bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 9

I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection).

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Excerpts from my post

The Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection:

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According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.

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Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.

In the first 347 pages of Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:

Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)

There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.

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Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.

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Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
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 An excerpt from my post

An Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig:

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Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:
1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday? 
2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?
Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.
Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).
I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.
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An excerpt from the INDEX article for this series of posts:

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[…]
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.
My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
[…]
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In Parts 2 through 8, I have discussed Luke Johnson’s views about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, arguing that Johnson does not think that the claim that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday can be established as an historical fact on the basis of historical evidence.   Johnson does believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but his belief in Jesus’ resurrection is based on religious experience and is NOT based on historical evidence.
So, Johnson does not share the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified. Thus, Johnson’s judgment that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is IRRELEVANT to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus, because Johnson rejects a crucial background assumption held by Craig, the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after being crucified.
Furthermore, I have argued that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels make it so that his “method of convergence” fails to show that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  Given Johnson’s skeptical assumptions, his high level of confidence that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is not rationally justified.  Johnson’s conclusion that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is the result of faulty reasoning and factual mistakes, and it seems likely that these flaws in Johnson’s thinking are the result of religious/theological BIAS in favor of Christian dogma, and thus reflect a failure to analyze and evaluate these issues logically and objectively.
In the next post of this series I will begin to develop a similar critique of the views of Robert Funk about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability – Part 4

Here is another objection to dwindling probabilities from Swinburne:
“A defender of the argument from dwindling probabilities may…emphasize that all the same the longer the route of the argument (or the more conjuncts involved in the conclusion), the less probable is the conclusion; and so suggest that it is not plausible to suppose that an argument of any length would yield a very probable conclusion. In rebuttal I make two points. The first is that the argument from dwindling probabilities applies, in so far as it does apply, not only to theological arguments, but to any argument of some length in history or science (or to any conjunction of propositions in these areas). Yet surely in these areas we can reach conclusions which are very probable.”
One cannot deny that historical and scientific arguments can in some cases show an historical or scientific conclusion to be very probable.  However, it is NOT clear that this is the case when there is just one argument for such a conclusion and that argument consists of deductive inferences and  multiple independent probable factual premises, where it would be correct to multiply the probability of the premises to determine the probability of the conclusion.
1. It will (probably) rain here this afternoon.
2. If it rains here this afternoon, then my lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
Therefore:
3. My lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
If the probability of (1) is .8  and the probability of (2) is .8, then we could multiply the probability of these premises to arrive at a probability of .64 for the conclusion (or about .6).
We need, however, to consider the possibility that it will not rain here this afternoon, and whethere there might be OTHER REASONS why my lawn might bet wet this evening.  One possibility is that it might not start raining until the early evening (between 6pm and 8pm).  Another possibility is that a sprinkler system might automatically water the lawn this afternoon.  There can be multiple reasons for thinking my lawn will be wet this evening.  Even if it does NOT rain this afternoon, my lawn might still be wet at 8pm this evening:
1. It will (probably) rain here this afternoon.
2. If it rains here this afternoon, then my lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
4. The sprinkler system will (probably) water the lawn for about an hour  this afternoon.
5. If the sprinkler system waters the lawn for about an hour this afternoon, then my lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
6. It will (possibly) rain here in the early evening between 6pm and 8pm.
7. If it rains here in the early evening between 6pm and 8pm, then my lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
Therefore:
3. My lawn will (probably) be wet this evening at 8pm.
In this case, the probability of the conclusion (3) is NOT limited to the probabilty either that it will rain in the afternoon, or to the probability that it will rain in the early evening, or to the probability that the sprinkler system will automatically water the lawn this afternoon.  Because there are multiple ways that my lawn can become wet, the probability of (3) can exceed the probability of any one particular way that my lawn might become wet.
In this argument which refers to multiple ways in which my lawn can become wet, it would be incorrect to simply multiply the probabilities of each of the premises together.  Multiplying the probabilities of these various premises would yeild a fairly small probability.  For example if the probability of each of these premises was .8, then multiplying their probabilities would result in a probability of .4096 or about .4 which is a significantly lower probability than we got with just the one possible way of the lawn getting wet (i.e. rain in the afternoon). But clearly, adding more ways for the lawn to get wet will INCREASE the probability of the concluson, not decrease it.  So, each additional way that the lawn can become wet will significantly INCREASE the probability of the conclusion (in the case of this argument).
Clearly, arguments involving probability can sometimes involve such multiple reasons or considerations each of which provides some additional support for the conclusion, and in the case of such arguments it would be incorrect to simply multiply the probabilities of the premises together to determine the probability of the conclusion.
Therefore, since there are some such arguments involving probability, it could be the case that MOST historical and scientific arguments that show their conclusions to be very probable are of this sort, and are not of the sort where it is appropriate to multiply the probabilities of the premises together to determine the probability of the conclusion.
Obviously, there could still be some historical or scientific arguments that show their conclusions to be very probable which are the sort of argument in which it is correct to simply multiply the probabilities of the premises to determine the probabiilty of the conclusion.  In such cases the probability of the premises will need to be very high, especially if there are four or five or more premises in the argument.  Consider, for example, an argument with four premises where each premise has a probabilty of .95.  If this argument was the sort where it would be correct to simply multiply the probabilities of the premises to determine the probability of the conclusion,then the probability of the conclusion would be: .8145 or about .8.  I would consider this conclusion to be “very probable”.  But if the probability of the premises were just a bit lower, say .9. then the probability of the conclusion would be only: .6561  or about .7.   Although this conclusion would clearly be probable, it is not clear to me that it would be “very probable”.
How does all this relate to my specific example of dwindling probabiilty?  There are at least two disanalogies that make it so that this point by Swinburne does not apply to my example.  First, in the case of ancient history it may be rather difficult to come up with factual premises that are highly probable, whereas it might well be easier to come up with highly probable factual premises in relation to arguments for conclusions in modern history or modern science.
Second, it might well be the case (Swinburne has not shown otherwise) that the probability arguments in history and science that show their conclusions to be very probable are of a differnt sort than the probability argument that I give as an example of dwindling probability.  It might be the case that most such historical and scientific arguments have premises that each provide some additional INCREASE to the probability of the conclusion.  These historical and scientific arguments might be such that it would be incorrect to simply multiply probabilities of the premises to determine the probability of the conclusion.
In previous posts, I discussed Swinburne’s idea that there can be multiple WAYS or ROUTES to a conclusion, and that each WAY or ROUTE can contribute to the overall probability of the conclusion.  Swinburne is correct on this point, but this implies that there are probability arguments in which the addition of premises INCREASES the probability of the conclusion rather than decreases the probability of the conclusion.  Thus, it is critical to distinguish between these different kinds of probability arguments.  The fact that there are SOME probability arguments where it is incorrect to simply multiply the probabilities of the premises to determine the probability of the conclusion does NOT show that there are NO probability arguments where it is correct to simply multiply the probabilities of the premises to determine the probability of the conclusion.
In fact, we KNOW that if the probability of the conclusion would be ZERO given that a premise is false, then the probability of the conclusion CANNOT exceed the probability of that premise.  In other words, if one claim is a necessary condition for another claim, then the probability of the latter claim cannot exceed the probability of the former claim.

