem, it is probably important to put the appropriate caveat in any popularity claim.

    BTW: I don’t think it would be odd if most scholars of South Carolina felt South Carolina is the best state in the Union. We weighing the opinions of “the majority New Testament scholars”, we have to remember that most NT scholars are confessional Christians with huge vested interests.

    • Sabio

      When using the “most scholars” defense, it isn’t referencing that Christianity is true, but that the texts haven’t been corrupted, and that certain details meet the criteria that is required of any ancient text as being deemed reliable.

      Even secular new testament scholars hold that the overwhelming majority of the bible is reliable.

  13. @ Marshall

    Your little tantrum there simply illustrates the emotional investment you have in your beliefs.

    You did nothing more than insist that any naysayers of the bible prove it’s not evidence. Unfortunately, all of those authors are long since deceased and not available for interview or cross examination and no one is under any obligation to believe anything they wrote down if there’s no evidence for it.

    What you and John constantly point to is the number of people who accept it, then the number of people of authority who accept it. That doesn’t make incredible stories any more credible.

    As for your reference to testimonies in court, I’ll ask you the same thing I asked Turneyn: Please show me any court case where a supernatural event witnessed by a person no longer living was admitted as reliable testimony.

    Again, if you have any evidence for god, please feel free to present it at any time.

    • Z

      Two more things before I withdraw from this particular discussion with you.

      1) please give me even a hypothetical situation which would require a judge to admit or deny testimony in a court case? I can’t think of one where it would even come up. Not only that, the testimony would not be disallowed just because it contains content of a supernatural nature. It would be admitted and the jury would decide on it.

      2) based only on your criteria every event in history in which all living eye witnesses have died is in question. Your hyper-skepticism wouldn’t allow you to know anything more than 90 years old or so. But I suspect its only if the event was supernatural you need living eyewitnesses. But now I have to ask, would you accept their testimony? Of course not. You’d dismiss it saying they are lying, hallucinating, or anything but testifying to a real event.

      It is impossible to satisfy you. You may have convinced yourself that you are honestly seeking the truth, but if you dismiss everything in favor of theism, and disqualify every evidence, how is it you think you could ever be given evidence for God? If you refuse to consider any evidence, how can your request for evidence be satisfied?

      Historical events can only be proven by testimony. There is no other option.

  14. Z, again and again you come back to this analogy of a court case. The problem is that you are setting yourself up as a judge and deciding what is and is not admissible evidence. That’s perfectly acceptable FOR YOURSELF. But you can’t decide what is (and is not) admissible evidence for ME and for others in society. The fact is that in matters of faith, we (as individuals) are both the judge and the jury. You are not somehow in a superior position to decide truth claims. I’m pointing out the evidence that has convinced ME. I’m a rational person. (you may not think so, however) You don’t accept it as evidence. Then so be it. I only hope that you hold up other aspects of your life (moral decisions, friendships, love relationships, etc) to the same standard of evidence. I suspect you do not, however.

  15. Z, one other thing:
    I do agree with you on one key point: This argument is all about evidence. The problem is that the only real evidence you are refuting is Biblical evidence. That’s really only a small portion of the evidence for theism. Christians actually make up the minority of theists in the world.
    For evidence of God in a broad sense, see this link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existence_of_God

    I will freely admit that there is plenty of evidence that God DOESN’T exist. The most compelling arguments to me are the existence of extreme suffering, the variety of religious beliefs, and the apparent “silence” of God in everyday life. These are real pieces of evidence.

    On the other hand, I look at the evidence that I’ve discussed previously (and is partially elaborated on the Wiki page above). To me, the evidence weighs very heavily towards the existence of God. And, reaffirming my intellectual belief, I’ve had what I consider to be meaningful interaction with this being that I call “God”. This is a personal decision that every person has to make. But making the argument that there just is no evidence of God is disingenuous.

    So, my question to you is this: Do you find ANY evidence that seems to point towards a God? Again, I freely admit that there is evidence that points away from a belief in God.

  16. @ John B
    You missed my point. I will spell it out in steps.

    (1) Confessional Christians ‘scholars’ opinions about any particular Biblical issue (textual consistency, archeological evidence, doctrinal consistency, text editing etc…) will be biased to favor opinions that support their flavor of Christianity.

    (2) The vast majority of Bible scholars are confessional Christians.

    (3) Majority opinion on Biblical scholarship will support Christianity.

    The issue was not about “textual reliability”. You are discussing the logical fallacy of “Popularity Arguments” [say it in Latin to feel more scholarly].

