Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Deutsche Version: Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/4e4f9-1797-dog-walking-on-water.jpg

Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.

The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.

I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.

In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.

Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.

At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.

On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.

On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.

Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.

The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.

In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.

The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.

http://csironewsblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/balllightning_joethomissen.jpg

Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.

If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.

But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.

We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

120 thoughts on “Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

  1. Just copying and pasting a post.
    The style is rude but seems to be true, can you respond to it?

    “Dear Lothar,

    Glad you mention Joshua Greene, he is a very smart guy and he discovered that the human brain is evolved for tribal life. The morals of a tribe applies inside the tribe, outside the tribe you can lie, kill and rape. Read your Bible, God condoned lack of morality of his chosen tribe, the Israelites, when it came to deal with other tribes.

    God’s “objective morality” told his people to hate his enemies, then there came his beloved son “Jesus” who put his foot in the mouth of his father by saying: “love your enemies”. Isn’t that cute? But don’t fall for this trick, it is used to make the whole humanity be like one tribe under the same old crappy God. Don’t want to be in the “tribe” of God, then burn in hell.

    Think about that: “Love your enemies”. In order to have enemies you have to hate, be hated or both. If you stop hating your enemies by saying that you love them, you have a chance to make them drop the guard. With their guard down you give them your love, if they don’t accept it, you send them in hell. Such a mischievous plan of “Jesus is love” could be thought only by the “tribe” of Christians.

    Try to use your brains when you read the Bible. You quote a lot from Bible in your blog, but you don’t think, you just interpret it to serve your own Christian “denominated” tribe. You have no morals if your morals are to serve an immoral God.”

    I like your blog, but you seem to favour a type of Christianity. Why Christianity cannot be unified but criticize each other?

    • I decided to ignore this comment due to its rudeness and huge emotional content.

      However since you insist I will separate the real arguments from the rhetoric and write a response in the future, as time permits it.

      Friendly greetings from Europe.

      • I found the comment rough too, but the idea that seems true in the comment is that “love”, in Christian sense, is used to “divide and conquer”.

        Many Christians denominations are understanding “love” in such a way that are put at odds with each other. You can even say that some Christians are enemies and they will love their “enemies” with the condition of the “love” as they interpret by their Christian denomination.

        Another idea I found true, is that up to Jesus, God did not say to love the enemies but destroy them. However, even if Jesus said to love enemies, it did not change the fact that we become “enemies” by ignoring the “love”, thus those who don’t accept the “love” will be destroyed.

        I don’t find this “love” being fair. Please make new post about this kind of “love”. I’d like to read your opinion.

        Thanks.

        • Hello thanks for your interest! I will definitely post a response, but since I have many things to do this won’t probably be very soon.

          Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

  2. You report CS Lewis as saying about Lucy: “There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.”

    Lewis is by far my most loved author, and he is responsible for much of my change from fundamentalism. But I have never accepted his reasoning on this issue. He uses the same reasoning to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus’ claim to be God. We are now familiar with these options as ‘Lord, Liar, or Lunatic’–the only three options.

    However, there is a fourth option for Lucy and for Jesus–they were simply mistaken. This does not make their beliefs truth, lies, or madness. Now, I don’t believe Jesus was mistaken in his claims, but the Lewis defense is weak. In fact, there are other options: 1. His disciples were mistaken; 2. We are mistaken about what the disciples actually meant.

    I would not call Lucy a liar, nor would I call her crazy. But this does not mean she is telling the truth; she might be mistaken.

    • jesuswithoutbaggage (interresting name): I agree. I too like Lewis a lot, but his famous Trilemma is, as you point out, not exhaustive.

      In the case of Jesus, I’d like to add a few more possibilities to your four:

      1. Jesus never existed- all the stories were made up.
      2. Jesus was misquoted- He existed, but didn’t say or do what the Gospels claim He did.
      3. The Gospels are a mischmasch- some parts of them describe events that happened, but perhaps others are fictional.
      4. The Gospels describe events that happened, but mix together accounts about several different religious leaders, perhaps one or more of them named Jesus.

      And so on.

      cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

      • You’re certainly right my friend, but one could gather these possibilities under more general categories.

        I agree with 2 with respect to John’s gospel, there might well be some things the historical Jesus said and did but we have no way to figure this out.
        This is why Lewis argument is a failure, he could not show that the divine proclamations of Jesus were historical.

        But IF they were, then I think that my logics is sound.

  3. “On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.”
    – Within a bayesian framework, the answer to this is simply that in order for a proposition to be more likely than not (i.e. >50% probability of being true), the evidence supporting this proposition must be at least as unlikely as the proposition itself. Which in turn means that a proposition that is extremely unlikely needs evidence that is also extremely unlikely (IOW, extremely good evidence) for us to conclude that the proposition is probably true.
    Note that this is a statistical answer – if a proposition p has a likelihood of being true = 95% given the currently available evidence, this means that a) p obviously still could be false, and b) the likelihood of p being true changes as more evidence becomes available or existing evidence is re-evaluated.
    In some way, this principle is intuitively obvious, although only some specialists *explicitly* apply Bayes´ theorem, all of us use bayesian reasoning *implicitly* all the time. An everyday example would be a person you just met who tells you that he owns a car – you would probably require no further evidence to believe him that he indeed owns a car because this is a completely ordinary claim. If he would tell you that he owns a Ferrari worth 300,000€ however, you might be somewhat more skeptical, especially if the person doesn´t appear to be rich, but maybe you´ll still believe him without further evidence. Now imagine that this person tells you that he owns a nuclear-powered submarine. If you are not an *extremely* gullible person, you would not believe this claim without any further evidence – you know that such submarines exist but no ordinary person could aquire one, which makes this an extremely extraordinary claim. And finally imagine that this person tells you that he owns a spaceship capable of interstellar flight and time travel. This is as extraordinary a claim as it gets – and I doubt that *anyone* would believe such a claim without *extremely* good evidence.
    We apply this principle everywhere, mostly implicitly, sometimes explicitly. Historical science is no exception. The historian Herodotus claimed that the persians invaded Greece with ~2,500,000 soldiers and support personell in the second persian-greek war. This is certainly *possible* but extraordinarily unlikely because even a modern army could not manage the logistics of such a gargantuan army and it is completely inconceivable how the persians could have managed to raise and maintain an army of this size. So historians would not just take his word for it (and archaeological evidence indicates that the invasian indeed did happen, but Herodotus´ numbers are exaggerated by *at least* an order of magnitude). It´s no different with Jesus – ancient manuscripts stating that a jewish preacher claimed to be the son of the jewish God in first century palestine is enough evidence to establish that this indeed most likely happened (and no one doubts that there were many such self-proclaimed sons of God in first century palestine). For the claim that one of those self-proclaimed sons of God actually WAS the son of God and was literally raised from the dead, the available evidence could not be more underwhelming however.

    “If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.”
    – You miss the point of bayesian reasoning here. It is not about whether a proposition IS true, it is about how LIKELY a proposition is GIVEN the available evidence. Not being convinced by the evidence for continental drift in the mid-twenties would not have been irrational at all. Continental drift was just as real back then as it is now, but the evidence to support that proposition was not nearly as strong as it is now.

    “But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.”
    – Oh, no one doubts that (that some UFO sightings were *actual* UFOs in the sense of flying objects for which we simply don´t know what exactly they were – which is not surprising at all given how many natural and artifical objects are candidates for such sightings and how vague the descriptions of the UFOs often are).
    More interesting would be the question if the available evidence supports the notion that one (or several) of the countless alien abduction claims that had been made in the last decades is actually true.
    If your standard of evidence for the latter claims is “normal evidence” (essentially the same kind of evidence that would convince you that your colleague is not lying when he says “I own a car”), then we can easily “prove” virtually every single alien abduction claim, because only a handful of those claims were investigated in detail with the investigation yielding evidence that the people who made the claims were lying or mentally ill. As it is, no law enforcement agency would take an alien abduction claim serious if the claimants have nothing but “normal evidence” (i.e. their word that it happened). If the claimants had extraordinary evidence (a tissue sample from one of the aliens under their fingernails or an alien artifact for example), it might look different. It´s Bayes´ theorem in action again – provisionally, I believe that all alien abduction claims are based on lies and / or delusions unless extraordinary evidence could be presented that the claim is indeed true. Do you think that is an irrational approach?

    “We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”
    – Who doubts that? I´m not aware of a single atheist who claims that the gospels do not actually say that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
    The “normal evidence” does exist, but to every non-christian, it literally could not be more underwhelming.
    Are you aware of Sathya Sai Baba? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba) There are thousands of living eyewitnesses who swear that Sai Baba is a miracle worker, I still don´t believe it for a second that Sai Baba has any special powers (and neither do virtually all Christians). Eyewitness evidence is *very* weak evidence because humans are too easily fooled and too often dishonest (both with themselves and with others), which is why misleading eyewitness evidence is the single most frequent cause for wrongful convictions in our legal systems. And the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is not even on that level, we have no eyewitnesses, we only have claims of *alleged* eyewitnesses in ancient manuscripts. And we don´t even have these manuscripts but only reconstructions based on copies of copies of copies of copies…… of the original autographs (and plenty of evidence for scribes making countless mistakes while producing these copies and often deliberately faking the copies).
    So yes, you do have “normal evidence”. But there is also “normal evidence” for me owning a spaceship:
    “I own a spaceship.”
    Your normal evidence for the resurrection is just as persuasive to a skeptic as my normal evidence for me owning a spaceship is for you ;-).

    • Hallo Andreas, du schreibst definitiv gern und viel 😉 Ich bin ziemlich beeindruckt!

      First of all, you seem to be defending a SUBJECTIVE version of Bayeanism and not an objective one, as your remark on ball lightning and the other phenomena I mentioned made it clear.
      Like the great philosopher Elliot Sober (who deals a lot with evolution), I fail to see what the prior probability of the theory of gravitation could objectively mean.

      http://www.fitelson.org/probability/britacad.pdf

      However this makes sense if you define likelihood as a subjective degree of conviction.

      I DON’T KNOW if the principle about extraordinary claims is correct or not.

      You’re certainly right that on a PRAGMATIC level, we all have to follow it most of the time.
      But if my best friend, who isn’t hallucination-prone at all, told me he saw an alien spacecraft and I were sure he wasn’t joking, I would believe him he saw that.
      How I decide to interpret his experience is another matter altogether.
      If I believed he was deluded and dreamed the whole thing, I might as well think this for some of his mundane claims.

      Liebe Grüsse aus Metz, Lothringen.

      • Yeah, conciseness is not my strong side ;-).

        “But if my best friend, who isn’t hallucination-prone at all, told me he saw an alien spacecraft and I were sure he wasn’t joking, I would believe him he saw that.”
        – I would also believe that he is sincere about what he saw.

        “How I decide to interpret his experience is another matter altogether.”
        – True, and given how easy it is to fool people, I might well believe that my friend is both absolutely sincere about what he saw and also absolutely wrong about what he saw (Sai Baba is a good example – his “miracles” are actually quite pathetic, but he can easily convince a huge crowd of people that he is a genuine miracle worker… Or take John Edward, who can easily fool thousands of people to believe that he can actually talk to their dead relatives, and there are countless other frauds like that – it is *very* easy to fool people).

        “If I believed he was deluded and dreamed the whole thing, I might as well think this for some of his mundane claims.”
        – Not necessarily. Imagine that your aunt tells you that she visited a psychic who communicated with her dead husband – you would most likely believe her that she is sincere about that, and you would also most likely believe that she is absolutely wrong and that this psychic was just a fraud who fooled her into believing that he can actually talk to the dead.
        In this example, just because your aunt was fooled by a psychic neither means that she is delusional nor does it mean that she is unreliable when it comes to mundane claims.