bookmark_borderChristian Philosopher Says the Popularity of Apologetics Book Shows Christians Care about Evidence

Victor Reppert, a Christian philosopher who is a friend of this blog and who has his own blog at Dangerous Ideaargues that Christians really do care about basing their beliefs on the evidence. How does Reppert justify this conclusion? Because of the popularity of Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In Reppert’s words:

It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
I respect Reppert’s philosophical expertise and critical thinking skills. And I respectfully submit that this isn’t one of his better pieces of reasoning.
I would not want to make a generalization about whether Christians as a group are interested in evidence. But I don’t think Reppert’s attempted refutation of that atheist meme works.
I am very familiar with the book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (ETDAV). Many years ago, I coordinated a team rebuttal to ETDAV known as The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence.” 
The fact that ETDAV is one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years has many potential explanations. One explanation is that Christians are open-minded people who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Another explanation is that many of the Christian readers of ETDAV were looking for confirmation of their Christianity after they became a Christian. Indeed, the content of ETDAV (much like the content of Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ) is a textbook example of understating the evidence. At best, McDowell (and Strobel) presents genuine evidence which does favor Christianity. He does not, however, discuss the evidence against Christianity in his book, so we don’t even have a prime facie reason to believe that McDowell’s book is a good discussion of the total relevant evidence about Christianity (for and against), and so we don’t even have a prima facie reason to believe that the total relevant evidence favors Christianity.

Of course, one could make precisely the same argument about many atheist books, and one would probably be justified in doing so. (Imagine someone who argued that atheists care about the evidence, as shown by the fact that Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion is a best seller. That would be a weak argument and for the same reason.)

Far too many people seem to cherry pick the evidence. But let’s return to Reppert’s post, which is titled, “Is there good evidence for the resurrection?” He writes:

I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely.

Let’s look at Reppert’s claim closely.

First, notice that when Reppert talks about “explaining the historical events,” he’s presumably referring to events such as Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his burial, his empty tomb, and his post-mortem appearances. We only need an explanation for these events if they actually happened. I have yet to see a good argument for any of these events, however.

For the avoidance of doubt and for the record, I want to state that I’m inclined to think that all four events really did happen. (In fact, I think I may actually have a logically correct inductive argument for the empty tomb. More on that in the future if I ever publish it.) But it seems rather one-sided to focus on the fact, if it is fact, that skeptics haven’t produced a good alternative explanation for the historical events, while neglecting the fact that Christians haven’t produced good arguments for the events that skeptics are supposed to be explaining with their alternative explanations.

As an analogy, I don’t have an alternative explanation for the historical events regarding alleged sightings of Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse (Buraq), but I’ve never been given a good reason to believe those events happened either.

But let’s return to Reppert, the Resurrection, and alleged historical events. I think the current state of Resurrection apologetics and counter-apologetics may be best described as immature. Neither side seems to have made much effort into analyzing the logical structure of the arguments for the evidence. (Yes, you read that right.) In other words, what’s lacking is a good, solid analysis of the evidence for the evidence. So far as I can tell, no one from either side has done this. Not William Lane Craig. Not Stephen T. Davis, Richard Swinburne, Gary Habermas, the McGrews, N.T. Wright, Michael Licona, Norm Geisler, Frank Turek, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Frank Morison, or Simon Greenleaf. And not Hume, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Michael Martin, G.A. Wells, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, Robert Greg Cavin, or Carlos Colombetti.

Because the current state of both Resurrection apologetics and counter-apologetics is immature, I’m just not impressed by the fact (if it is a fact) that skeptics have offered no good alternative explanations. The best explanation of ‘the lack of good alternative explanations’ may well be that skeptics just haven’t come up a good alternative explanation yet, not that one doesn’t exist. To think otherwise is to make a logically incorrect argument from silence.

Second, even if we grant for the sake of argument that all of the alleged historical events really did happen, Reppert is left with an enormous problem. He seems to assume that the Resurrection theory explains the relevant historical data. The problem with that assumption, however, is that it is just that: an assumption. Not only does Reppert not defend that assumption, but there is excellent reason to doubt it. The Resurrection theory by itself does not explain the data. The Resurrection theory explains the data only when we combine it with one or more extra (auxiliary) theories. Philosophers Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti explain this beautifully in their PowerPoint presentation on slides 129-185.