    You said that you use the Popularity claim just to show that “my conclusion isn’t a spurious one”. I get your drift. You are saying, look, I am not claiming something wild here — lots of people believe as I do. And sure, stated with the right caveats, that is fine, but I am pointing out that since the vast majority of Biblical scholars are Christians with obvious bias potential, then even less weight should be given the comfort of many scholars. Ignoring that most biblical scholars are Christian compounds fallacy of the popularity argument.

    I hope that was more clear.

    • Sabio

      I get it, I just don’t think its as corrupting as you or Z might. After all, the same complaint could be made of evolutionary biologists. They have a vested interest, not only emotionally or psychologically, but also financially. The claim that they are biased to the point of corruption would likely be dismissed though. I’m guessing only religious bias causes people to exaggerate, lie, and cover up embarrassing details.

  17. Well, at least this brings us to the root of the issue between believers and non-believers.
    What is a reliable source for evidence?

    I think this entire discussion can be summed up with the following visual:

    As for replies to the latest statements,

    @John

    1. That’s the point – to establish the credibility of the witness. The judge doesn’t have anything to do with it. Maybe “admitted” was the wrong word here. A witness claiming anything supernatural would more than likely be discredited, unless you’ve got a courtroom really willing to believe anything! Do you personally acknowledge every supernatural claim as plausible, or only the ones told in the bible?

    2. Again, not every event in history has a supernatural claim. If you read about George Washington’s ability to levitate and walk through solid walls, would you believe it? I suppose so if it was supposedly seen by enough people…. Wait, I withdraw that question – you probably would.

    So instead of the courtroom question, how about this – please tell me about any event in history not in the bible that includes a supernatural event.

    @Turneyn

    So I suppose, based on your conclusions, that truth is relative.

    I will freely admit that there is plenty of evidence that God DOESN’T exist. The most compelling arguments to me are the existence of extreme suffering, the variety of religious beliefs, and the apparent “silence” of God in everyday life. These are real pieces of evidence.

    I disagree. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the problem of evil points out a logical contradiction in the traditional conceptions of the nature of god and the world.

    I like your reference, though – thanks.

  18. Marshall Art says:

    @Z

    “Your little tantrum there simply illustrates the emotional investment you have in your beliefs.”

    Hardly a tantrum, but a correction of the mistakes of a petulant atheist snob who believes that Christians are nothing more than unsophisticated and superstitious.

    And your last link is laughable in it’s depiction of the those who argue for the existence of God. I point again to standards of evidence and insist testimony (oral or written) is indeed evidence and the strength of it is not dependent upon material evidence to support its veracity. One person making a supernatural claim can be perceived as questionable, and I would certainly wonder myself. But still, that person’s reputation must also be considered and were it to be found that that person was reputed to be a firmly honest individual, his story of supernatural events would be more credible, even if still not entirely so. Add to his testimony that of a second equally honest person, and now the testimony has more weight. Add still more people, and more credibility must be given to the story, even if he who judges STILL won’t go the distance. The question then becomes why so many upstanding people insist on the supernatural event having happened when no other material evidence for its having happened is in hand.

    The Bible is just such a real world example of such a thing. Until you can provide ANYTHING that suggests any of the Biblical authors were liars for any reason, you must at least regard their testimony as at least possibly being true, and in the meantime, a legitimate piece of evidence for the existence of God.

    Note this aspect with honest and mature consideration: It is ONE piece of evidence, not the entirety. But all attempts to disprove what it claims have fallen short. Thus, despite there being no way to interview any Biblical author, and despite the fact that there is no way to determine their honesty, one must take their testimonies at face value at least and not suppose that they are liars, lunatics or people with an agenda. It doesn’t have to seal the deal for you personally. But to continue to insist that it does not qualify as evidence is an example of the very same irrational behavior of which you accuse believers.

  19. I am glad you get it, John.
    It is more corrupting in religion than in science because religion is principle committed to preserving its ‘revelations’ and ‘truths’, science is not. Being human of course, both groups do protect their turfs but because of religion’s commitment to protecting doctrine, the corruption of their biases are amplified. To see this clearly, you’d probably have to think about Islam and not about your own faith.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had Christians argue something like this:
    “Well, if Christianity weren’t true, why did it spread so far and wide?”
    So the perverse fallacy of the Popularity Argument needs to be pointed out again and again. And the amplification of that fallacy by commitment to “holding fast to the truth” can not be underestimated.

    BTW, please resist the temptation to lump Z and me together. It would be more productive to just talk to me. We may hold different opinions.

  20. @ Marshall,

    I’ve asked you twice now for your evidence for god, yet you choose not to address it. I’ll just assume you really don’t have anything more than anecdotal rhetoric and gut feelings.