  4. In my view the principle “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is unreasonable. An “extraordinary claim” is a claim about rare or unusual events or phenomena, and “extraordinary evidence” is evidence that is “better”, either quantitatively or qualitatively, than “ordinary evidence”. But I don’t see how the evidence for rare or unusual events or phenomena can be “better”, as explained above, than for frequent or common events or phenomena, because if it was, the respective claim would not be extraordinary. This means that “extraordinary claims” can’t possibly have “extraordinary evidence”. Therefore, to ask for “extraordinary evidence” for “extraordinary claims” is to ask for the impossible.

    • ” But I don’t see how the evidence for rare or unusual events or phenomena can be “better”, as explained above, than for frequent or common events or phenomena, because if it was, the respective claim would not be extraordinary. This means that “extraordinary claims” can’t possibly have “extraordinary evidence”. Therefore, to ask for “extraordinary evidence” for “extraordinary claims” is to ask for the impossible.”
      – It´s not at all asking for the impossible. I previously mentioned the example of the ancient historian Herodotus who claimed that the persians invaded Greece with ~2,500,000 soldiers. This would have been by far the greatest army the world had ever seen and it is completely inconceivable how the persians could have managed the logistics of such an army, which makes this a *very* extraordinary claim. If this claim would be true however, it is easy to think of extraordinary evidence that would convince every historian that the persian army was indeed that big, especially archaeological evidence (millions of people wandering for years and fighting several huge battles would leave plenty of evidence behind for archaeologists to dig up – the archaeological evidence we do have however shows that the invasion indeed happened but the persian army could not have been even nearly as huge as Herodotus claimed it was).

      What I don´t get is why you believe that extraordinary evidence would mean that the claim supported by that evidence is no longer extraordinary… But let me assure you that this is not the case, example: if a prosecutor in a murder trial produces a vast array of extremely good evidence to incriminate the defendant – his fingerprints on the murder weapon, ballistics evidence showing that the defendant fired the murder weapon recently, video footage of him leaving the crime scene in a hurry etc. pp. – that wouldn´t make the claim “the defendant is a murderer” any less extraordinary, it would only mean that this particular extraordinary claim is actually true beyond any reasonable doubt.

  5. The principle “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” violates what the philosopher Stephen Law has called the “contamination principle”, which is explained in the following paper in the paragraph “The contamination principle”:

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2012/04/published-in-faith-and-philosophy-2011.html

    Either a person is trustworthy or he isn’t. If he is trustworthy with respect to “ordinary claims” he is also trustworthy with respect to “extraordinary claims”, and if he is not trustworthy with respect to the latter, he is not trustworthy with respect to the former, either.

    Stephen Law applies this principle to the miracle accounts in the New Testament Gospels. Being an atheist and therefore rejecting the possibility of miracles he arrives at the conclusion that the mundane parts in the New Testament Gospels must be rejected as well. But, following the “contamination principle”, if one accepts the mundane claims of the New Testament Gospels, one consequently must accept the miracle accounts as well.

    • Thanks Patrick, the link is very valuable!

      Stephen Law is definitely one of the best defenders of atheism out there.

      He is right that if you believe that, say the Gospel of Mark, reports many invented miracles, then we no longer have any ground for believing the mundane things he reported, unless they are verified independently.

      • “Strong evidence for the historicity of the Gospels is provided by a phenomenon that has been called “undesigned coincidences””
        – The logic behind this concept is questionable. It essentially boils down to “a forger would not make up a story that has loose ends or missing details, so if there are two accounts and one account fills in some of the gaps of the other account, the likelihood of both accounts being not made up increases”. But this is just not true. Take for example the long list of claims and documents that were fabricated to promote hatred against jewish people ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitic_hoax ) – you´ll find plenty of such “undesigned coincidences” in such claims and documents, although all of them are forgeries.
        The “Dolchstosslegende” which claims that the german army only lost WWI because german soldiers who were jewish “stabbed their comrades in the back” in 1918 raised many embarrassing questions, like “why would Jews even want to do that in the first place??” – the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which was fabricated roughly 20 years later and other fabricated accounts filled in such missing details. Does this increase the likelihood of the Dolchstosslegende and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion both being accurate? I don´t think it does (and we know for sure that both are 100% made up).
        I think a more accurate explanation for such coincidences is, that gossip, rumors, lies etc. evolve over time – the Dolchstosslegende was started by one german General casually mentioning that there were traitors at the home front which caused the german army to loose, in a conversation with the head of the British Military Mission in Berlin. The germans liked this story and it was told and retold and all the details (like all the traitors being Jews and they stabbed their comrades in the back because a strong german reich would be an obstacle to jewish world domination) were filled in by later accounts. So overall, I don´t see why such “undesigned coincidences” would favor historicity over the myth-hypothesis (or the other way around) because such undesigned coincidences occur in both fabricated and historical accounts.

    • “But, following the “contamination principle”, if one accepts the mundane claims of the New Testament Gospels, one consequently must accept the miracle accounts as well.”
      – While it is true that a person is either trustworthy or not, and it is also true that a person being trustworthy wrt mundane claims means that he should be trustworthy wrt extraordinary claims as well, this conclusion still doesn´t follow. There are claims that I would accept based on nothing but eyewitness testimony (e.g. “person x owns a car”), but there are also claims that I would *never* believe based on eyewitness evidence (one of the weakest kinds of evidence there is) alone – not even if the eyewitnesses are the people I trust most.
      If three of the people I trust most all told me “person x owns an interstellar spaceship capable of time travel” and assured me that they are not joking – I would probably believe them that they are sincere and actually do believe that, but I would certainly not believe that there actually is an interstellar spaceship capable of time travel until I see *MUCH* more evidence than that (and I´d wager that you would do the same).
      It´s no different with the gospels, they could be 100% accurate wrt mundane claims for all I care, I still wouldn´t believe that an actual miracle occured just because an ancient text says so – no matter how reliable it is when it comes to mundane claims.

  6. Andy Schueler: “If this claim would be true however, it is easy to think of extraordinary evidence that would convince every historian that the persian army was indeed that big, especially archaeological evidence (millions of people wandering for years and fighting several huge battles would leave plenty of evidence behind for archaeologists to dig up – the archaeological evidence we do have however shows that the invasion indeed happened but the persian army could not have been even nearly as huge as Herodotus claimed it was).”

    In my view the archaeological evidence you point to would not be extraordinary evidence but ordinary evidence. I don’t see what is supposed to be extraordinary about archaeological evidence.

    Andy Schueler: “What I don´t get is why you believe that extraordinary evidence would mean that the claim supported by that evidence is no longer extraordinary… But let me assure you that this is not the case, example: if a prosecutor in a murder trial produces a vast array of extremely good evidence to incriminate the defendant – his fingerprints on the murder weapon, ballistics evidence showing that the defendant fired the murder weapon recently, video footage of him leaving the crime scene in a hurry etc. pp. – that wouldn´t make the claim “the defendant is a murderer” any less extraordinary, it would only mean that this particular extraordinary claim is actually true beyond any reasonable doubt.”

    Given the evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt it would be an extraordinary claim to say that he is innocent.

    Andy Schueler: “The “Dolchstosslegende” which claims that the german army only lost WWI because german soldiers who were jewish “stabbed their comrades in the back” in 1918 raised many embarrassing questions, like “why would Jews even want to do that in the first place??” – the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which was fabricated roughly 20 years later and other fabricated accounts filled in such missing details. Does this increase the likelihood of the Dolchstosslegende and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion both being accurate? I don´t think it does (and we know for sure that both are 100% made up).”

    “Undesigned coincidences” can only appear if there are at least two accounts about a specific event or person. As I haven’t read the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” I don’t know if this applies to the alleged events or persons pointed to in that document. My guess is that it doesn’t. As for the “Dolchstosslegende” it is not about a specific event or person, so there cannot be any “undesigned coincidences” with respect to it.

    Andy Schueler: “If three of the people I trust most all told me “person x owns an interstellar spaceship capable of time travel” and assured me that they are not joking – I would probably believe them that they are sincere and actually do believe that, but I would certainly not believe that there actually is an interstellar spaceship capable of time travel until I see *MUCH* more evidence than that (and I´d wager that you would do the same).“

    The question here is whether these three persons claim to have seen the interstellar spaceship with their own eyes and maybe even claim to have made a time travel or if they just say that they trust the person claiming to own the interstellar spaceship. In the latter case the question whether or not the three persons are trustworthy is irrelevant in this respect.

    • In my view the archaeological evidence you point to would not be extraordinary evidence but ordinary evidence. I don’t see what is supposed to be extraordinary about archaeological evidence.

      You seem to believe that a certain kind of evidence is always “ordinary” or “extraordinary” (e.g. “archaeological evidence is always ordinary”), this is not so. Instead of “ordinary” / “extraordinary”, you could also imagine “likely”/”unlikely”. What “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” means, is that the evidence supporting a claim must be even more unlikely than the claim itself for it to be rational to believe that the claim is indeed true.
      Example:
      The only archaeological evidence supporting the claim “Pontius Pilate was a prefect in 1st century Judea” is the Pilate stone ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone ), that´s not unusual for a moderately influential person in ancient history like Pilate (it would not have been surprising to find no archaeological evidence whatsoever). Compare this to the archaeological evidence supporting the claim “Julius Caesar was a ruler of the roman empire in the first century BC” – we have boatloads (literally!) of archaeological evidence supporting this claim, we have countless coins, statues, epigraphs etc.pp. supportin it, enough to fill several museums. It´s again easy to see that the evidence in the latter case is vastly superior in quantity and quality (and indeed quite extraordinary).

      “Given the evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt it would be an extraordinary claim to say that he is innocent.”
      But that is only post-hoc reasoning *after* you have evaluated the evidence. Me accusing you of murder would be a *very* extraordinary claim, unlike me claiming “I own a car” for example, because it is nothing unusual to own a car, but it is *very* unusual to be a murderer. But if I present very good evidence that you are indeed a murderer, it would still be an extraordinary claim, but one that is actually true beyond any reasonable doubt.

      ““Undesigned coincidences” can only appear if there are at least two accounts about a specific event or person. As I haven’t read the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” I don’t know if this applies to the alleged events or persons pointed to in that document. My guess is that it doesn’t. As for the “Dolchstosslegende” it is not about a specific event or person, so there cannot be any “undesigned coincidences” with respect to it.”
      – That seems to be an unnecessary distinction but ok, so lets use a different example: the countless mythographies of heroes and demigods in ancient greece. We have biographies of Heracles for example, and I´m certainly not an expert on this subject but it seems to me that many details left out in some of those are filled in by another (Herodotus for example explains what happened to Heracles´ sons after he died, which most other mythographies don´t).
      All of those mythographies are 100% fictional, where is the evidence that “undesigned coincidences” are uncharacteristic for them? (or for any other kind of literature that is comparable to the gospels and definitely fabricated?)

      “The question here is whether these three persons claim to have seen the interstellar spaceship with their own eyes and maybe even claim to have made a time travel or if they just say that they trust the person claiming to own the interstellar spaceship. In the latter case the question whether or not the three persons are trustworthy is irrelevant in this respect.”
      – Lets say they claim to have seen it with their own eyes and were allowed to come on board to make a quick trip to Pluto and back and then travel back in time to see some Dinosaurs. Would you believe that such a spaceship indeed exists if three people that seem to be generally trustworthy to you tell you this story?