Speaking of Cavin and Colombetti, I will close with this point. There are far better criticisms of Resurrection apologetics available than what you will find from the writings of, say, Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, Michael Martin, G.A. Wells, Richard Dawkins, and so forth. Arguably the best critics of Resurrection apologetics are Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos ColombettiHopefully Christians like Reppert will eventually get around to interacting with the work of C&C.

bookmark_borderMessage to Moderate Muslims

The position of the moderate Muslim is unenviable. Conservative Muslims castigate you as apostates and heretics. Right-wing Americans lump you with the terrorists and fanatics. So extreme has the anti-Muslim fervor become in the United States that Donald Trump can call for temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the country—and his poll numbers go up! Governors of states such as Texas oppose the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states, adding insult to the injury suffered by these victims of terrorism. Time and again critics demand to know what you moderates are doing to oppose terrorism and extremism. Time and again you respond by speaking out against fanaticism and violence, condemning it in no uncertain terms. You emphatically distance yourselves from the jihadists, emphasizing that for you Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood. Surely you are frustrated that you never seem to get any credit for your explicit, repeated, and emphatic rejection of terrorism. Instead, after every horrific incident, like the San Bernardino massacre, you only find more fingers pointing at you and more rhetorical bombs thrown at you. You must be asking yourself “What more can we do to show people that we are not fanatics, that we have no intention of imposing Sharia law or conducting a jihad, and that the actions of criminal degenerates like ISIS appall us as much as anyone?”
Here is the more that you can do: Condemnation of terrorism is great; it is necessary, but it is not sufficient. What is also needed is a new and compelling narrative, one that can compete with and defeat the narrative of ISIS and other hateful ideologies. Doctrines of violence and hate exert a dark and deadly appeal, especially for gullible young people. For instance, ISIS, a squalid little death cult, exploits youthful idealism by portraying itself as an army of glorious martyrs. When such a doctrine is packaged in slick media presentations by technology-savvy propagandists, its attraction is multiplied many times. Fortunately, though, genuine idealism can also have a strong appeal to the young, if they can be reached before the hate-mongers have captured their souls.
What kind of idealistic message is needed? Well, obviously it must be Islamic. Only Islam can defeat Islamist fanaticism. The message must be conveyed by charismatic young Muslim men and women whose activism is grounded in deep faith. It must be a doctrine that seeks unity with all people of good will—Sunni or Shiite, Muslim or Jew, believer or unbeliever. It must be a doctrine that supports the empowerment of women by promoting their access to education and political power. It must, in short, be a message like that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting education for girls. It is highly instructive that the Taliban fanatics were so frightened by a young girl that they tried to assassinate her. A fanatic who might gladly face bullets and bombs is terrified by a woman who speaks her mind boldly and defiantly.
Whatever you do, it is something that needs to be done quickly. Humanity is facing an imminent crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions, one that we will have to address as a species. We simply cannot afford to confront that crisis while deeply divided by ancient grudges and resentments. By 2050—just a generation from now—there will be ten billion human beings living shoulder to shoulder on this one small planet. Our oceans and forests are already seriously depleted, and even if the world acts now to begin slowing climate change, the effects could still be disastrous. Environmental deterioration could lead to widespread famine and epidemic disease. The consequence could be war, perhaps between nuclear powers, genocide, and a refugee crisis that vastly exceeds our current one. If our grandchildren are to have a livable world, Muslims and non-Muslims must—must—find a way to work together. There just is no alternative.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 8

I have one final objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence”.  I have been using the phrase “the devil is in the details” to summarize a number of problems with, or objections to, Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to establish some key claims about Jesus.  But there are some specific DETAILS about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that I have not yet mentioned but that represent more such details that raise doubt about the claim that “Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.”
First of all, we don’t know how crucifixion CAUSES a person to die.  There are various theories, of course, but it would be unethical to put those theories to a full scientific test, because it would be unethical to crucify human beings and to carefully observe their deaths in order to answer this historical/medical question.  However, one popular theory is that crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation, but actual scientific tests of crucifixion (where subjects were strapped, not nailed, to crosses) have indicated that, contrary to the asphyxiation theory, people can breathe without difficulty while hanging from a cross.  The subjects, of course, were only attached to the crosses for a few minutes, not for several hours, so the asphyxiation theory has not been disproved, but it has been cast into doubt.
Because we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, we can hardly be certain that it caused Jesus to die in a matter of just a few hours (Jesus was crucified around 9am according to the synoptic Gospels and around noon according to the Gospel of John.  The  Gospels agree that Jesus was buried before sundown on the day he was crucified, around 6pm, so his apparent death would have been sometime in the late afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm).  If Jesus had been on the cross for several days, that would make his death highly probable because people usually died after three or four days.  But since Jesus was allegedly on the cross for between about three hours (noon to 3pm) and eight hours (9am to 5pm), the fact that he was hanging from a cross for a few hours is not sufficient to confidently conclude that he died on the cross.
One important detail is the use of NAILS.  Most paintings and sculptures of the crucifixion show Jesus as nailed to the cross, but the synoptic Gospels do not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing.  The synoptic gospels only say that Jesus was crucified, and crucifixion was often carried out by binding the victim to the cross, without using nails.  The Gospel of John also does not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, in the story of Doubting Thomas, which is found ONLY in the Gospel of John, we are told that the risen Jesus had marks in his hands/wrists from nails.  Since nails are mentioned ONLY in the Gospel of John and in the dubious story of Doubting Thomas which also occurs ONLY in the Gospel of John, the evidence for the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion is weak and questionable. (Note: The Doubting Thomas story says nothing about nail wounds in Jesus’ feet, only in his hands.)
If Jesus had been bound to the cross rather than nailed to the cross, then that would mean that instead of having a serious wound in each hand/wrist and in each foot/ankle, he would have had no serious wound in each hand/wrist and no serious wound in each foot/ankle, meaning that four of the serious wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus, might be fictional rather than factual.  If  Jesus had been bound rather than nailed to the cross, this would significantly reduce the probability that he would die after just a few hours of hanging on the cross.
One other very important wound that Jesus allegedly received while on the cross is the SPEAR WOUND to his side.  The story of the spear wound, however, is found ONLY in the historically dubious Gospel of John.  None of the synoptic Gospels record this event, and none of the other Gospels ever mentions a wound in Jesus’ side.
Furthermore, there is good reason to suspect that this spear wound incident was created on the basis of an O.T. prophecy, which is specifically mentioned in the Gospel passage that relates this story (John 19:36 & 37):
36. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  
37. And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The author of this Gospel might have accepted these scripture passages as divinely inspired prophecy which MUST be fulfilled, and on this basis INFERRED that Jesus MUST have been stabbed with a spear while on the cross, and then created the story about the spear wound, without any thought or intent to deceive the readers of this Gospel, being fully confident in the inspiration of the O.T. and in his interpretation of these ‘prophetic’ passages.
I, however, am quite confident that the O.T. was NOT inspired by God, and even if it were inspired by God I have no good reason to trust or rely upon the interpretation of these O.T. passages by an unknown first-century Christian author.  Since there is a good chance that the story was created on the basis of the O.T. passages, there is a good chance that the spear-wound story is fictional and false.  If the spear-wound story is fictional and false, then one of the most serious and important wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus was NOT actually inflicted on Jesus.   If there was no spear-wound to Jesus’ side while he was hanging on the cross, then that would significantly reduce the probability that Jesus would die after just a few hours on the cross.
Within the general constraints of the Gospel accounts, but allowing for some dubious details to  be fictional, it is quite possible that Jesus was merely tied to the cross (not nailed), that he hung from the cross for just a few hours (from noon to 3pm), and that there was no serious spear-wound inflicted on Jesus while he was on the cross.  Given that we simply do not know how crucifixion causes death (other than by dehydration, starvation, and exposure over a period of days),  the fact that Jesus was crucified fails to show that the death of Jesus on the cross is highly probable.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderTRUMP: His Bigotry & Hate is not Welcome in the U.K. or Israel