    You insist that the authors of bible text are honest and reputable. How exactly would you know about the reputation of anyone alive 2000 years ago? By the same texts? By the committees and councils that decided what was to be canon whose sole interest it was to propagate the message?

    Until you can provide ANYTHING that suggests any of the Biblical authors were liars for any reason…

    Thank you for proving point C in my illustration.

    Thus, despite there being no way to interview any Biblical author, and despite the fact that there is no way to determine their honesty, one must take their testimonies at face value at least and not suppose that they are liars, lunatics or people with an agenda.

    Why?

    @John

    The witness testimony is what validates the bible as evidence for you. The alleged miracles that occurred are just part of that testimony.

    You live in a “natural” world, yet you assert the existence of supernatural occurrences. If you’re going to make that claim, you’re going to have to back it up. How can you claim to have any knowledge of supernatural events that occur outside our knowledge of the natural world?

  21. Marshall Art says:

    @Z,

    “You insist that the authors of bible text are honest and reputable.”

    You really should try paying attention. I did not insist any such thing. Rather, I stated that unless you can show how the authors were liars, or seeking to promote that which wasn’t true, rather than merely recording actual events, then their testimony cannot be dismissed out of hand merely because of the supernatural elements of their testimony. Those elements do not confirm their testimonies are false, but only harder to believe for those like yourself who don’t want to believe. You imply dishonesty or worse on their parts due to those elements of their testimonies, which demonstrates YOUR biases, not ours. We take them for what they are, testimonies and recordings of actual events, because their testimonies have not been found to be false. What is available otherwise, such as historical records from other sources not inclined to side with those authors, as well as archeological finds that demonstrate what we have is faithfully handed down from the original manuscripts, as well as other finds that support the historical recordings of the authors…all of which lends credibility to the authors rather than put it in question.

    In courts of law, witness testimony is admissible as evidence and disregarded only when better evidence is brought to light or the witness is found to be less than honest or incapable of having understanding what the witness believes had happened. You’ve done nothing to put the credibility of the Biblical authors in question, nor has anyone else. You’ve done nothing to provide any better evidence to explain what the authors claimed to have happened, but only dismiss those testimonies due to the supernatural elements of those testimonies. The supernatural, by definition, makes concrete confirmation or denial impossible and thus ONLY testimony can be evidence.

    Think of the most honest person you know, or imagine one if you don’t. This person has never lied as far as you or anyone else you know is aware. This person’s reputation for honesty is without question. If this person says he had lunch with a person you saw buried, you’d have to figure out if he was crazy because his reputation rules out the possibility that he was lying. If three or four other people with similar reputations all claimed also to have spent time with the “dead” guy, now you’d have to look to the “dead” guy, but you couldn’t dismiss the testimonies of any of the people who claimed to have been with the “dead” guy. Whatever explains the presence of the “dead” guy (a double, a faked death, whatever), the more people who come forth with tales of this “dead” guy walking would be better and better evidence that this “dead” guy was risen, or at least never really dead.

    MY point, which is all I’ve been discussing, is that testimony, which is what the Bible is, is evidence. It is not the totality of evidence for God’s existence, but evidence it is.

    But you continue with this taking for granted attitude regarding the credibility of believers with this:

    “By the committees and councils that decided what was to be canon whose sole interest it was to propagate the message?”

    What evidence do you have to accuse the councils that their sole purpose was to propagate a message that you claim is untrue? That is, it seems you suspect something untoward about those who assembled what was to become our Bible.

    In both cases, you engage in the very behavior of which you and your links accuse believers. You simply believe what you believe…because.

    You really should try paying attention. I did not insist any such thing. Rather, I stated that unless you can show how the authors were liars, or seeking to promote that which wasn’t true, rather than merely recording actual events, then their testimony cannot be dismissed out of hand merely because of the supernatural elements of their testimony. Those elements do not confirm their testimonies are false, but only harder to believe for those like yourself who don’t want to believe. You imply dishonesty or worse on their parts due to those elements of their testimonies, which demonstrates YOUR biases, not ours. We take them for what they are, testimonies and recordings of actual events, because their testimonies have not been found to be false. What is available otherwise, such as historical records from other sources not inclined to side with those authors, as well as archeological finds that demonstrate what we have is faithfully handed down from the original manuscripts, as well as other finds that support the historical recordings of the authors…all of which lends credibility to the authors rather than put it in question.

    In courts of law, witness testimony is admissible as evidence and disregarded only when better evidence is brought to light or the witness is found to be less than honest or incapable of having understanding what the witness believes had happened. You’ve done nothing to put the credibility of the Biblical authors in question, nor has anyone else. You’ve done nothing to provide any better evidence to explain what the authors claimed to have happened, but only dismiss those testimonies due to the supernatural elements of those testimonies. The supernatural, by definition, makes concrete confirmation or denial impossible and thus ONLY testimony can be evidence.