      • Andy Schueler: “- Lets say they claim to have seen it with their own eyes and were allowed to come on board to make a quick trip to Pluto and back and then travel back in time to see some Dinosaurs. Would you believe that such a spaceship indeed exists if three people that seem to be generally trustworthy to you tell you this story?“

        If one person told such a story one could argue that he was hallucinating. But as far as I know it usually doesn’t happen that three people have the same hallucination, even if they are hallucinating at the same time. So, I would at least provisionally assume that they are telling the truth.

        However, as far as I know in real life trustworthy people don’t tell such stories. Instead of examples from real life it’s usually hypothetical scenarios that are presented, and I guess the reason is that one simply cannot find such examples from real life.

        • You’re right that it is extremely unlikely that three persons experience a very similar hallucination (unlike an illusion) at the same time, unless some aspects of parapsychology turn out to be true.

      • “If one person told such a story one could argue that he was hallucinating. But as far as I know it usually doesn’t happen that three people have the same hallucination, even if they are hallucinating at the same time.”
        1. Why would they have to be hallucinating? There are many thousands of people who will swear that Sathya Sai Baba is a miracle worker and that John Edward can talk to dead people, I don´t think any of those people was hallucinating, they were fooled.
        2. Why is your first guess that they were hallucinating instead of lying? Lies are *much* more frequent than hallucinations and people have lied about much more obscure things than this.
        3. If they were indeed hallucinating, their hallucinations being *identical* would indeed be rather unusual, their hallucinations being very similar however would not be unusual, particularly if they know each other, share common interests and were together when they hallucinated.

        “So, I would at least provisionally assume that they are telling the truth.”
        – Alright, so you provisionally assume that Sathya Sai Baba is a miracle worker and that John Edward can talk to dead people? I can assure you that there are thousands of people who are willing to testify that they witnessed exactly that.
        It would of course be alright if this is your standard of evidence, but my experience is, that the explanation for such claims, if they can be tested, invariably turns out to be that people were either lying, delusional or fooled (particularly the last one, it is *incredibly* easy to fool people, that´s how psychics and miracle healers get rich).

        “However, as far as I know in real life trustworthy people don’t tell such stories. Instead of examples from real life it’s usually hypothetical scenarios that are presented, and I guess the reason is that one simply cannot find such examples from real life.”
        – Then you didn´t check, there are many, MANY examples of generally trustworthy people telling the weirdest stories. Experiences involving psychics, ghosts, miracle healers, alien abductions etc. are by far the most common (if you believe that people who claim to have been abducted by aliens are generally mentally ill, you would be wrong – mentally healthy people can and do hallucinate, estimates are that roughly 10% of all people experience at least one hallucinatory episode in their life).

  7. The following two excerpts from an autobiographical book of a former atheist turned Christian can be seen as providing a real life example of the “Ted and Sarah case” mentioned in Stephen Law’s paper:

    “3. Bundeswehr: „Gang durch die Institutionen“

    Rudi Dutschke, der Studentenführer und Cheftheoretiker („Robespierre“) meiner Generation und der Generation davor, hatte den „Gang durch die Institutionen“ gepredigt. Mit dem Ende meiner Schulzeit sollte diese Aufforderung für mich Wirklichkeit werden.

    Mein Großvater stand an der Spitze von Kriegervereinen, die die Greuel der Weltkriege auch Jahrzehnte danach noch verherrlichten; mich den Enkel, hatten die pazifistischen Schullektüren von Remarque bis Borchert geprägt. Anstatt jedoch den Kriegsdienst mit der Waffe zu verweigern, wie es meiner inneren Überzeugung entsprochen hätte, meldete ich mich freiwillig als Zeitsoldat in eine Ausbildungskompanie der Bundesluftwaffe. Die Alltagsschikanen der Unteroffiziere und das zynische Menschenbild mancher Offiziere – sie sprachen von sportbegeisterten Abiturienten stets als „gutem Menschenmaterial – verfestigten meine Vorstellungen, nach einer möglichst unauffälligen Militärkarriere diese Strukturen wenigstens in Teilbereichen aufzubrechen und zu unterwandern. Ich wurde Offiziersanwärter, Gruppen- und Zugführer in einer Ausbildungskompanie.

    Der Apparat Bundeswehr hinterließ jedoch in mir mehr Spuren als ich in ihm. Meine Tarnung war nicht lange aufrechtzuerhalten.

    Wenn ein „Hörsaalleiter“ (Major) der Offiziersschule vom Krieg als „Normalfall“ sprach, konterte ich mit der Grundgesetzwidrigkeit dieses Ausspruches und wurde als „Kommunist“ beschimpft, was ich als Ehrentitel (ich ein „Held“?) genoß.

    Wenn sich Unteroffiziere ihre Späße mit psychisch kranken Rekruten machten, mußte ich gegenhalten. Aber selbst bei Rekruten meiner eigenen Gruppe konnte ich Verrohungen, Gleichgültigkeit und Anpassung, die sich in kürzester Zeit einstellten, nicht verhindern.”

    Michael Ackermann, Ich war ein Atheist, Wuppertal 1988, p. 21-22.

    “8. Okkultismus – ein Leben am Rande der Finsternis

    Ein wesentlicher Strang in meinem Leben ist der einer okkulten Belastung von Kindheit an. Als jemand, der zum Umfeld der neo-marxistischen „Frankfurter Schule“ und des „Bremer Kollektivs“ gehörte, müßte ich eigentlich die Mächte der unsichtbaren Welt, die reale Finsternis mit ihren Geistern und Dämonen, leugnen. Von meinem wissenschaftlichen Hintergrund aus müßte ich diese Mächte reduzieren auf ein psychoanalytisches Phänomen. Aber mein persönliches Erleben spricht dagegen!

    Mit sechs Jahren habe ich eine Dämonin visuell und akustisch kennengelernt, die mich jahrelang begleitete und zu Handlungen zwang, welche nur biblisch erklärbar sind: Auf bestimmten Wegen hatte ich „Wegezoll“ zu zahlen, indem ich sieben oder 13 Blätter abreißen, bzw. im Winter vom Boden aufheben mußte, um nicht wie angewurzelt stehenbleiben zu müssen … Nach Veränderung meiner gewohnten Wege hörte ich ihre Stimme, die rief: „Hier bist du ja, hab ich dich wiedergefunden. Es gibt keinen Ausweg für dich. Du bist ein Kind Satans. Du kannst nicht auf die andere Seite. Ich allein kann dir ein ruhiges Leben verschaffen.“ Die Finsternis hatte Anrechte auf mein Leben. Erst im Schutz des Feindes, in einem nach außen moralischen, nach innen aber menschenzerstörerischen Leben, fand ich vorübergehend Ruhe vor den Nachstellungen. Bisweilen ließ ich mich „kaufen“.”

    Michael Ackermann, Ich war ein Atheist, Wuppertal 1988, p. 72.

    Is it reasonable to believe the first part but not the second one?

    • “Is it reasonable to believe the first part but not the second one?”
      – Depends on what you mean by “believe”, do you mean believe in the sense of “he is sincere about that” or in the sense of “this actually happened”. If you mean the former, my answer would certainly be that I would believe the first part but not the second (in the same way that I would believe a patient in a mental institution if he tells me that he was born in Berlin, but wouldn´t believe him if he tells me that he used to be a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry).

      • Actually if I would believe that “students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” (because I have good grounds for thinking there is no such thing) is wrong

        but I would also not believe him about mundane things such as being born in Berlin but be AGNOSTIC about this information.

      • “but I would also not believe him about mundane things such as being born in Berlin but be AGNOSTIC about this information.”
        – Yeah, it´s a judgment call. Personally, I see no reason for an all-or-nothing approach (either trust someone about *everything* or trust him/her about *nothing*). Even when it would come to patients in a mental institution – they might be deluded about some things but they don´t *intentionally* lie more often than a randomly selected “sane” person. The only people I wouldn´t trust for anything, even for answers to the most mundane of questions, would be pathological liars (and those are quite rare).

        • The problem is that delusions and false beliefs can occur as frequently for mundane things.
          If I were a physician/psychiatrist and I had such a clearly psychotic patient in a emergency room, who first said that he was abducted by an alien looking like Elvis Presley and just after that
          “Oh by the way, ich bin ein Berliner”
          I would take this additional information with a grain of salt.

          In the medical report I would write (and believe): “the patient TOLD he comes from Berlin” and not “the patient comes from Berlin”.

          I would not have any assurance that this is true, and if I were to learn he comes from Hannover, I would not be stunned at all.

      • “The problem is that delusions and false beliefs can occur as frequently for mundane things.”
        – Sure. My impression was however that there is a pattern to such delusion – if someone is deluded about having been abducted by aliens one could reasonably argue that such a person is more prone to delusions than a randomly selected other person, but delusions are generally quite rare, even for people that are prone to them, and such a person would certainly *not* be automatically more likely to be a notorious or even a compulsive liar as well. So overall, I don´t think I would trust them less than a I would trust a randomly selected stranger when it comes to mundane claims. But it´s a judgment call – your mileage may vary ;-).

      • “If you can have false memories about alien abductions, you can also have false memories about mundane things or about having been raped as a child.”
        – Sure. But that (“could have false memories”) is true for everyone, not only for people that have actually been diagnosed with a delusional disorder or schizotypical individuals. People that are perfectly mentally healthy can hallucinate (it can be induced by drugs, but also without, especially under stress), the current estimate is that roughly 10% of all people experience at least one hallucinatory episode in their life (not counting drug abuse). And I don´t think that there is evidence that people that are more prone to such things (people with delusional disorders and schizotypical people) are also prone to have false memories about completely mundane things (that stress is a major factor in inducing hallucinations is true for those people as well). When it comes to *extreme* situations (e.g. being raped as a child) it is of course different – a person with diagnosed delusional disorders would certainly be more likely to have false memories about that than a randomly selected other person.

        • Let us suppose my best friend Phillipe told me (without joking) he saw with his own eyes an alien spacecraft flying off with a breathtaking speed in a clearing in the forest and I decide he had a hallucination.

          Two weeks later he tells me that a saw five deers in the same clearing which ran away after having seen him.
          Would I know it’s true? No I would be AGNOSTIC about this and suspend judgment unless he provides me with other evidence than is testimony such as photos.

          By the way, I hope it is not too boring for you to exchange so many messages with me 🙂

      • “Let us suppose my best friend Phillipe told me (without joking) he saw with his own eyes an alien spacecraft flying off with a breathtaking speed in a clearing in the forest and I decide he had a hallucination.

        Two weeks later he tells me that a saw five deers in the same clearing which ran away after having seen him.
        Would I know it’s true? No I would be AGNOSTIC about this and suspend judgment unless he provides me with other evidence than is testimony such as photos.”
        – Really?? Well, that´s your call, it´s personal judgment after all ;-). But I wouldn´t start doubting everything a friend tells me just because he had one hallucinatory period. That could happen to everyone, false memories are really not *that* uncommon. It could easily happen if you get really drunk for example and black out – your mind might confabulate a story for the time you were gone and you might be absolutely certain that this story *really* happened. That wouldn´t be a reason to doubt everything you say (at least not a good reason IMO).
        I´d only start doubting a friend if a pattern emerges – if it becomes obvious that my friend is either a compulsive liar or has a very serious delusional disorder (again, it is *extremely* rare that people hallucinate very often even under completely normal circumstances, without any stress, substance abuse etc. – that would be extremely rare even for people that are actually diagnosed with delusional disorders).

        “By the way, I hope it is not too boring for you to exchange so many messages with me :-)”
        – Not at all, I like discussions ;-).