Racists and Bigots are allowed to to speak and to advocate their racist and bigoted views in the USA, but other countries have laws against such hate speech, so Donald Trump could be blocked from entry into Britain.
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560K signed petition against Trump
 
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More than 360,000 people, angered by Donald Trump’s call to ban the entry of Muslims into the United States, have signed a petition accusing him of hate speech and asking the British government to bar him from the country.

[…]
[The text of the petition:]

“The U.K. has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech,” it says. “The same principles should apply to everyone who wishes to enter the U.K. If the United Kingdom is to continue applying the ‘unacceptable behavior’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as powerful.”

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In the strongest criticism ever of an American presidential candidate by a Prime Minister, David Cameron said it was “wrong” to question the courage of Britain’s policemen and then attacked his call for a ban on Muslims travelling to the United States as “divisive”.

[…]

The row means that if Mr Trump wins the presidential election in less than a year diplomatic relations between Britain and the United States could become close to untenable.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rejecting Donald Trump’s remarks about banning Muslims from entering the United States, saying that Israel “respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens.”

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Sir Peter Westmacott, British ambassador to the US, objected to Trump’s bigotry:

“There is somebody called Donald Trump running in your presidential campaign, and he again spoke this morning about the UK, saying that we were busy disguising a massive Muslim problem,” the ambassador said. “That’s not the way we see it. We are very proud of our Muslim community in the United Kingdom.”

[…]

“Sir Peter…told the gathering that jihadist groups did not truly reflect Islam and warned that Mr Trump’s rhetoric made it harder to fight terrorism.”

bookmark_borderTRUMP: Make America Hate Again!

 
Make America Hate Again
In previous weeks the top two Republican candidates for president were (1) an ignorant racist bigot (Trump), and (2) an ignorant religious nut case (Carson).  I used to think that about 1/3 of the Republican party was brain dead, because that is about the portion of Republicans who still believe Obama is a Muslim and that we found Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden away in Iraq.  But since about 1/2 of the Republican party favors either Trump or Carson, I’m now convinced that about half of the GOP is brain dead.
Just a few weeks ago three Republican presidential candidates (Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal) appeared at a “Kill the Gays” conference to kiss the ass of the sociopathic Christian pastor  Kevin Swanson, in hopes of getting a few more bloodthirsty homicidal fascist Christians to vote for them.

But on Monday, Donald Trump, once again, took the lead in the race to crazy town.

==============================
Trump calls for ‘complete shutdown’ on Muslims entering US
By JILL COLVIN and BRUCE SMITH
Dec. 7, 2015 11:07 PM EST
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Donald Trump called Monday for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” an idea swiftly condemned by his rival GOP candidates for president and other Republicans.
The proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike, a sweeping prohibition affecting all adherents of Islam who want to come to the U.S. The idea faced an immediate challenge to its legality and feasibility from experts who could point to no formal exclusion of immigrants based on religion in America’s history.
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I, of course, agree with the condemnation of Trump’s bigotry by the Democratic presidential candidates:
From the Democratic presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders said, “Trump and others want us to hate all Muslims,” and Hillary Clinton called the proposal “reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive.” 
But apparently some Republicans aren’t yet brain dead, and also condemned the creeping fascism of Mr. Trump:

“He is a race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot.” stated Senator Lindsey Graham.