    Think of the most honest person you know, or imagine one if you don’t. This person has never lied as far as you or anyone else you know is aware. This person’s reputation for honesty is without question. If this person says he had lunch with a person you saw buried, you’d have to figure out if he was crazy because his reputation rules out the possibility that he was lying. If three or four other people with similar reputations all claimed also to have spent time with the “dead” guy, now you’d have to look to the “dead” guy, but you couldn’t dismiss the testimonies of any of the people who claimed to have been with the “dead” guy. Whatever explains the presence of the “dead” guy (a double, a faked death, whatever), the more people who come forth with tales of this “dead” guy walking would be better and better evidence that this “dead” guy was risen, or at least never really dead.

    MY point, which is all I’ve been discussing, is that testimony, which is what the Bible is, is evidence. It is not the totality of evidence for God’s existence, but evidence it is.

    But you continue with this taking for granted attitude regarding the credibility of believers with this:

    “By the committees and councils that decided what was to be canon whose sole interest it was to propagate the message?”

    What evidence do you have to accuse the councils that their sole purpose was to propagate a message that you claim is untrue? That is, it seems you suspect something untoward about those who assembled what was to become our Bible.

    In both cases, you engage in the very behavior of which you and your links accuse believers. You simply believe what you believe…because. But there is nothing about what I’ve been saying that is similar to your point C. I’m not asking you to prove the Bible isn’t true. I’m saying you are implying something about the authors for which you provide no support other than the fact that they speak of supernatural events, which in and of itself does NOT mean the stories are untrue.

    More to follow.

  22. Marshall Art says:

    More for Z,

    You continue your bad arguments with your response to John:

    “The witness testimony is what validates the bible as evidence for you.”

    I don’t believe I’ve seen where John says anything like this. I don’t believe he has stated that the witness testimony is his sole basis for giving credence to the Bible. Again, try paying closer attention.

    Apart from personally witnessing an event, no one could prove anything about miracles. They wouldn’t be miracles if they could be explained, and I believe that has been stated over and over again. It isn’t a dodge because the nature of miracles is such that they can’t be explained by use of natural means in a natural world that naturally abides certain rules of physics. A miracle would be something that does not abide those rules. Even the Church does not rush to insist that ANY miracle occurred, but spend inordinate amount of time exhausting all possible natural explanations. YOU, in your preference for an existence sans God, would irrationally state that we simply have not found a natural reason, but one exists and will one day be discovered. If a natural explanation can be found, then no miracle occurred.

    But if a miracle has occurred, the skeptic will accept no amount of testimony (as that is all that would remain after the miracle took place), but would insist that there is some natural explanation regardless of how unlikely that explanation is. It is your point C in reverse. Regardless of the testimonies available, you would demand that YOUR position be proven untrue simply because you DON’T believe.

    But let’s look again at your little illustration…

  23. Marshall Art says:

    Right from the start, you base all on a faulty premise, that being that witness testimony is unreliable. This is not an absolute. You might even be able to get away with “MOST” witness testimony is unreliable. But that needs to established. The testimony needs to be found to have been unreliable. Not ALL witness testimony is unreliable. The numbers of witnesses all stating the same basic facts establishes that the testimony is more likely to be accurate on those basic facts. The testimony has to be discredited, not merely suspected of being false.

    Thus, your standards of evidence are entirely self-serving being that you won’t support your perspective with the same vigor you demand of those supporting the opposite.

    Very few people rely on the argument of point B. This is nonsense and dishonest to even put forth as a common argument. And points D and E aren’t arguments put forth to establish truth, but to provide evidence, or more precisely, indications that what is argued is likely to be true. One must argue other possibilities for D and E. That is, why do so many believe, and what has led scholars to their conclusions that should not result in what they’re believing to be true is actually true. Put another way, why shouldn’t the scholars conclude as they do from the evidence and arguments they put forth?

    I mentioned earlier that point D has been compared to the numbers of Hindus in the world. Yet, did the numbers of Hindu believers explode on the scene in as short a time as the vast numbers of converts to Christianity in the immediate years following Christ’s death on the cross? I don’t think so. Those are the numbers of believers that stand as evidence of the truth as those converts existed in a time when anyone could have dispelled the rumors of Christ’s resurrection if it had not happened. That is to say, if one converted by being told Christ rose again, a known honest person who knew better would have been a more reliable source of the truth to the convert and no conversion would have taken place. St. Paul even invites people to seek out those who were on the scene to find out for themselves.