  8. I still think that the concept of “extraordinary evidence” is problematic or at least misleading. In my view it’s not that there are claims for which extraordinary evidence is required and claims for which ordinary evidence is sufficient. Rather, it’s that there are claims for which there is an abundance of ordinary evidence and therefore it’s reasonable to believe them without further investigation and there are claims with respect to which a person may not be aware of even ordinary evidence and therefore is justified in asking for such evidence. But such evidence would be ordinary and not extraordinary.

    • “I still think that the concept of “extraordinary evidence” is problematic or at least misleading. In my view it’s not that there are claims for which extraordinary evidence is required and claims for which ordinary evidence is sufficient. Rather, it’s that there are claims for which there is an abundance of ordinary evidence and therefore it’s reasonable to believe them without further investigation and there are claims with respect to which a person may not be aware of even ordinary evidence and therefore is justified in asking for such evidence. But such evidence would be ordinary and not extraordinary.”
      – That sounds like you don´t believe “extraordinary evidence” could exist (if not, what would be an example for “extraordinary evidence” in your opinion?)
      But in any case, that is merely a disagreement about semantics, not a disagreement about the actual subject. You can substitute “ordinary” and “extraordinary” evidence by “likely” and “unlikely” if you prefer (it´s also important to realize that this is not a binary state – there is a continuum between likely / ordinary and unlikely / extraordinary).
      All it boils down to is that, if a random stranger claims one of those:
      1. I have a car.
      2. I have a nuclear-powered submarine.
      3. I have an interstellar spaceship.
      you (and everyone else) would probably believe claim 1 based on his word alone, but would require more evidence for claim 2, and MUCH more evidence for claim 3. That´s really all what “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence means”. We all do that intuitively.

      • Maybe your views would make much sense if you used a PRAGMATIC epistemology, like I do to a large extent.

        Because as I said, objectively speaking I don’t see how one can define the likelihood of a theory being true. But subjectively this makes a lot of sense.
        It’s a very complex topic and I’m going to write on that in the future.

        Hoffentlich komme ich bald dazu…

      • Andy Schueler: “You can substitute “ordinary” and “extraordinary” evidence by “likely” and “unlikely” if you prefer (it´s also important to realize that this is not a binary state – there is a continuum between likely / ordinary and unlikely / extraordinary).”

        I don’t see what “likely evidence” or “unlikely evidence” is supposed to be.

        Andy Schueler: “All it boils down to is that, if a random stranger claims one of those:

        1. I have a car.

        2. I have a nuclear-powered submarine.

        3. I have an interstellar spaceship.
        
you (and everyone else) would probably believe claim 1 based on his word alone, but would require more evidence for claim 2, and MUCH more evidence for claim 3. That´s really all what “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence means”. We all do that intuitively.”

        But the reason why most people would believe claim 1 is because they are aware of an abundance of evidence pointing to the possibilty of it. But this does not apply to claims 2 and 3. It’s not that there is a lack of extraordinary evidence for them but that with resept to them we are not aware of the kind of evidence that makes us believe claim 1. For someone living a hundred years ago, who had never seen a car, claim 1 may have been just as extraordinary as claims 2 and 3 are for us today.

      • “Maybe your views would make much sense if you used a PRAGMATIC epistemology, like I do to a large extent.

        Because as I said, objectively speaking I don’t see how one can define the likelihood of a theory being true. But subjectively this makes a lot of sense.
        It’s a very complex topic and I’m going to write on that in the future.”
        – Well, when it comes to epistemology, you have pragmatic approaches which all of us intuitively use all the time and which demonstrably *work*, and you have philosophers contemplating what “truth” means “objectively”, which has never yielded anything that is of any practical relevance or even just widely agreed upon as being meaningful and coherent among philosophers ;-).
        What seems obvious is that a binary “true” / “false” distinction is rarely meaningful (it does make sense in mathematics for example but rarely anywhere else). Example, take those four claims:
        1. The earth is a flat disc.
        2. The earth is a sphere.
        3. The earth is spherical with an equatorial bulge.
        4. The earth is spherical with an equatorial bulge and one of the poles being very slightly closer to the center than the other.
        *Strictly* speaking, all four of those are FALSE. It is however completely obvious, that 4 is more accurate than 3, which is more accurate than 2, which is more accurate than 1 (Isaac Asimov called it “the relativity of wrong” – a continuum from “completely inaccurate” to “completely accurate” makes MUCH more sense for scientific theories (and all real-world explanations / descriptions in general) than a binary true / false label).
        There are no universally agreed upon definitions of what “truth” objectively means and what probabilities actually are objectively, this has however virtually zero implications outside the philosophical ivory tower.
        All forms of scientific inquiry are bayesian in nature, not always explicitly of course, and this approach demonstrably *works*, as long as no one proposes anything that works just as well or even better, I don´t care whether or not I have an objective definition of what a probability actually is and why should I? (why should anyone? 😉 ).

      • “I don’t see what “likely evidence” or “unlikely evidence” is supposed to be.”
        – It just refers to how likely it is to observe this evidence. Example, for two murder trials, you have as evidence:
        1. An eyewitness who saw the suspect in a shopping mall on the same day as the murder happened, 2 kilometers away from the crime scene (which was in his hometown).
        2. The fingerprints of the suspect on the murder weapon, ballistics evidence showing that the suspect fired the murder weapon recently, video footage of the suspect leaving the crime scene in a hurry, tissue samples that can be DNA-matched to the suspect under the fingernails of the victim, the first name of the suspect on the floor of the crime scene written with the blood of the victim.
        Claiming that someone is a murderer is an extraordinary claim / unlikely, because murder is extremely rare, so rare that most people neither now anyone who is a murderer nor anyone who was murdered.
        The evidence from case 1 however is not very extraordinary / unlikely if we assume that the suspect was innocent – everyone goes shopping occasionally, and this would certainly not be sufficient to convince any jury of the claim that the suspect is actually a murderer.
        The evidence from case 2 is however *extremely* extraordinary / unlikely, the odds of observing this evidence, assuming that the suspect was innocent, are virtually zero. Which is why *every* jury would reject that hypothesis and conclude that the suspect is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
        Again, that´s all what “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” means. Ordinary / likely vs extraordinary / unlikely is not a distinction of kind, it is a distinction of degree. “Extraordinary evidence” is evidence that is unusual in terms of quality and quantity compared to what is commonly observed.

        “But the reason why most people would believe claim 1 is because they are aware of an abundance of evidence pointing to the possibilty of it.”
        – Indeed. Hence an “ordinary claim”. “Ordinary” means just that:
        “of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional”

        “But this does not apply to claims 2 and 3.”
        – Indeed. Which is why those would be “extraordinary claims”. “Extraordinary” means:
        “beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established”

        “It’s not that there is a lack of extraordinary evidence for them but that with resept to them we are not aware of the kind of evidence that makes us believe claim 1.”
        – Well, what you said here can essentially be rephrased as “claims 2+3 are extraordinary (see above), which is why we wouldn´t believe them only because someone tells us that they are true” – which is *exactly* what I said…
        And you certainly would believe claim 2 if you would be presented with extraordinary evidence, if the guy invites you on a tour with his submarine and you come along, I´m pretty sure you would believe that this guy actually has one (whether you would actually take that offer and whether he aquired it legally is of course a different matter).

        “For someone living a hundred years ago, who had never seen a car, claim 1 may have been just as extraordinary as claims 2 and 3 are for us today.”
        – Which could be rephrased as “if we travel back in time, to an era where claim 1 would not be ordinary, claim 1 would no longer be ordinary”. Sure. That would be true by definition (a tautology even).

  9. Andy Schueler: “We have biographies of Heracles for example, and I´m certainly not an expert on this subject but it seems to me that many details left out in some of those are filled in by another (Herodotus for example explains what happened to Heracles´ sons after he died, which most other mythographies don´t).
    All of those mythographies are 100% fictional, where is the evidence that “undesigned coincidences” are uncharacteristic for them? (or for any other kind of literature that is comparable to the gospels and definitely fabricated?)”

    One of the characteristics of “undesigned coincidences” is that they appear to be unintended, e.g. in that pieces of information are conveyed IN PASSING. So, usually “undesigned coincidences” contain pieces of information about events or persons that are not central in an account.

    • Hey Patrick I am not sure that the stories about Heracles are 100% fictional. There might very well have been a great man with the name Heracles who did amazing things, and some of them were the bases for later legends.

      I just have no way to know that.

      By the way, where do you come from?

      Anyway you’re most welcome to my blog 😉

    • “One of the characteristics of “undesigned coincidences” is that they appear to be unintended, e.g. in that pieces of information are conveyed IN PASSING. So, usually “undesigned coincidences” contain pieces of information about events or persons that are not central in an account.”
      – Ok, the example I mentioned would be just that, what happens to Heracles´ sons after his death is not central to the story, but it would be an obvious question if you read one of the accounts that don´t mention this part.
      Again, I strongly doubt that such undesigned coincidences are characteristic for historical accounts, but not for fictional / mythological accounts. Has anyone actually done an analysis on that? (that would be necessary for such an argument, as I see it at the moment – it is just claimed that undesigned coincidences are characteristic for historical accounts but not for fictional ones, but no evidence is presented that this is indeed the case).
      On a side note – it seems to me that undesigned coincidences occur both in actual historical accounts and in fiction (although I´m happy to be corrected on that if such an analysis has been done), what seems to be characteristic for mythographies however, is that there are irreconcilable *differences*.
      Irreconcilable differences like the nativity story in Matthew vs the nativity story in Luke (I am aware of the attempts to reconcile them, but those require many ridiculously implausible ad hoc assumptions, and with this degree of creative freedom, you could also “explain” all the contradictions for every single mythical greek hero for which we have more than two mythographies – I´m not aware of accounts that are universally considered to be historical and contain contradictions of the magnitude as we see in the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke).

  10. Andy Schueler: “Claiming that someone is a murderer is an extraordinary claim / unlikely, because murder is extremely rare, so rare that most people neither now anyone who is a murderer nor anyone who was murdered.

    […]

    Ordinary / likely vs extraordinary / unlikely is not a distinction of kind, it is a distinction of degree.”

    In my view the probability of the truth of a claim concerning an event does not depend on the probability of the event, and the evidence needed to confirm a claim does not depend on whether what has been claimed happens frequently or rarely. As for the claim that someone is a murderer I think most people would agree that the evidence needed to confirm this claim should be the same whether the rate of murder is high or low.

    Andy Schueler: ““Extraordinary evidence” is evidence that is unusual in terms of quality and quantity compared to what is commonly observed.”

    Again, as I pointed out above, if the evidence for a claim is unusual in terms of quality and quantity the claim is not extraordinary.

    Andy Schueler: “- Well, what you said here can essentially be rephrased as “claims 2+3 are extraordinary (see above), which is why we wouldn´t believe them only because someone tells us that they are true” – which is *exactly* what I said…”

    The question is what makes claims 2 and 3 extraordinary. If they are extraordinary in a quantitative sense, i.e. that what is claimed only happens rarely, I might believe it on the ground of a simple testimony. If they are extraordinary in a qualitative sense, i.e. that what is claimed is contrary to what I think is possible I might ask for further evidence, but even that evidence I wouldn’t call extraordinary.

    Andy Schueler: “And you certainly would believe claim 2 if you would be presented with extraordinary evidence, if the guy invites you on a tour with his submarine and you come along, I´m pretty sure you would believe that this guy actually has one (whether you would actually take that offer and whether he aquired it legally is of course a different matter).”

    Driving around in a submarine is nothing extraordinary. There have been quite a number of people doing it.