“Donald Trump is unhinged,” Jeb Bush said via Twitter. “His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”
John Kasich slammed Trump’s “outrageous divisiveness.”
But all of these critics are competing with Trump, so their objections may be politically convenient.  Nevertheless, there are others, including Republicans who are speaking up against Trump’s idiocy:
Trump’s plan also drew criticism from the heads of the Republican Party in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three states to vote in next year’s presidential primaries.
New Hampshire GOP’s chairwoman Jennifer Horn said the idea is “un-Republican. It is unconstitutional. And it is un-American,” while South Carolina chairman Matt Moore said on Twitter, “As a conservative who truly cares about religious liberty, Donald Trump’s bad idea and rhetoric send a shiver down my spine.”  
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The new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, made one of the best comments:
“This is not conservatism,” said Mr. Ryan, the House speaker and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012. “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
“Some of our best and biggest allies in this struggle and fight against radical Islamic terror are Muslims, the vast, vast, vast majority of whom are people who believe in pluralism, freedom, democracy, individual rights,” Mr. Ryan said.
Even Dick Cheney could not stomach Trump’s bigotry:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a radio interview, said late Monday that “this whole notion that somehow we need to say ‘no more Muslims’ and just ban a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
(I’m now going to take a shower, having just agreed to something uttered by Dick Cheney, for the first time in my life.)
 
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It is not just liberal-commie-pinkos like me who see Trump’s creeping fascism.  Some conservatives are starting to use the “F” word to describe Trump:
Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it,” tweeted Max Boot, a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is advising Marco Rubio.
“Forced federal registration of US citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period. Nothing else to call it,” Jeb Bush national security adviser John Noonan wrote on Twitter.
Conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, who has endorsed Ted Cruz, also used the “F” word last week: “If Obama proposed the same religion registry as Trump every conservative in the country would call it what it is — creeping fascism.”
Note that these comments were made BEFORE Trump vomited up his latest bit of anti-Muslim bigotry.
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Before he exited the race for the Republican nomination for president, Bobby Jindal had some good advice for conservatives:

Jindal: Trump is a madman who must be stopped

By Bobby Jindal
Last week, I said on national television that Donald Trump is a shallow, unserious, substance-free, narcissistic egomaniac.
It’s pointless arguing policy with someone not intellectually curious enough to care and who makes it up on the fly. According to him, his plans will be “fabulous” and “something terrific.”
His problem with Washington isn’t big government, it’s that he’s not running it. He’s not liberal, moderate or conservative. He’s not Republican or Democrat. Donald Trump is for Donald Trump. He believes only in himself.
[…]
Conservatives need to say what we are thinking: Donald Trump is a madman who must be stopped. 
[…]
We face a choice: We can decide to win, or we can be the biggest fools in history and put our faith not in our principles, but in an egomaniac who has no principles. It’s time for Trump to take the ride down his own elevator. It’s time we rally behind a serious candidate.
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If you are a Republican, good luck with finding “a serious candidate” to support!
If you do find one, please make sure to tell everyone who this mystery candidate is.

bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability – Part 3

When drinking alcoholic beverages it is good to know how much alcohol one is consuming, especially if one needs to drive home after having such beverages.
Beer has less alcohol than wine, and wine has less alcohol than liquor.  Beer commonly ranges from 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV).  Wine commonly ranges from 8% to 14% ABV,  and liquor commonly ranges from 30% to 60% ABV.
In the USA, a standard drink has .6 oz of alcohol:

  • One 12 0z bottle of beer that is 5% alcohol by volume has  .6 oz of alcohol  (.05 x 12 oz = .6 oz).
  • One 5 oz glass of wine that is 12% alcohol by volume has  .6 oz of alcohol (.12 x 5 oz = .6 oz).
  • One 1.5 oz shot of 80 proof whiskey  is 40% alcohol by volume and has  .6 oz of alcohol  (.40 x 1.5 oz = .6 oz ).

In terms of amount of alcohol contained per ounce of beverage, beer is weak, wine is moderate, and liquor is strong.  We can use the “standard drink” as a general guideline for consumption of alcoholic beverages.  One 12 oz beer has about as much alcohol as one 5 oz glass of wine, and about as much alcohol as one 1.5 oz shot of 80 proof whiskey (such as Jack Daniel’s).
Inductive arguments also come in different stengths: weak, moderate, and strong.  As we saw in the previous post in this series, Swinburne’s primary objection to Plantinga’s dwindling probabilities argument focuses on the point that there can be more than one way or route to get to a conclusion or hypothesis and that to arrive at a fully accurate probability of an hypothesis, one must take into consideration all of the various ways or routes that contribute to the probability of the hypothesis.
Another way of making this point is that there can be mutliple inductive reasons or arguments for the same conclusion.  When there are multiple inductive reasons for the same conclusion, the probability of the conclusion can exceed the probability conferred upon it by any one of the reasons given to support it.  In other words, with inductive reasoning, it is possible to provide solid support for a conclusion by means of ONE STRONG inductive reason or by means of a FEW MODERATE inductive reasons, or by means of MANY WEAK inductive reasons or arguments.  One can get drunk by consuming a six-pack of 12 oz beers, just as one can get drunk by consuming a single 9 oz glass of 80 proof whiskey.
With inductive reasoning, the inferences are less than certain, and we can express the degree of uncertainty in terms of probability.  Furthermore, with inductive arguments that have empirical premises, the premises are often less than certain, and we can express the degree of uncertainty in terms of probability.  A probability of .9 is a high probability, so an inductive argument that had a premise the truth of which had a probability of .9, and an inference the probability of which was also .9 would be a paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument (click on image to see diagram more clearly):

p therefore c.