    Thus, the only part of your “illustration” that is truthful is the “second” point A wherein the believer states that your standards are impossible, because they are. They are self-serving in that they require what cannot be produced: absolute and unquestioned proof, that is, God Himself appearing before you. Nothing else is worthy of consideration because you write it off as superstitious and unreasoned belief.

  24. I think I’m late to the party here, but I don’t think anyone has challenged the premise of this argument.
    Argument Ad Populum, or Appeal to the People/Masses (I prefer to speak in the common tongue) means appealing to just people. So that example would be “God exists because a Billion Hindus can’t be wrong.”
    The example given was “the majority of [New Testament] scholars”… This is not an Ad Populum fallacy. It’s an Appeal to Authority. Scholars are authorities not ‘just people’.
    The good thing about Appeals to Authority is that such arguments are often perfectly valid. When there is a consensus of experts on an idea, say, for example, evolution, then that should be considered a valid piece of evidence. If experts have accepted a certain conclusion, then it’s reasonable for lay people to follow suit.
    If the Appeal to Authority is an appeal to a power/government/dictatorial authority rather than an legitimate expert authority in the field being discussed, then you have a fallacy.

    So yes, by all means, appeal to authority, so long as you are appealing to an authority that is an expert in the area being discussed.

    ps. When you say “New Testament Scholars” please be sure to distinguish between Theologians, Apologists, Philosophers, Linguists, Archaeologists, and other types of ‘scholars’. Given the number of Catholic, Protestant, LDS, Jewish, Muslim, and secular scholars studying the New Testament and its claims, I doubt a majority of them agree on much of anything, not even whether Jesus ever existed.

    • Jason

      It has been presented to me by atheists that when I or someone else state that “most NT scholars…’ I am arguing from the population. But you are right, it is more an appeal to authority. Which is often a valid appeal. When a majority of professionals in a specific field afree on certain data as factual, then it is reasonable to take their word for it.

      But let me clarify. New Testament scholars are by and large textual critics. Those whose job it is to collect and analize the writings of new testament manuscripts. They determine based on specific methodological historical criteria what texts can be regarded as containing accurate information.

  25. Marshall,

    Thank you for the insight. Your reply has given me a better understanding of how your mind works.

    Apart from personally witnessing an event, no one could prove anything about miracles. They wouldn’t be miracles if they could be explained, and I believe that has been stated over and over again. It isn’t a dodge because the nature of miracles is such that they can’t be explained by use of natural means in a natural world that naturally abides certain rules of physics. A miracle would be something that does not abide those rules. Even the Church does not rush to insist that ANY miracle occurred, but spend inordinate amount of time exhausting all possible natural explanations. YOU, in your preference for an existence sans God, would irrationally state that we simply have not found a natural reason, but one exists and will one day be discovered. If a natural explanation can be found, then no miracle occurred.

    The supernatural, by definition, makes concrete confirmation or denial impossible and thus ONLY testimony can be evidence.

    So in the same breath that you say that miracles can’t be explained, you explain them. Well done.

    Until you can provide ANYTHING that suggests any of the Biblical authors were liars for any reason…

    So… you’re assuming that these authors were NOT liars. How would you know that?

    We take them for what they are, testimonies and recordings of actual events, because their testimonies have not been found to be false.

    So you believe that these (miracles) are actual events for which concrete confirmation is impossible and yet can ONLY be supported with testimony as the only evidence? Nice.

    The problem here is that I’m trying to have a ration discussion with an irrational mind.

    Good night, Marshall

  26. @ Jason Torpy

    Jason, I agree that part of this is “appeal to authority”. But the Bandwagon Fallacy (AKA: Appeal to popularity, argument of consensus, argumentum ad populum, authority of the many) is a part of this too. After all, to assume that just because the majority of scholar make something right is a fallacy of numbers.

    As you hinted, just because a supposed expert believes something — no matter how many of them believe it — does not mean a non-expert should believe them. Because they could be wrong. It is complicated to weigh evidence.

  27. Marshall Art says:

    @Z,

    “So in the same breath that you say that miracles can’t be explained, you explain them. Well done.”

    Not at all. What you’re doing is conflating miracles in general with any one specific miracle. I get this kind of intentional distortion all the time with lefties on topics of all kinds. Are you a lefty as well, or just a wise ass? What I did was explain the nature of miracles in general, or why they can’t be proven. If there is a natural explanation for a miracle having happened (are those really tears flowing down the face of that statue?), then it is likely not a miracle at all.

    “So… you’re assuming that these authors were NOT liars. How would you know that?”

    The same way I’d know the same about ANY historian. I don’t until it is proven that any of them are. However, it is funny that you think it likely that the authors of 66 separate books from different generations would all be lying about the same things.