    Andy Schueler: “- Which could be rephrased as “if we travel back in time, to an era where claim 1 would not be ordinary, claim 1 would no longer be ordinary”. Sure. That would be true by definition (a tautology even).”

    For me claim 1 would still ordinary if I travelled back in time to an era where claim 1 would not be ordinary. Actually, for those who were aware of cars a hundred years ago this claim wasn’t extraordinary, either.

    • “In my view the probability of the truth of a claim concerning an event does not depend on the probability of the event, and the evidence needed to confirm a claim does not depend on whether what has been claimed happens frequently or rarely.”
      – Alright. That view is demonstrably false though. You are essentially arguing that Bayes´ theorem is wrong. It isn´t. It is proven mathematical fact and trivially easy to validate empirically.
      Also, this contradicts your previous claims, because you previously agreed that you would believe a stranger if he tells you “I own a car”, but you wouldn´t if he told you “I own a nuclear-powered” submarine. This distinction doesn´t make any sense based on what you said here – what you said here implies that if you believe the claim “I own a car” based on the words of a stranger, you should believe EVERY claim made by a stranger based on his word alone (as long as it is logically possible), you quite explicitly said that the probability of the event is irrelevant for you, so the fact that the probability of a random civilian owning a nuclear-powered submarine is essentially zero should be completely irrelevant.

      “As for the claim that someone is a murderer I think most people would agree that the evidence needed to confirm this claim should be the same whether the rate of murder is high or low.”
      – That indeed is true, this is however due to the harsh punishment for murder (which is why all countries that use different standards of evidence for different offenses and crimes in their legal systems use the most strict standard for murder charges). It is however well possible that the requirements to prove murder charges in civil court (not in criminal court) would be even lower than they are now if murder would be as common as owning a car (they are already lower in civil court compared to criminal court anyway, and I could well imagine that they would be even lower if murder was THAT common).

      “Again, as I pointed out above, if the evidence for a claim is unusual in terms of quality and quantity the claim is not extraordinary.”
      – And I already explained this to you. If you simply ignore what I say, this part of the conversation can´t proceed beyond this point. I´d recommend to go back and read my reply to that.

      “The question is what makes claims 2 and 3 extraordinary. If they are extraordinary in a quantitative sense, i.e. that what is claimed only happens rarely, I might believe it on the ground of a simple testimony. If they are extraordinary in a qualitative sense, i.e. that what is claimed is contrary to what I think is possible I might ask for further evidence, but even that evidence I wouldn’t call extraordinary.”
      – Again, I already explained this to you, in great detail I might add. These words (“ordinary”, “extraordinary”, “likely” etc.) and the concept “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” are not hard to understand and if you insist on arguing against your own idiosyncratic notions of what you think these words and this concept should mean (which is not what they actually *do* mean) and ignoring my clarifications, this part of the conversation cannot proceed beyond this point. You are addressing a strawman by insisting on using your own idiosyncratic definitions of these words and concepts.

      “Driving around in a submarine is nothing extraordinary. There have been quite a number of people doing it.”
      – I´m pretty sure that the number of civilians that possess a nuclear-powered submarine is exactly zero and that the number of people invited to take a ride and such a nuclear-powered submarine owned by a civilian is thus also exactly zero.

      “For me claim 1 would still ordinary if I travelled back in time to an era where claim 1 would not be ordinary.”
      – Sure. This is of no relevance for anything that has been said so far however.

      “Actually, for those who were aware of cars a hundred years ago this claim wasn’t extraordinary, either.”
      – And this would again be true by definiton and again be of no relevance whatsoever to anything that has been said so far.

  11. Andy Schueler: “1. Why would they have to be hallucinating? There are many thousands of people who will swear that Sathya Sai Baba is a miracle worker and that John Edward can talk to dead people, I don´t think any of those people was hallucinating, they were fooled.”

    It’s very hard for me to imagine how three people could be fooled into thinking that they are in a spaceship at the same time, even if they are not. As for your examples I think one has to make a distinction between the evaluation of the truth of a testimony about an event and the evaluation of the truth of the interpretation of that event. If someone claims to have seen an UFO it may indeed be the case that he saw a flying object looking like an UFO, but that this object wasn’t an UFO but something else. Or it may be that a number of people testify that they saw a person that was severely injured but in fact the respective person only pretended to be injured.

    In my view with respect to events that might be called paranormal, if hallucination or deceit can be ruled out it is reasonable to assume that really something extraordinary had happened.

    Andy Schueler: “2. Why is your first guess that they were hallucinating instead of lying? Lies are *much* more frequent than hallucinations and people have lied about much more obscure things than this.”

    I was talking about “trustworthy” people, so lying is no longer an option.

    • “It’s very hard for me to imagine how three people could be fooled into thinking that they are in a spaceship at the same time, even if they are not.”
      – I don´t find that hard to imagine at all. You don´t have to try very hard to fool people into believing even the most extraordinary stuff, you might have seen this viral video:

      It really wouldn´t be very hard to convince people that they were actually in an interstellar spaceship – just like it isn´t hard to find people who can *easily* be fooled into believing that you can talk to their dead relatives (seriously, even if you just do a three hour crash course on cold reading, you´d probably manage to find people gullible enough to believe that you are a psychic). .

      “In my view with respect to events that might be called paranormal, if hallucination or deceit can be ruled out it is reasonable to assume that really something extraordinary had happened.”
      – Sure. That never happened however. While alleged extraordinary events turning out to be based on deceit or honest confusion are a dime a dozen.

      “I was talking about “trustworthy” people, so lying is no longer an option.”
      – Erm… so:
      a) you made the wrong judgment call and believed that some people are trustworthy although they are actually not.
      b) an interstellar spaceship exists.
      and you seriously think that a) is MORE likely than b) ??? You´ve just got to be kidding.

      • I think that Patrick defined a theoretical situation where there are only two possible explanations:
        1) hallucination
        2) something extraordinary

        And there are a few UFO cases which are like that, where several witnesses simultaneously saw a spacecraft, sometimes with weird beings.

        Now I don’t believe in the presence of space aliens here on earth but I think those cases are truly UNEXPLAINED.

        Saying that the witnesses had exactly the same hallucinations at the same time or were lying (even though everything speaks against the last possibility) seems remarkably similar to what the debunkers of meteorites and ball lightnings used to say.

        I personally believe that they saw what they describe even though I don’t know what it was and utterly reject the speculations of Ufologists.

      • “I think that Patrick defined a theoretical situation where there are only two possible explanations:
        1) hallucination
        2) something extraordinary”
        – And “something extraordinary” often actually means “people were fooled in a quite extraordinary way”. Take crop circles for example, nobody believed that anyone would be crazy enough to spend THAT much effort on a prank – but someone did just that.

      • “I believe that (the most complex) crop circles are neither produced by jokers or by aliens, as well explained by Dr. Jacques Vallee:”
        – So…. the two dudes who admitted they did and explained exactly how couldn´t have done it, because this was all over the press the day after they admitted it and it is of course totally impossible that the press takes notice of the two most successful pranksters that the world has ever seen, so it actually must have been a government conspiracy. Sorry, that particular conspiracy theory doesn´t sound very plausible ;-).

        • The main argument is that very complex structures appeared within in a short time frame.

          By the way, do you believe it is always very implausible that SOME people in the government hide advanced technologies to the public?
          Or make secret trials?

      • “The main argument is that very complex structures appeared within in a short time frame.”
        – Have you read interviews with the two guys? They explained how they did it.

        “By the way, do you believe it is always very implausible that SOME people in the government hide advanced technologies to the public?
        Or make secret trials?”
        – No, of course, that has happened many times in the past. What has happened only once afaict however, is that one of the popular conspiracy theories about such secret trials actually turned out to be correct or largely correct (the project MKUltra of the CIA, which became public knowledge in 2001 and which turned out to be extremely similar to popular conspiracy theories that can be traced back to the sixties and seventies).

        • Vielleicht könnte ein gutes Argument folgendermaßen lauten:

          “Regierungen und Geheimdienste sind zu clever, um nicht verhindern zu können, dass jemand die Wahrheit herausfindet.
          Deswegen sind alle vorgeschlagene Verschwörungstheorien falsch.”

  12. Andy Schueler: “- Alright. That view is demonstrably false though. You are essentially arguing that Bayes´ theorem is wrong. It isn´t. It is proven mathematical fact and trivially easy to validate empirically.”

    What I meant is that there is no proportionality between the probability of an event and the probability of the truth of a testimony about this event. I would argue that it’s because the rarer an event or phenomenon is the less likely it is that the respective testimony is false, as its falsehood could be exposed more easily, and so these parameters neutralize each other. After all, the less plausible a lie is the less successful it is.

    Andy Schueler: “Also, this contradicts your previous claims, because you previously agreed that you would believe a stranger if he tells you “I own a car”, but you wouldn´t if he told you “I own a nuclear-powered” submarine. This distinction doesn´t make any sense based on what you said here – what you said here implies that if you believe the claim “I own a car” based on the words of a stranger, you should believe EVERY claim made by a stranger based on his word alone (as long as it is logically possible), you quite explicitly said that the probability of the event is irrelevant for you, so the fact that the probability of a random civilian owning a nuclear-powered submarine is essentially zero should be completely irrelevant.”

    If the probability of a testimony “is essentially zero”, i.e. if I KNOW that a testimony is (almost certainly) false, this is quite different from the evaluation of a testimony about something of which I think that it is very rare, but that it exists. In my view once the probability is 0, we have left the realm of probabilities. But as mentioned above in my experience in real life sane and trustworthy people usually don’t make claims which are obviously false.

    Andy Schueler: “- I don´t find that hard to imagine at all. You don´t have to try very hard to fool people into believing even the most extraordinary stuff, you might have seen this viral video:”

    The impact of a meteorite is something that happens very rarely but it certainly is something that could happen. After all, a few months ago a number of meteorites hit an area in Russia. I would have been more impressed if people had been afraid of a dragon flying towards the window.

    • Bayes theorem is proven mathematically, but the PROBABILITY have to be defined in a meaningful way.
      And this is truly the sticking point, because I don’t see how you can do that for a theory in an objective way.

      • “Bayes theorem is proven mathematically, but the PROBABILITY have to be defined in a meaningful way.
        And this is truly the sticking point, because I don’t see how you can do that for a theory in an objective way.”
        – Now you are equivocating between “meaningful” and “objective”.
        We use Bayes´ theorem for phylogeny reconstruction for example, and if we look at two splits in the phylogeny, one with a posterior probability of 1 and the other with 0.55, we are reasonably certain that the first is correct while the other is close to a fifty/fifty bet. No one outside the philosophical ivory tower cares whether we can define objectively what such probabilities actually are, everybody knows what they *mean*.

        • And what does it mean then, if you cannot define the probability as a statistical value?

          Philosopher Elliot Sober, who deals a lot with phylogeny, wrote:

          “The standard objection to Bayesianism is to my mind correct. It often does not make
          sense to talk about propositions’ having objective prior probabilities. This is especially clear in the case of hypotheses that attempt to specify laws of nature. Newton’s universal law of gravitation, when suitably supplemented with plausible background assumptions, can be said to confer probabilities on observations. But what does it mean to say that the law has a probability in the light of those observations? More puzzling still is the idea that it has a probability before any observations are taken
          into account. If God chose the laws of nature by drawing slips of paper from an urn, it would make sense to say that Newton’s law has an objective prior. But no one believes this process model, and nothing similar seems remotely plausible. ”

      • “And what does it mean then, if you cannot define the probability as a statistical value?”
        – For the posterior probability, you actually do exactly that. And for the prior probability, you often do that as well – it is rare that Bayes theorem is applied to something that has no meaningful prior probability (e.g. Pr(“Newtons law of gravitation is true”) ), I´ve never even seen anyone trying to do that except for philosophers.