strong inductive argument
 
It is tempting to simply multiply the probability of the premise being true (.9) times the probability of the conclusion being true given that the premise is true (.9) in order to get the probability of the conclusion (.81).  But this neglects the alterntaive path where the premise is false (not p).  Even if the premise is false, there can still be some degree of probability that the conclusion will be true.  I made this probability small (.1) so that the truth of the premise makes a big difference.  If the conclusion had a probability of .9 whether the premise was true or not, then the truth of the premise wouldn’t matter.  In a strong inductive argument, we expect the truth of the premise to make a big difference.
So, this paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument confers a probability of .82  on its conclusion.  This is very close to the probability of rolling one die just once and the die coming up any number other than six (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5).  There are five chances in six that a number other than six will come up when rolling one die just once:  5/6 = .8333 or approximately: .83.  So, we can get a good feel for the probability involved in this paradigm case of a strong inductive argument by means of the analogy with the probability of rolling one die just once and the die coming up any number other than six.
If we lower the probability of the truth of the premise to .7 and also lower the probability of the inference to .7, then we will have a paradigm case of a MODERATE inductive argument (click on image to see diagram more clearly):
moderate inductive argument
Again, it is tempting to simply multiply the probability of the truth of the premise (.7) times the probability of the truth of the conclusion given the truth of the premise (.7), and conclude that the probability of the conclusion is .49, but we need to also consider the probability of the conclusion in the case that the premise is false.  Once again I have assigned a small probability to this (.1) because with a good argument, we expect the truth of the premise to make a significant difference.  If the conclusion had a probabilty of .7 whether the premise was true or not, then the truth of the premise would not make any difference.
In this paradigm case of a MODERATE inductive argument, the probability of the conclusion comes out to be .52, which is very close to the probability of flipping a coin once and having the coin come up heads, and also very close to the probability of rolling one die once and the die coming up an even number (2, 4, or 6).  There are six possible outcomes when rolling a die once, and the die coming up an even number represents three of those six possible outcomes.  Since each outcome has an equal probability, the probability of coming up an even number is 3/6  =  .50.  So, we can get a good feel for the strength of such a MODERATE inductive argument based on our experience and understanding of the probabilty of flipping a coin and it coming up heads or of the probability of rolling one die and it coming up an even number.
If we lower the probability of the premise down to .3  and also lower the probability of the inference to .3, then this will give us a paradigm case of a WEAK inductive argument(click on image to see diagram more clearly):
weak inductive argument
The probability of the conclusion of this paradigm case of a WEAK inductive argument is .16, which happens to be very close to the probability of rolling one die once and the die coming up as a six.  There are six different possible outcomes of rolling a die (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6), and the die coming up as a six is just one outcome out of those six possible outcomes.  Since each outcome is equally probable, the probability that the die will come up as a six is 1/6 =  .1666 or approximately .17.  So, our experience and understanding of the probability of rolling one die once and it coming up a six gives us a good feel for the probability of the conclusion of this paradigm case of a WEAK inductive argument.
Just as one can get drunk either by consuming a six-pack of beer or by consuming one 9 oz glass of 80 proof whiskey, so one can make a solid inductive case for a claim either with many WEAK inductive arguments or with a few MODERATE inductive arguments or with just one STRONG inductive argument.  To get a feel for how many WEAK inductive arguments are required in order to have the equivalent force of one STRONG inductive argument, we can compare the probabilities of the above paradigm cases of WEAK and STRONG arguments, and use an analogy with the probability of rolling multiple dice to get a six compared to rolling one die just once to get any number other than a six.
Our paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument gave the conclusion a probability of .82, which is very close to the probability of rolling one die once and it coming up as any number less than six (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5), which has a probability of about .83.  Our paradigm case of a WEAK inductive argument gave the conclusion a probability of .16, which is very close to the probability of rolling one die once and it coming up as a six, which has a probability of about .17.  If we had multiple independent WEAK inductive arguments for the conclusion, that would be analogous to rolling multiple dice to try to get at least one of the die to come up as a six.  How many dice would we need to roll to get to a probability of about .82 that at least one die would come up as a six?
If we roll nine dice, the probabilty of at least one die coming up as a six would be .8061934  or approximately .81, which is very close to the probability of the conclusion with our paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument (.82).  Thus, if we have multiple WEAK inductive arguments that function independently of each other (where the truth of the premise of one argument has no significant impact on the probability of the truth of the premise of any of the other arguments and no significant impact on the probability of the inference in any of the other arguments), then we would need about nine such arguments in order to get the equivalent strength as our paradigm STRONG inductive argument.
With nine dice, there are 69 possible outcomes. There are 59 outcomes that include no sixes. Thus the probability of rolling nine dice and NOT getting at least one six is 59/69 = 1.953125/10.077696 = .1938066.
There are only two possible cases:
EITHER at least one die comes up as a six OR no die comes up as a six.
Thus if we add the probabilities of these two possible cases together, the sum would be 1.0. Thus, we can determine the probability of at least one die coming up as a six by subtracting the probability of the case where no die comes up a six from 1.0:
a: At least one die comes up as a six.
n: No die comes up as a six.
r: We roll nine dice just once.
P(a|r) + P(n|r) = 1.0
P(a|r) = 1.0 – P(n|r)
P(a|r) = 1.0 – .1938066
P(a|r) = .8061934 or approximately .81
How many arguments similar in strength to the paradigm case of a MODERATE inductive argument would be required in order to be about the same force as just one argument with the strength of our paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument?  The conclusion of the paradigm case of a STRONG inductive argument has a probability of  .82, and the conclusion of the paradigm case MODERATE inductive argument has a probability of .52.  The probability of the conclusion in the case of the MODERATE argument is close to the probability of rolling one die just once and it coming up an even number (probability = .50).  So, how many dice would one need to roll in order to have a probability of about .82 of at least one die coming up an even number?
With just two dice we get close to the targeted probability of .82.  If you roll two dice, the probability that at least one die will come up as an even number is .75.  If you roll three dice, the probability that at least one die will come up an even number is .875.  So, rolling two dice is not quite enough, but rolling three dice is more than what is required.  Thus, to acheive a strength similar to just one of our paradigm STRONG inductive arguments, you need two or three arguments with a strength similar to the paradigm case of a MODERATE inductive argument (assuming that the arguments support the conclusion independently of each other).
When rolling two dice just once, there are 36 possible outcomes (6 x 6 = 36), and there are 18 outcomes with exactly one even number,  and there are 9 outcomes with exactly two even numbers.  So there are a total of 27 outcomes with at least one even number.  That means that the probability of rolling two dice just once and getting at least one die to come up as an even number is 27/36 = .75.
When rolling three dice just once, there are 216 possible outcomes (6 x 6 x6  = 216).  Cases of the desired outcome: (1) only the first die comes up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (2) only the second die come up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (3) only the third die comes up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (4) only the first and second dice come up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (5) only the first and third dice come up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (6) only the second and third dice come up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes), (7)  all three dice come up even (3 x 3 x 3 = 27 outcomes).  There are a total of 7 different cases each with 27 desired outcomes, so there is a total of 189 desired outcomes out of 216 possible outcomes.  The probability when rolling three dice just once that at least one die comes up an even number is thus 189/216 = .875 or approximately .88.
I realize that in the real world when we have multiple inductive arguments for the same conclusion, they will often NOT be independent from each other.  It will often be the case that the truth of one premise will have an impact on either the probability of some other premise in one of the other inductive arguments or on the probability of an inference in one of the other inductive arguments.  So, figuring out the probability of the conclusion in such cases will be more complex and more difficult than in cases in which multiple inductive arguments for the same conclusion function independently of each other.
However, thinking about and understanding the probability of the above paradigm cases of WEAK, MODERATE, and STRONG inductive arguments, and the analogies with the probability of various outcomes when rolling one die (WEAK: getting a six,  MODERATE: getting an even number, STRONG: getting any number less than a six), and the approximate equivalents between multiple WEAK or MODERATE inductive arguments and one STRONG inductive argument (assuming independence of multiple arguments) gives one a baseline starting point for dealing with inductive arguments.
 