    “So you believe that these (miracles) are actual events for which concrete confirmation is impossible and yet can ONLY be supported with testimony as the only
    evidence?”

    Please, PLEASE try paying attention. If you work better with smaller portions, I’ll comment on only one of your snarky comments at a time. Your last comment suggests that the authors of these 66 separate books all wrote honestly with the exception that they embellished the tales with supernatural events? Is that it? And I’M the irrational one? Really? Once again, and really, pay attention here, where archeology has found anything, it has only found that which matches something the Bible has claimed. Never has it contradicted it. Even where it thought a contradiction had occurred, later findings overruled it.

    For example, according to one source I recall, placement of some towns in the Bible seemed to have conflicted with some archeological digs. But later, it was found that it was not uncommon in ancient times for towns (particularly smaller ones) to have been either destroyed or abandoned and then re-established in another location.

    Such things indicate accuracy in historical reporting in Scripture rather than otherwise. This adds to the credibility of the rest of the stories in question. Also, archeology has provided other sources, as I’ve already mentioned, that confirm the spread of the religion as the Bible has described it that all historical scholars agree is far too soon for myth and legend to have developed, compared to the development of what is now considered myth and legend. As if that wasn’t enough, no other ancient figure has as much manuscript evidence in hand as does Jesus Christ. What’s more, I’ve mentioned in previous posts the issue of “Minimal Facts” about Jesus upon which even atheist scholars agree and for which the only explanation that ties them all together is the Biblical version of events.

    So once again, because you DON’T pay attention or seek to jump upon any single point that appears to give you any hope of dispelling it, the testimony of Scripture is but ONE piece of evidence that justifies our belief. But the testimony of Scripture for the truth of the miraculous is evidence and as far as we know thus far, nothing has confirmed that any of it UNtrue. There is only the baseless disbelief of atheists like yourself that hopes to convince anyone that it is. And why would anyone buy into YOUR arguments?

  28. Marshall,

    You keep asking me to pay attention. I’m afraid we appear to be talking past each other and we’re not having a very fruitful conversation. I’m sensing a lot of hostility from you and you’re having a difficult time understanding my questions.

    For the sake of keeping it simple, consider the resurrection as an example of a supernatural event.

    What I did was explain the nature of miracles in general, or why they can’t be proven.

    Question: Please tell me how you have any knowledge about the nature of miracles and how you know why they can’t be proven.

    But the testimony of Scripture for the truth of the miraculous is evidence and as far as we know thus far, nothing has confirmed that any of it UNtrue.

    But you just said that miracles can’t be proven , so you’re not really interested in listening to anything else that may oppose your conclusion.

    Your last comment suggests that the authors of these 66 separate books all wrote honestly with the exception that they embellished the tales with supernatural events?

    Yes, because there is no evidence to support their claims for supernatural events.

    … where archeology has found anything…

    Pay attention. Archaeology may prove the existence of towns mentioned in the bible, but it still has not shown anything to support claims for supernatural events.

    …the spread of the religion as the Bible has described it that all historical scholars agree is far too soon for myth and legend to have developed, compared to the development of what is now considered myth and legend. As if that wasn’t enough, no other ancient figure has as much manuscript evidence in hand as does Jesus Christ. What’s more, I’ve mentioned in previous posts the issue of “Minimal Facts” about Jesus upon which even atheist scholars agree and for which the only explanation that ties them all together is the Biblical version of events.

    Pay attention. These are other fallacious arguments and still do not present any evidence to support your claim for supernatural events.

    … the testimony of Scripture is but ONE piece of evidence that justifies our belief.

    Question: What other evidence do you have to justify your belief?

  29. Marshall Art says:

    “Question: Please tell me how you have any knowledge about the nature of miracles and how you know why they can’t be proven.”

    You’re kidding, right? That’s the freakin’ definition of miracles? Why do you insist on this childishness? I don’t need to personally know anything about the nature of miracles. I’m satisfied that the definition is easily attainable by checking any dictionary. If an event can be explained by natural/physical means, it can’t be a miracle. A miracle by definition is that which occurs outside the rules of nature or the physical world.

    “But you just said that miracles can’t be proven , so you’re not really interested in listening to anything else that may oppose your conclusion.”

    You’re still not paying attention, and telling me to pay attention would be a cute game if you’re 6 yrs old. You’re at least a few years older than that, aren’t you? I said that testimony is evidence for miracles. I went on to explain that you would have to prove that the testimony is false (purposely made or simply in error) to insist that the testimony is worthless and the stories untrue. As to what I’m interested in listening, that would be something I haven’t heard that is compelling, profound and forces me to take another look at what I’ve already learned, and to investigate further. When you’ve got something, let me know. Thus far, all you’ve done is the atheist version of what you think believers do, but you’ve not made anything close to a convincing argument on this one simple point regarding witness testimony. You simply dismiss it out of hand as automatically untrustworthy. It seems it is YOU who is unwilling to listen to anything that might challenge your desire that God doesn’t exist.