      • “Let me guess: philosophers are just a bit more respectable than theologians, right? ;-)”
        – Some of my best friends are philosophers! 😉
        But seriously, the particular problem that Sober points out is of little practical relevance – a mutation A->G at a specific site indeed does have a meaningful prior probability, the claim that a randomly selected person is a murderer indeed does have a meaningful prior probability and so on.

      • “Yeah but in those case this isn’t Bayesianism: it is just that STATISTICAL probabilities are being calculated using Bayes theorem.”
        – Of course this is bayesianism, “bayesianism” just means that probabilities are derived from propositional logic instead of frequency distributions. The posterior probabilities are always statistical probabilities (what would a “non-statistical probability” be?), the problem that Sober mentions is a problem which affects the priors in particular cases (and I am not talking about such cases).

      • “Even for posteriors, I don’t see what it ontologically MEANS to say that Newtonian laws have a likelihood of 0.998 to be true.”
        – If someone tosses a coin, and asks you to call it, you do understand what it means to say “the odds for heads or tails are fifty/fifty”, it´s no different here. What it ontologically means – no idea, no one knows, and the overwhelming majority of people neither know what the word “ontological” means nor would they care about the answer to this question if they knew what it meant ;-).
        We also don´t know what Heisenberg uncertainty and countless other things mean *ontologically*, but we do know what it means to us pragmatically.

    • “What I meant is that there is no proportionality between the probability of an event and the probability of the truth of a testimony about this event. I would argue that it’s because the rarer an event or phenomenon is the less likely it is that the respective testimony is false, as its falsehood could be exposed more easily, and so these parameters neutralize each other. After all, the less plausible a lie is the less successful it is.”
      – When you say “the rarer an event or phenomenon is the less likely it is that the respective testimony is false, as its falsehood could be exposed more easily” – you (again) only consider that someone is either lying or he must be telling the truth, although I already told you several times that people being fooled is BY FAR the most common explanation for such claims.
      And when you say “the less plausible a lie is the less successful it is” you also could not be more wrong – Scientology, Mormonism, energy bracelets, Uri Geller, John Edward, you could fill libraries with ridiculously implausible lies that were successful enough to make the people who came up with those lies rich.

      “If the probability of a testimony “is essentially zero”, i.e. if I KNOW that a testimony is (almost certainly) false, this is quite different from the evaluation of a testimony about something of which I think that it is very rare, but that it exists. In my view once the probability is 0, we have left the realm of probabilities. But as mentioned above in my experience in real life sane and trustworthy people usually don’t make claims which are obviously false.”
      – Completely irrelevant for everything that has been said so far and I´m getting bored of this strand of the conversation since you are either unwilling or unable to respond to what I actually said.

      “The impact of a meteorite is something that happens very rarely but it certainly is something that could happen. After all, a few months ago a number of meteorites hit an area in Russia. I would have been more impressed if people had been afraid of a dragon flying towards the window.”
      – Well not Dragons, but close:

      Or how about ghosts:

      Note that those are all examples where people are not exactly trying very hard – that you honestly believe that it would be impossible to fool people into believing that they took a ride on a spaceship is baffling.

    • An addition to that. You could even say that we don´t know what probabilities mean ontologically, period. It doesn´t matter if you are talking about frequentist or bayesian ones, we don´t know what they mean ontologically. We also don´t know what randomness means ontologically.
      That doesn´t mean that these concepts are meaningless however. IMO, they are the most meaningful concepts we have when we talk about how certain we are that something is actually the case. Our convictions fall on a continuum from “completely uncertain” to “maximally certain”, and bayesianism is IMO a very nice approach to test whether the strength of your convictions regarding a specific proposition are actually justified by the available evidence.

      • “If you’re talking about subjective Bayesianism, yes.”
        – So what does a probability mean ontologically in objective bayesianism? (or in any other framework for that matter?) I am not aware of any consensus wrt what probabilities (or randomness) mean *ontologically* in *any* framework.

    • Hi Mike, thanks for your comment!

      This is what I tend to believe, but people have different intuitions on that topic, as the vivid discussion going on shows.

      Thanks for your visit anyway!

  13. Andy Schueler: “Again, I strongly doubt that such undesigned coincidences are characteristic for historical accounts, but not for fictional / mythological accounts. Has anyone actually done an analysis on that? (that would be necessary for such an argument, as I see it at the moment – it is just claimed that undesigned coincidences are characteristic for historical accounts but not for fictional ones, but no evidence is presented that this is indeed the case).”

    As far as I know studies about “undesigned coincidences” have only been conducted with respect to the Bible. But I doubt that one could find “undesigned coincidences” in works of fiction. First, “undesigned coincidences” are rather unlikely to come about accidentally. They would have to be created. I think this would be possible, but extremely difficult and time-consuming. One would have to invent a story, in which everything is described in extensive detail. Then one would have to invent at least two stories that are based on the original story but in which the descriptions of events or persons are less detailed and in one way or other complement each other. Then the original story would have to be destroyed so that the “undesigned coincidences” would not look designed after all.

    In order to create “undesigned coincidences” one would have to be familiar with the concept, which was first described by the theologian William Paley in his book “Horae Paulinae” (London 1790). This means that in works of fiction written before 1790 one should not expect to find this phenomenon.

    But why would a writer of fiction take the trouble to do all this work?

    Andy Schueler: “On a side note – it seems to me that undesigned coincidences occur both in actual historical accounts and in fiction (although I´m happy to be corrected on that if such an analysis has been done), what seems to be characteristic for mythographies however, is that there are irreconcilable *differences*.”

    Irreconcilabe differences can also appear in works of history. For all I know there are two accounts about the fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants containing details conflicting with each other. But nevertheless it is generally accepted that the event described is historical.

    Andy Schueler: “Irreconcilable differences like the nativity story in Matthew vs the nativity story in Luke (I am aware of the attempts to reconcile them, but those require many ridiculously implausible ad hoc assumptions, and with this degree of creative freedom, you could also “explain” all the contradictions for every single mythical greek hero for which we have more than two mythographies – I´m not aware of accounts that are universally considered to be historical and contain contradictions of the magnitude as we see in the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke).”

    Interestingly, someone has tried to find “undesigned coincidences” in the passages in Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth:

    http://jwwartick.com/2012/12/10/ud-jesus-birth/

    • “As far as I know studies about “undesigned coincidences” have only been conducted with respect to the Bible. But I doubt that one could find “undesigned coincidences” in works of fiction.”
      – I already showed you one such coincidence in a work of fiction, the question is not if they occur or not, the question is rather whether they are characteristic for historical accounts but not for fiction.

      “First, “undesigned coincidences” are rather unlikely to come about accidentally. They would have to be created. I think this would be possible, but extremely difficult and time-consuming. One would have to invent a story, in which everything is described in extensive detail. Then one would have to invent at least two stories that are based on the original story but in which the descriptions of events or persons are less detailed and in one way or other complement each other. Then the original story would have to be destroyed so that the “undesigned coincidences” would not look designed after all.”
      – Or, you start with an oral tradition that is vague at first and becomes filled with details as the story is told and retold. Then someone writes down this tradition as he has heard it, then someone else writes the story down again based on how he has heard the story (and potentially based on the previously written story as well) and makes modifications, corrects flaws of logic, maybe exaggerates some things, maybe adds some details and removes others, and so on and so forth. Then scribes have to make copy of these manuscripts, and they can also “correct” the manuscript as they see fit and add or remove parts. This is how works of mythology are created. And I find it extremely implausible that such “undesigned coincidences” would NOT occur just by chance (and again, I already showed you one in works of fiction, and I didn´t have to look very hard to find one).

      “Interestingly, someone has tried to find “undesigned coincidences” in the passages in Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth:

      http://jwwartick.com/2012/12/10/ud-jesus-birth/
      – Well, that would mean that undesigned coincidences are not a reliable indicator for historicity because this particular part of the gospels is as certainly fictional as the biographies of Heracles and Romulus are fictional.

  14. Andy Schueler: “It would of course be alright if this is your standard of evidence, but my experience is, that the explanation for such claims, if they can be tested, invariably turns out to be that people were either lying, delusional or fooled (particularly the last one, it is *incredibly* easy to fool people, that´s how psychics and miracle healers get rich).

    […]

    – Sure. That never happened however. While alleged extraordinary events turning out to be based on deceit or honest confusion are a dime a dozen.”

    As examples of people who are said to be exposed as frauds usually Sathya Sai Baba, Peter Popoff and Uri Geller are mentioned. I guess there are not many more people to be mentioned. As far as I can see there is a scarcity of people who claim to have supernatural powers. This also applies to times when people certainly were more open to the possibility of such powers. As for pagan Antiquity the following quote is very informative:

    “It is in this light that we must judge the accounts we possess of other miracle-workers in Jesus’ period and culture. We have already observed that the list of such occurrences is very much shorter than is often supposed. If we take the period of four hundred years stretching from two hundred years before to two hundred years after the birth of Christ, the number of miracles recorded which are remotely comparable with those of Jesus is astonishingly small. On the pagan side, there is little to report apart from the records of cures at healing shrines, which were certainly quite frequent, but are a rather different phenomenon from cures performed by an individual healer. Indeed it is significant that later Christian fathers, when seeking miracle workers with whom to compare or contrast Jesus, had to have recourse to remote and by now almost legendary figures of the past such as Pythagoras or Empedocles.”

    A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, Philadelphia 1982, p. 103.

    (source: http://christianthinktank.com/mqfx.html).

    This also applies to Muhammad:

    “It is the rather explicit teaching of the Quran that Muhammad performed no supernatural, verifiable miracles apart from the inspiration that he received. The Quran in several places emphatically negates the idea of Muhammad performing physical feats such as raising the dead, healing the sick, opening physically blind eyes etc.”

    (source: http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Azmy/mhd_miracles.htm)

    • “As examples of people who are said to be exposed as frauds usually Sathya Sai Baba, Peter Popoff and Uri Geller are mentioned. I guess there are not many more people to be mentioned.”
      – ?? Why do you think that? No, those are only the most popular. There are thousands of less popular psychics, miracle healers, prophets, tantrik mages etc.pp. that have been debunked. Benny Hinn, Sylvia Browne, Pandit Surinder Sharma, Kim Russo, Theresa Caputo, John Edward – you could fill entire books with these frauds, and such books actually have been written. Faith healers and tantrik mages are so popular in India that there are more people that *do* believe in their powers than people that are skeptical. You can find at least one popular psychic in every major city of the USA (and they are occasionally even consulted as experts for the Police or the *FBI* – no matter how often these assholes get debunked, there are always people gullible enough to believe this crap).

      “As far as I can see there is a scarcity of people who claim to have supernatural powers. ”
      – I would bet that you can find a self-proclaimed psychic either in the city you live in or the nearest major city. These people are a dime a dozen. The esoteric community produces a revenue of over 10,000,000,000€ per year in a country like Germany. These people are a dime a dozen.