 

bookmark_borderNorms as Hypothetical Imperatives

Note: This may be a tad technical for some readers. In my postings here at SO I recognize that many readers are not academic philosophers, so I try to walk a line that balances philosophical accuracy with accessibility. Here I go into somewhat greater detail and depth on an issue that non-philosophers may regard as esoteric. The issue is actually quite important, dealing with the sources and justification of ethical and moral norms. My reflections here spring from recently going over Hilary Kornblith’s Knowledge and its Place in Nature with the students in this term’s epistemology class. I am an admirer of this book and I here am offering some of my own reflections inspired by that reading.
A common charge against epistemological or ethical naturalism is that it is hard to see how norms derive from such views. Naturalism characteristically responds to intractable philosophical issues by invoking physical science and recommending that philosophical methods be replaced by scientific ones (Quine), or that philosophical methods be construed as continuous with scientific methods (Kornblith). I favor the latter view. I hold that philosophy should be conceived as a kind of inquiry not fundamentally different in methods or aims from natural science. Such a commitment carries both negative and positive implications. Negatively, it implies that philosophy is not to be done by appeal to allegedly a priori intuitions. Rather, intuitions are to be seen as a posteriori and pre-theoretical insights that have some purchase on reality, but are to be modified or rejected as well-confirmed theoretical knowledge accumulates. Further, philosophy can no longer be viewed as the tribunal of pure reason, the court of last appeal in matters of rationality. Among other consequences, this means that philosophers have no right to prescribe that scientists toe a doctrinal line (Christian, communist, feminist, or whatever), or insist that scientists steer clear of what philosophers have traditionally marked as their own turf (e.g., ethics, epistemology, aesthetics). When philosophers do make such pronouncements, they only succeed in debasing their practice into a kind of obscurantism.
Positively, a commitment to a naturalized approach to philosophy permits a close and cooperative relationship between philosophers and empirical investigators. Too often in the past philosophers and scientists have gone their separate ways. For instance, the standard approach of epistemologists has been to offer propositions of a form such as this: “S knows that P (or is justified/warranted in believing that P) if and only if conditions C1, C2, C3,…Cn hold.” Such proposals are generally offered as a priori, comprehensive, and one-size-fits-all definitions. Critics are then invited to propose counterexamples to show that the stated conditions are insufficient and/or not necessary for knowledge, justification, or whatever. Such counterexamples are generally highly imaginative, invoking brains in vats, regions where the locals erect fake barn façades, clairvoyants who are ignorant of their paranormal powers, and people who are always right but have no idea why they are. These debates appeal to our epistemic intuitions about knowledge or justification, and these intuitions are taken as decisive and authoritative, as though no real empirical inquiry were required to settle such issues. Meanwhile, scientific approaches are much more piecemeal, less interested in global pronouncements, and closely tied to empirical results (and, BTW, productive of such results). Philosophical naturalists ally themselves with this latter approach.
But if we seek to justify norms, as we must in ethics and epistemology, can we shirk appeals to the a priori? Don’t genuine norms have to be categorical, and, as such cannot be based upon contingencies of any sort? Kant, of course, was very clear that ethical norms must be categorical, that is, absolute. A genuine ethical command must be a pure imperative, an unqualified “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not,” dependent upon no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” For Kant it was a cardinal mistake to think that ethical imperatives could be grounded in any matter of fact, such as human psychology or even the command of God. Any such attempt corrupts the fundamental ethical motivation, which is to do one’s duty simply because it is one’s duty and for no other reason. Therefore, Kant proposes to found his Categorical Imperative on a purely a priori basis—the form of the Moral Law. The Categorical Imperative is thus a purely formal requirement, namely, that the maxims that motivate our individual behavior must be such that they can rule as universal laws. Hence, for Kant, the job of philosophy is to produce an a priori metaphysics of morals, and this is very different from the job of any natural science.
Hume, though he certainly did not recommend an a priori grounding for norms, did a great deal to reinforce the conviction, now knee-jerk, that facts and values occupy separate realms. Did he not eloquently argue that you cannot derive an “ought” from an “is?” Science is the realm of “is;” it establishes natural facts, but, Hume argues, values do not derive from any statement of fact. You may look at a gruesome murder in as many ways as you please, cataloguing all of the stomach-churning facts that go into the CSI reports. Yet, nowhere in that description will you find the information that the murder was morally wrong. For Hume, that judgment is supplied by feeling, not fact. Though G.E. Moore was an intuitionist, not a subjectivist like Hume, his argument concerning the alleged “naturalistic fallacy” also inculcated the conviction that moral value cannot be defined in terms of any natural state, such as happiness (since it is always possible to ask further of any such state “Is it good?”). So successful have these arguments been that a fact/value dichotomy is now just taken for granted by many intellectuals. Stephen Jay Gould’s proposal of “nonoverlapping magisteria” as a solution to the science and religion issue simply assumes that religion deals with values and science with fact, where the two are wholly distinct (“nonoverlapping”) spheres.