    “Yes, because there is no evidence to support their claims for supernatural events.”

    And no reasonable expectation that they should be regarded as lying or wrong in any way. The mere mention of the outrageous means that they cannot be believed. If they haven’t lied about anything else, why are they lying about miracles? The works of Christ were spoken of by those who didn’t follow Him, like Josephus. Was he lying? Tacitus spoke of the Christians and their beliefs. Was he lying? These two people with no horse in the race had no trouble relating what had been said by and about Christians. They never mentioned that anyone proved the rumors false. Did they collude with any of the authors of the Bible books? The testimonies of early Christians, including the Biblical authors who recorded those histories, are evidence. If you want to say they are inconclusive to you, that’s one thing. To say no evidence exists is false.

    “Archaeology may prove the existence of towns mentioned in the bible, but it still has not shown anything to support claims for supernatural events.”

    Anything that confirms any part of the Bible lends credibility to the rest, just as anything that might have contradicted any part of the Bible would rightly damage the credibility of the rest. You claim to know about witness testimony, but this simple aspect seems to elude you. And archeology has confirmed the existence of several characters in the Bible once thought to be composites or pure invention.

    “These are other fallacious arguments and still do not present any evidence to support your claim for supernatural events.”

    There’s nothing fallacious about anything I’ve presented, and certainly no way for YOU to show it so. But it all goes toward lending credibility to Scripture as NO other ancient writing has ever been so closely scrutinized, so thoroughly studied and analyzed. It’s amazing atheists exist at all, except that they don’t do the due diligence they pretend to have done. Supernatural events can only be proven in two ways: personal experience and the testimony of one or more trustworthy witnesses. You demand what isn’t possible due to the nature of miracles and insist you’ve won something because your unreasonable demands can’t be met and you’ll accept nothing less.

    The only piece of evidence that could come close to your insane demands would be the Shroud of Turin. The most recent research on that relic indicates it is no hoax, and that it comes from a time as far back as the life of Christ. But can it ever be proven to be the Shroud of Jesus’ burial? I doubt it. So what then? The Resurrection didn’t happen just because it can’t be proven to the satisfaction of cynics like YOU? Now THAT counts as “NO EVIDENCE”.

  30. Wow, Marshall – thank you for proving my point, time and time again.

    This is precisely why there seems to be such a cognitive dissonance with believers.

    You say a miracle is something when it happens outside the rules of nature and then say it can’t be proven to be true or untrue. You simply take any ancient story in the bible to be true because you believe the story tellers are honest. You take these stories on faith, throw up your hands and say “why would they lie?” and “prove to me they were dishonest!”

    Anything that confirms any part of the Bible lends credibility to the rest, just as anything that might have contradicted any part of the Bible would rightly damage the credibility of the rest.

    a. No, anything does not confirm everything. You just can’t say “but look at all this other true stuff!”
    b. Christians constantly deny and argue about any contradictions for this very reason.

    It’s amazing atheists exist at all, except that they don’t do the due diligence they pretend to have done.

    That’s ironic, since as a faith based believer you just simply accept the stories as true without question and attack anyone who asks to verify them.

    Supernatural events can only be proven in two ways: personal experience and the testimony of one or more trustworthy witnesses.

    Wait – you just told me that miracles can’t be proven.

    The only piece of evidence that could come close to your insane demands would be the Shroud of Turin.

    What about it? Yes, Jesus existed, I agree. What exactly is this supposed to prove?

    Look, I can’t help it if my standards for belief are just higher than yours, that’s all. Feel free to believe whatever you want to believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Just don’t get all bent out of shape when people ask you to back up an unbelievable claim. You take it on faith.

  31. Marshall Art says:

    @Z,

    It seems I haven’t been clear, not articulating my meaning precisely enough for the likes of you, or you are purposely being obtuse. But I’ll assume the best about you and restate it differently, if not more clearly:

    I miracle is an event that cannot be proven by natural/physical means to have happened at all. Is that better? Thus, witness testimony is the only evidence of its having occurred.

    You clearly aren’t paying attention and the following is more evidence (regardless of your definition of “evidence”):

    “No, anything does not confirm everything.”