      ” This also applies to times when people certainly were more open to the possibility of such powers. As for pagan Antiquity the following quote is very informative:”
      – Yes, people in antiquity were certainly very open to such possibilities, which is why they believed that St. Paul was a God just because he survived the bite of a snake (Acts 28:6). Based on the Bible alone, you can show that it really didn´t take much to convince people in antiquity that a “miracle” happened.
      Flavius Josephus wrote in the first century that palestine was filled with “cheats and deceivers claiming divine inspiration” (Jewish War 2.259-60; Jewish Antiquities, 20.167)
      The pagans also had a “saviour” with capable of miraculus healings – Asclepius. And other miracle workers who founded religions like Peregrinus and Apollonius. They also believed that the statues of Neryllinus, Alexander the Great, Proteus, Pellichos and many others had healing powers.
      What Christians do is claim that none of those miracles are *exactly* like those that Jesus allegedly caused, but that is completely irrelevant because you could say the same for every other miracle worker – no two of them are *exactly* alike.

      • ” St. Paul was a God just because he survived the bite of a snake (Acts 28:6). ”

        I know that Richard Carrier likes this argument, but the people were not that naive.

        They knew (statistically 😉 ) that nobody could survive such a bite without perishing or at the very least becoming very sick.

      • “I know that Richard Carrier likes this argument, but the people were not that naive.

        They knew (statistically 😉 ) that nobody could survive such a bite without perishing or at the very least becoming very sick.”
        – So believing that someone is a God, because he survived the bite of a snake, although most people don´t is NOT “naive”? In that case, we have a very different conception of what this word means 😉

      • “They were right that something extraordinary happened…”
        – Indeed. But there is a difference between “wow, I´ve never seen anything like that” and “wow, I´ve never seen anything like that, the guy must be a God”. That people assumed the latter and not the former does show that it takes nothing more than an unusual but still completely mundane to convince people not only that a miracle happened, but even that this guy is a GOD. You don´t think that such an attitude is significant for an evaluation of alleged miracle workers in antiquity?

      • “Yeah, but since I don’t reject the supernatural I tend to be agnostic about ancient accounts which are not obviously wrong”
        – Well, I don´t “reject” the supernatural as well. And we disagree on what the word “agnostic” means ;-).

  15. This is a great discussion- kudos all around. My position is basically that of Andy, but he’s stated it so well that I can’t really improve anything.

    I’d just like to add another reason for thinking twice about claims for gods, flying saucers, telepathy, and so forth. It’s not just because these are extraordinary claims that one should be skeptical as a default position: it’s because they are all claims that people often very much want to believe, and are thus easily misled. If I were to claim that I had a one centimeter cube of aluminum that weighs twenty grams, but it’s gone now, that’s just as extraordinary, or maybe even more so, than claiming to see a flying saucer which has since flown away. But who will care?

    Knowing that people make up stories all the time about mysterious powers and beings, for fairly obvious reasons, should make us especially careful when judging such stories.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, and keep up the good work. P.S. if any of you are ever out this way, drop me a line, and lunch is on me.

  16. Andreas Schueler: “- I would bet that you can find a self-proclaimed psychic either in the city you live in or the nearest major city. These people are a dime a dozen. The esoteric community produces a revenue of over 10,000,000,000€ per year in a country like Germany. These people are a dime a dozen.”

    Of course, I’m aware of such people. But usually their claims are much more modest than to be able to work miracles similar to those Jesus worked according to the Gospels, and I grant that the majority of them are not frauds, but that they meet the expectations people have concerning them, be it because they really have some kind of spiritual powers or simply because of the placebo effect.

    • “Of course, I’m aware of such people. But usually their claims are much more modest than to be able to work miracles similar to those Jesus worked according to the Gospels”
      – Yes, *usually* they are more modest. But it´s not as if claiming to be the messiah would be a rare phenomenon, it´s so common for people that visit Jerusalem that the symptom even has it´s own name “Jerusalem syndrome”:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_syndrome
      Just like miracle healings like those that Jesus allegedly did are everything but uncommon, you can write books about them – some Christians did just that, Craig Keener wrote a two-volume set of books (1248 pages in total!) collecting miracle stories allegedly experienced by Christians from all across the globe.
      Including countless miracle healings and even resurrections (which curiously always happened in the most superstitious countries on this planet and which curiously lack all details that would be required to fact-check the stories).

      ” and I grant that the majority of them are not frauds”
      – Sure, some of them honestly believe that they actually do have supernatural powers, so they are not frauds, but rather honestly misguided. What is significant is, that these phenomena have been extensively researched and the conclusion is always the same. Re alleged “miracle healers”, if they take money for their service, they invariably turn out to be frauds, not a single exception is known, if they do it for free, they might honestly believe in their powers, but there was never any evidence that they actually did cause a miracle.

  17. Andreas Schueler: “- Yes, people in antiquity were certainly very open to such possibilities, which is why they believed that St. Paul was a God just because he survived the bite of a snake (Acts 28:6). Based on the Bible alone, you can show that it really didn´t take much to convince people in antiquity that a “miracle” happened.”

    As Acts 14,8-20 indicates miracles of the kind we read about in the Gospels and the Book of Acts were far from what people in Antiquity expected. In the Gospels we can read that people were quite amazed at Jesus’ miraculous works. So, obviously it was not something that belonged to their everyday experience (see e.g. Matthew 9,33, 15,31).

    Andreas Schueler: “Flavius Josephus wrote in the first century that palestine was filled with “cheats and deceivers claiming divine inspiration” (Jewish War 2.259-60; Jewish Antiquities, 20.167)”

    In my view to claim divine inspiration is a much more modest claim than to be able to work miracles and in addition it is much more difficult to falsify.

    Andreas Schueler: “The pagans also had a “saviour” with capable of miraculus healings – Asclepius. And other miracle workers who founded religions like Peregrinus and Apollonius. They also believed that the statues of Neryllinus, Alexander the Great, Proteus, Pellichos and many others had healing powers.”

    I would not even deny that there were healings at statues, but as the quote mentioned above about miracle workers in Antiquity shows this is another phenomenon than healings performed by an individual healer. As for alleged individual healers as far as I know the respective accounts were written down a long time after the respective lifetimes of the persons described and unlike the Gospels they don’t have “undesigned coincidences” as pieces of evidence for being based on eyewitness accounts. All of this certainly applies to Apollonius, who seems to be the person in Antiquity whose alleged or actual miracles come closest to those of Jesus.

    • “As Acts 14,8-20 indicates miracles of the kind we read about in the Gospels and the Book of Acts were far from what people in Antiquity expected. In the Gospels we can read that people were quite amazed at Jesus’ miraculous works. So, obviously it was not something that belonged to their everyday experience (see e.g. Matthew 9,33, 15,31).”
      – What I find significant here, is that the oldest gospel (Mark) indicates that Jesus only had special “powers” if people *believed* that he had those powers (see Mark 6). What I find also significant is that Matthew and Luke copy those miracles that Mark told, invent new miracles (like the virgin birth) and exaggerate the ones they copied from Mark (if Mark said in one passage that that he cured x people, he usually cured x+1 or 2 in Matthew and Luke).
      Since there was a decades long oral tradition with stories about Jesus before Mark wrote his version down and seeing how the alleged miracles increase in number and in scale over time, the most likely explanation is that the original versions of these stories were not quite as miraculous as the ones recorded in the gospels.
      What I find also significant here, is that the overwhelming majority of the Jews who allegedly witnessed those miracles or heard first-hand accounts from their friends, family and neighbours, overwhelmingly did NOT convert (the christian community in Jerusalem was tiny and stayed tiny). Christianity was a giant success among the Gentiles, but also a colossal failure among the Jews. That I find rather hard to believe if those miracles actually happened. Think about it, the Jews allegedly had Jesus as a teacher and witnessed his miracles directly or had access to first-hand accounts. The Gentiles had Paul and only second-hand accounts about most of the alleged miracles (at best!). I have never heard any even remotely plausible explanation for this under the assumption that Christianity is true. The explanations I have heard boil down to the Jews being too wicked, which is not only racist but also downright stupid.

      “In my view to claim divine inspiration is a much more modest claim than to be able to work miracles and in addition it is much more difficult to falsify.”
      – I would disagree with that. Some miracle claims are easy to falsify, a child could falsify the claim that Noah´s flood literally happened (although that would obviously not have been easy without a modern education) because such a miracle would leave behind mountains of material evidence if it had actually happened. Other miracle claims are almost impossible to falsify – e.g. the virgin birth and the resurrrection of Jesus, how would you even try to falsify that? All you have is some ancient documents written decades after this allegedly happened.
      Had the alleged Messiah come with glory and power, as the Jews expected, and used his divine powers to overthrow the roman empire or to appear to all cultures on this planet simultaneously – we would have plenty of material evidence for that.

      “but as the quote mentioned above about miracle workers in Antiquity shows this is another phenomenon than healings performed by an individual healer. ”
      – It´s well possible that the Jews would not have expected such healings, for the pagan it would not have been that unusual because such stories existed in the pagan world (which would be another reason for I it might not be that surprising that the Gentiles readily believed in Jesus while the Jews overwhelmingly didn´t).

      “As for alleged individual healers as far as I know the respective accounts were written down a long time after the respective lifetimes of the persons described and unlike the Gospels they don’t have “undesigned coincidences” as pieces of evidence for being based on eyewitness accounts. ”
      – Again, I still don´t buy this argument, I find the reasoning implausible and apparently no one has done an analysis if this claim that such “undesigned coincidences” occur very rarely in mythological accounts (they certainly occur sometimes, because we already talked about one such case) is actually true.

  18. As far as I can see first hand testimonies about supernatural events from Antiquity can only be found in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 9,1 and 15,5-8 the apostle Paul speaks about his encounter with the risen Jesus; it is clearly a first hand testimony. One might ask if Paul had any reason not to tell the truth. Not only was his testimony the cause of much hardship (see 1 Corinthians 4,9-13, 15,30-32, 2 Corinthians 11,16-33), but in addition he had to fear that in the end he would turn out to be a false witness about God (1 Corinthians 15,15). According to Philippians 3,3-10, before his conversion Paul was a well-respected member of the Jewish community, so he didn’t have to become a Christian to win fame. From 1 Corinthians 9,3-18, 2 Corinthians 2,17 and 1 Thessalonians 2,9 one can see that Paul was not looking for financial advantage. Therefore, such a motive for his activities can also be ruled out.

    In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of other miracles than the Resurrection that amount to first hand testimonies of these events. They can be found in Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5. These passages wouldn’t make sense if no miracles or miracle-like events had happened. In addition they imply that the addressees of the respective letters had experienced such events, so there were quite a number of witnesses.

    • “In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of other miracles than the Resurrection that amount to first hand testimonies of these events”
      – Nope, not at all. There is not a single first hand testimony about anything in the gospels, the only thing that could reasonably be called a first hand testimony about anything are some of the pauline epistles (the ones that he actually wrote himself). And they are a further reason why I don´t buy what is written in the gospels because Paul curiously never talks about Jesus´ life, his virgin birth, his ministry – not a single word, he describes Jesus almost exclusively on a *spiritual* level, and the risen Christ that Paul describes which allegedly “appeared to many” is described in such a way, that the “appearances” were similar to the appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus (i.e. not a risen Christ in the flesh, but rather a spiritual entity).
      The fact that the authentic pauline epistles, which are the earliest documents we have written by christians, are so radically different from the gospels and fail to provide any support for most of the claims made by the gospels is actually the main reason why I consider the gospels to be close to 100% fictional.

      • Hello Andy, are you a proponent of the Jesus myth theory?

        Ich kriege echt diesen Eindruck, wenn ich dich lese.

        Liebe Grüsse aus Metz, Lothringen, wo es leider so stark regnet, dass ich nicht wandern kann.

      • “Hello Andy, are you a proponent of the Jesus myth theory?