Traditional epistemology has also sought categorical norms. For foundationalists and coherentists, actual scientific results play no part in specifying the conditions of justification. The conditions they lay down are abstract, formal, a priori, universal, and categorical. For the foundationalist, justification is a matter of identifying a set of privileged basic beliefs for which it is illegitimate to ask for any further justification. Properly basic beliefs are self-justifying. Candidates for such privileged beliefs include those that are allegedly self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses. Non-basic beliefs, those requiring justification, are then justified by being put into a proper inferential relationship with basic beliefs. Thus, for instance, non-basic belief A is justified by being correctly inferred from non-basic belief B, which is justified by being correctly inferred from basic belief C, which needs no further justification. Coherentists hold that our beliefs are justified by being in a relationship of coherence with the entire body of our other beliefs. For coherentists, justification is primarily a feature of the entire system of beliefs and individual beliefs are justified by being integrated into that system. Despite their differences, foundationalism and coherentism concur in asserting categorical imperatives for justifying our beliefs: Justify your beliefs by putting them into the appropriate structure with other beliefs, either with beliefs that are closer to the foundational base, or with the body of your beliefs as a whole. The structure of those allegedly justifying relationships is given a priori and unconditionally.
But, even conceding that categorical imperatives may be coherently specified, what if they are useless or empty? As Alasdair MacIntyre points out, Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be made consistent with all sorts of maxims, even those that endorse moral atrocity. ISIS could, and probably does, state its maxims in a consistently universalizable way. ALL who deny the truth of their version of Islamist claptrap must die. As for categorical epistemic norms, they have the opposite problem: Instead of proposing far too weak a requirement, they pose one that is far too strong. For foundationalists, the class of kinds of properly basic beliefs is extremely exiguous, and the class of non-basic beliefs needing their grounding is tremendous. For instance, can the entire fantastic corpus of our scientific beliefs, including those about highly theoretical entities, processes, and relations, be reduced to an individual’s set of incorrigible sensations? Well, Carnap gave it the best possible try in The Logical Structure of the World (1928), but even he wound up admitting that it was impossible. As for coherentism, only God or some other omniscient being could know that its body of beliefs was coherent. For finite minds, the task vastly exceeds our capacity. For the coherence of our beliefs to be cognitively accessible—for us to be capable of knowing that our beliefs are coherent (and otherwise, what use is a coherentist criterion?)—we must be able to access the entire body of our beliefs. Hilary Kornblith comments:
Now I think it is safe to say that no human being ever does this, and, indeed, that no human being is even capable of it. While I have frequently reflected on my beliefs and self-consciously raised questions about their coherence, the number of beliefs I am capable of entertaining at any one time is quite small [!] in comparison with the total body of my beliefs…Grasping one’s total body of beliefs is something that cannot be done (Knowledge and its Place in Nature, p. 124).
Perhaps, then we should seriously consider the possibility that both moral and epistemic norms could be hypothetical rather than categorical. Norms could aim at the actualization of values—ethical or epistemic. A norm could have the form of a practical syllogism: “If we value V, and if action A tends to actualize V, then perform action A.” Ethical norms might therefore specify actions that tend to promote the well-being of sentient creatures, if such well-being is our value. Epistemic norms might specify the actions we need to take to maximize our chances of arriving at truth. For instance, we might say that to put yourself in a position to improve your chances of knowing the truth about climate change, read the findings of the qualified climate scientists and do not listen to the effusions of an AM radio bloviator. Which actions tend to actualize which values will be a matter of empirical fact. For instance, it is a matter of demonstrable empirical fact that countries with single-payer universal healthcare systems achieve better medical results for a lower per patient cost than in the U.S. Similarly, it is demonstrable that, for instance, double-blind experimental designs are more effective at assessing the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals than single-blind tests.
The most likely objection to recognizing that norms, particularly ethical norms, are hypothetical imperatives, is that such imperatives have to assume a set a values. They do not tell us what we should value. Assuming that I value the well-being of sentient creatures, I can, if practically wise, generate imperatives telling me how to pursue this in a given situation. But why should I value the well-being of sentient creatures? But how do we justify values? On what basis do we say that something is not just desired, but is desirable, namely that it merits or is eminently worthy of being desired? The only way seems to be to point out that it is desirable because it either is conducive to something of intrinsic worth or itself possesses intrinsic worth. When we reach those things that are intrinsically worthy, the things we value for their own sake, then the process of justifying comes to an end. In other words, we do not and cannot justify our basic values; we can only point them out. We discover inherent worth as an explorer discovers a river or mountain range. When we do discover what is really valuable, we cannot prove it, but, like Cortez silent upon a peak in Darien, we can only stand and admire.