    I never said anything like this. I said that what archeology HAS confirmed lends credence to the rest of what the Bible claims. NOT “confirms” it. Just as additional witnesses lends credence to the testimony of the previous witness in a court case, and just as physical evidence lends credence to the oral testimonies of witnesses. Indeed, a court case relies on assessing all available evidence, both physical AND testimonial, to determine the facts. Scholars have come to recognize minimal facts about Jesus due to both physical evidence available and the testimonies of dead people, both from the Bible and other sources. Nothing has been found that contradicts any claim of the Bible, particularly the supernatural events. Does this prove they happened? No. But it all lends credence to the claims that they happened and such to the extent that one must consciously dismiss or ignore the evidence to insist it was all merely made up.

    “Christians constantly deny and argue about any contradictions for this very reason.”

    This is untrue, though all of your linked info seems to speak only of the uneducated and inarticulate Christians lacking the skills to deal with such controversy. What is really happening is that Christians have resolved the perceived contradictions in a manner that shows they aren’t contradictions at all. It is the opposition that simply denies.

    “That’s ironic, since as a faith based believer you just simply accept the stories as true without question and attack anyone who asks to verify them.”

    Not at all. At least not until the opponent displays his petulant refusal to honestly deal with the arguments. No one here has merely accepted the stories without question at all. Indeed, I recall one commenter speaking of Scripture teaching us to deal with the facts and using reason for justifying our faith. We question all the time, in fact, and it is quite common place. But if there is any attacking going on, it is by those who insist we are superstitious fools believing without reason.

    “Wait – you just told me that miracles can’t be proven.”

    Now you’re just being an ass. If I witness a miracle, say my father dead for almost fifty years knocking at my door, I have witnessed the impossible and as such the miracle is proven. The testimony of anyone of good character with a reputation for honesty is more proof that a claim of the miraculous is true. I’ve been quite consistent about this and you’re playing games.

    “Just don’t get all bent out of shape when people ask you to back up an unbelievable claim.”

    What “bends” me is your double standards for what constitutes evidence. When I corrected your definition so that testimony must be included as evidence, you began to seek “other” evidence from me. Yes, your standards are different. Not so much “higher” as unreasonable. I never tried to sell the testimony of the Bible as the be-all and end-all, the deal breaker, solid and concrete. YOU’VE sought to imply that is my only piece of evidence and of Christians in general. Your entire argument with how Christians argue for their faith is flawed.

  32. I have never wavered from my definition of evidence. You insist that evidence includes testimony and it does not.

    You said you had evidence outside the bible for god and I asked you for it. Realizing now that you would simply offer more testimonies as evidence, I withdraw that question and conclude that a conversation with you is pointless.

    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

    Don’t try to understand it, just believe what they’re telling you…

    Take care

  33. @ Z

    Same song, different note man.

    In referencing Marshall, you said, “You said you had evidence outside the bible for god and I asked you for it.

    The criteria of the judgment isn’t going to be “evidence” that you consider worthy or unworthy. There have always been people who have asked for more evidence – and it wasn’t given to them! Know why? Because it doesn’t have to be. Because it wouldn’t do any good. It wouldn’t change their mind because their mind is made up. To sit down and pout about wanting more evidence while at the same time not wanting more evidence is ridiculous!

    The “big red truck” about the existence of God is the existence of life itself; but the existence of life itself is not the origin of a saving faith – that’s God’s word. If you chose to believe it, then great! If not, then it’s on you.

    Now get ready for it, because here comes some scripture…

    He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” Matthew 27:42

    He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” John 12:48

    You said after quoting some scripture, “Don’t try to understand it, just believe what they’re telling you…

    Well, the problem isn’t that you want to understand it and you’re not being given answers; the problem is that you just want to argue about why you shouldn’t understand it friend! No matter what is said, you have proven yourself, up to this point, to be someone with a glass half empty kind of outlook when it comes to the Bible no matter what answer is given.

    But again, like the John said so many posts ago, I’m sure you’ll continue to put a whole lot of effort into something that supposedly doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to you.

  34. “I have never wavered from my definition of evidence. You insist that evidence includes testimony and it does not.”

    While you might assert this as fact I would refer you to Simon Greenleaf for a different view.
    Greenleaf was an attorney, and law professor. “Greenleaf’s well-known work, a Treatise on the Law of Evidence, is considered a classic of American jurisprudence.

    One might presume he was familiar with the rules of evidence use in American jurisprudence.

    His examination of the 4 gospels is definitely worth taking a look at.

  35. Marshall Art says:

    From USLegal.com:

    “Oral testimony is the oldest kind of evidence. The oral testimony of witnesses can exclude or supplement documentary evidence.”

    From Wikipedia:

    “In the law, testimony is a form of evidence that is obtained from a witness who makes a solemn statement or declaration of fact.”

    From Z:

    “I have never wavered from my definition of evidence. You insist that evidence includes testimony and it does not.”

    I think I see the problem.

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