        Ich kriege echt diesen Eindruck, wenn ich dich lese.”
        – Well, not really. I haven´t read much about it – what I´ve read is Carrier´s verious exchanges (e.g. the long back and forth with Bart Ehrman) and I got the impression that Carrier so far always got the better (to put it mildly) of his opponents.
        That doesn´t mean very much however, maybe Carrier was picking on the easy targets and others could defend the historicity of Jesus much better than Ehrman and co.
        What I do know is that Jesus mythicism is an absolute fringe position among scholars and I also know that *I* know very little about this matter. So for the time being – I provisionally accept that a historical Jesus is more (maybe even much more) likely than not.
        Beyond that, there is not much in the NT that I would consider to be historical – I currently think it´s more likely than not that there was a preacher called Jesus who had a ministry in first century palestine and was eventually crucified by the orders of Pontius Pilate, and I also believe that Paul (and others) actually had visions of a “risen Christ”, but I don´t believe that they meant a risen Christ in the flesh. Given how Paul writes about the matter, I find it much more likely that he meant visions like his own one, on the road to Damascus (i.e. not a bodily Jesus, but a spiritual being). For all other claims made in the NT, my beliefs range from “not convinced” to “absolutely certain that it never happend” (an example for the latter would be the virgin birth (and not because it´s supernatural)).
        Schöne Grüsse aus dem (noch) nicht verregnetem Münster 😉

  19. The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) wrote an essay entitled “Of Miracles” (1748), dealing with the evaluation of testimonies about miracles. The principle “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” actually is Hume’s respective argument in a nutshell. What is important here is that Hume did not use Bayes’ theorem in his evaluation, and this fact is the basis of the following critique of Hume’s argument:

    John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles, New York 2000.

    In the following video philosopher William Lane Craig applies Bayes’ theorem to the accounts about the Resurrection, based on what Earman wrote:

  20. Andreas Schueler: “- What I find significant here, is that the oldest gospel (Mark) indicates that Jesus only had special “powers” if people *believed* that he had those powers (see Mark 6). What I find also significant is that Matthew and Luke copy those miracles that Mark told, invent new miracles (like the virgin birth) and exaggerate the ones they copied from Mark (if Mark said in one passage that that he cured x people, he usually cured x+1 or 2 in Matthew and Luke).
    Since there was a decades long oral tradition with stories about Jesus before Mark wrote his version down and seeing how the alleged miracles increase in number and in scale over time, the most likely explanation is that the original versions of these stories were not quite as miraculous as the ones recorded in the gospels.”

    I would say that the miracles in Mark are not less impressive than those in Matthew and Luke. As for the question whether or not Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, the following contribution is very informative:

    http://www.traditionshypothese.de/texte/finnern.html

    In chapter 6 the author writes:

    “Der hohe Anteil an gemeinsamen Perikopen, die ähnliche Reihenfolge und die Wortlautübereinstimmungen können auf eine durch Wiederholung gefestigte mündliche Tradition zurückgeführt werden.”

    Translation:

    “The high number of common accounts [among the Synoptic Gospels], the similar order and the agreement of the wording can be put down to oral tradition fixed by repetition.”

    Another argument for the view that the writers of the Gospels did not copy from each other can be based on the occurrence of “undesigned coincidences”.

    • “I would say that the miracles in Mark are not less impressive than those in Matthew and Luke”
      – So you think it happened by mere chance that the number of people healed (for example) is always as high, or higher, in Luke and Matthew compared to Mark, but *never* the other way around?
      And you honestly do believe that, if we rank the miracles by “impressiveness” and “theological significance”, that the virgin birth would rank on spot 2 or 3 for “impressiveness” and definitely at spot 2 for “theological significance” (right after the resurrection)?

      “As for the question whether or not Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, the following contribution is very informative:

      http://www.traditionshypothese.de/texte/finnern.html

      “Der hohe Anteil an gemeinsamen Perikopen, die ähnliche Reihenfolge und die Wortlautübereinstimmungen können auf eine durch Wiederholung gefestigte mündliche Tradition zurückgeführt werden.”
      – Well, first of all, this is an absolute fringe position, about as popular as the view that Jesus never existed at all. Second, this idea is absurd, because, while many passages are copied *verbatim*, there are also many cases of stuff occuring only in Matthew or only in Luke. So you have to argue that you had three “lineages” of oral traditions, which go back to the same root but became independent after a while (so that some preserve stories like the virgin birth, others forget it) – but they still manage to share a vast number of passages that are virtually identical in all three. This makes no sense. If they could preserve these stories *perfectly* (which is ridiculously implausible to begin with), why are there highly significant stories missing in Mark? How could the virgin birth narrative be so radically different in Matthew and Luke if they could pass these stories on perfectly? This makes no sense.

      • “And you honestly do believe that, if we rank the miracles by “impressiveness” and “theological significance”, that the virgin birth would rank on spot 2 or 3 for “impressiveness” and definitely at spot 2 for “theological significance” (right after the resurrection)? ”
        – That should of course be a “don´t believe” instead of “do believe”.

        • I don’t believe that the virgin birth was really SO theologically significant and impressive for the first Christians.
          While the resurrection is emphasized, it is never mentioned in later Christian writings of the New Testament.

          As N.T. Wright said, if you drop the virgin birth, you still have Christianity which is based on the resurrection.

      • “I don’t believe that the virgin birth was really SO theologically significant and impressive for the first Christians.”
        – Well then what was? If you rank by “impressiveness”, I´d say virgin birth comes in on spot 2 right after the resurrection or on spot 3 after resurrection + raising Lazarus from the dead. Is there anything you would count as more “impressive” / “extraordinary”?
        And if you rank by theological significance, I would certainly put the virgin birth on spot 2, right after the resurrection – do you have a different suggestion?

        “As N.T. Wright said, if you drop the virgin birth, you still have Christianity which is based on the resurrection.”
        – Yup. It is very unfortunate however that accounts that are supposed to be historical, like Matthew and Luke, start with an elaborate story that is *so* obviously made up.

        • I am not sure the stories are entirely made up, they contain both contradictions and similarities.
          I am truly agnostic about the virgin birth.

          But if I understand you correctly, the fact that Mattew and Luke invented a supernatural story completely undermines their testimony about mundane things, right?

      • “But if I understand you correctly, the fact that Mattew and Luke invented a supernatural story completely undermines their testimony about mundane things, right?”
        – Nope. As I already said, I don´t think that such an all-or-nothing approach where a person or account is taken to be either 100% reliable or 0% reliable is not meaningful.
        What I do believe however is, that every story that is a) both noteworthy (or even extremely noteworthy) and theologically highly significant and b) never mentioned at all in Paul´s authentic epistles but mentioned in the gospels, have a non-negligible likelihood of being fabriactions. For me, a story that is unambigiously fabricated, like the virgin birth stories, increases the likelihood that the gospel authors made up other stories as well that cannot be traced back to earlier traditions (because one clear instance of them doing that shows that they in principle willing to invent a story to further their theological agenda (the gospel of John is an extreme case in this respect IMO)).
        But again, I don´t believe in all-or-nothing approach, some of the biographical aspects mentioned in the gospels (like Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist and Jesus being executed in Jerusalem) might well be true or at least have a kernel of truth IMO, although no earlier source like Paul mentions them.

        • Okay but why do you reject the historicity of the empty tomb and the discovery of it by women?

          Why not being agnostic about that?

          These are two mundane events.

          Moreover, do you consider as a fact that shortly after the crucifixion, the disciples experienced VISIONS of the risen Christ, however one might interpret them?

          These are two mundane events.

      • “Okay but why do you reject the historicity of the empty tomb and the discovery of it by women?
        Why not being agnostic about that?”
        – Because we disagree about what the word “agnostic” means ;-). For me “agnostic” would mean either a) a position that the answer to a certain claim is *unknowable* or b) being completely undecided about something. And I am not *completely* undecided about those claims, I consider them more likely to be false than to be true, not enough to say “I´m certain (or almost certain) that they are false”, but still, that´s not an “agnostic” position IMO.

        “Moreover, do you consider as a fact that shortly after the crucifixion, the disciples experienced VISIONS of the risen Christ, however one might interpret them?”
        – Not as a fact, but very close – these claims seem extremely likely to be true to me (I personally prefer a *very* strict definition of the word “fact”)

  21. Quibbles with Craig´s case:
    – Those four historical facts are not actually historical facts. Your video doesn´t include the part where he mentions those four “facts”, but I know which ones he is talking about:
    1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
    2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
    3: On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
    4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
    None of those is a “historical fact” for any meaningful sense of the word.
    A historical fact would be something that has a probability very close to 1, which means “true beyond any reasonable doubt”. The claim “Julius Caesar was a ruler of the roman empire in the 1st century BCE” would be such a claim that is true beyond any reasonable doubt – a “historical fact”.
    The 4 facts that Craig presents are not even remotely as certainly true (I would go much further and say 1 and 2 are more likely to be wrong and 3+4 are misleading (because they don´t distinguish between visions like Paul´s and a bodily risen Christ as in the gospels)).
    Note that it doesn´t matter how many historians would agree with those 4 “facts”, you have to factor in how *convinced* they are. If a majority (let´s say 60%) of historians agrees with those claims, but most of them are not certain but rather believe that these claims are “more likely (or much more likely) true than not” – you can´t use this to support that the 4 claims are indeed historical facts, because scholars don´t agree unanimously and because most of the scholars that agree are not absolutely certain that they are true (again, when it comes to Caesar, there is not a single historian on this planet who is not absolutely convinced that the claim I mentioned above is true, for very good reasons – we have boatloads of extremely high-quality evidence supporting this, enough to fill several museums).
    Now, what that means is, that if Craig intends to build his case on those four “facts”, he can´t just assume that they are certainly true, he would have to apply Bayes´s theorem to *them* first and *then* use the results in a later calculation for the resurrection – and for this last calculation, his case depends strongly on how well he could establish this four alleged facts.
    Craig is cheating by simply assuming that they are true. Also, I strongly doubt that ALL or even just a majority of historians actually agree with all of those four alleged facts, I´m pretty sure that by “scholars” Craig means *Christian Theologians* not historians.

    2. Craig is simply wrong regarding the prior probability of the resurrection. The distinctions between “rose naturally” and “rose supernaturally” are completely irrelevant and whether we count “rose naturally” or “rose supernaturally” or BOTH is thus irrelevant as well. Resurrections would be extremely rare (at best!) in any of those cases and the prior probability thus is very low, by definition. You might counter by saying that you would agree for all resurrections except for the one of Jesus, which you think has a very high prior probability. But then you are just assuming what you intend to show and the probability calculation becomes meaningless.

    3. “All four gospels support this” – that would be relevant if (and ONLY if) Craig could show that the four gospels are independent accounts. This is absurd however, given that there is overwhelming evidence that Matthew and Luke depend on Mark. Again, Craig is cheating.

    4. He doesn´t actually do any calculations, at least not in this video (but given reasons 1-3 I mentioned above, for any calculation based on his approach, the GIGO principle applies – “garbage in – garbage out”.

  22. Andy Schueler: “What I find also significant here, is that the overwhelming majority of the Jews who allegedly witnessed those miracles or heard first-hand accounts from their friends, family and neighbours, overwhelmingly did NOT convert (the christian community in Jerusalem was tiny and stayed tiny). Christianity was a giant success among the Gentiles, but also a colossal failure among the Jews. That I find rather hard to believe if those miracles actually happened. Think about it, the Jews allegedly had Jesus as a teacher and witnessed his miracles directly or had access to first-hand accounts. The Gentiles had Paul and only second-hand accounts about most of the alleged miracles (at best!). I have never heard any even remotely plausible explanation for this under the assumption that Christianity is true. The explanations I have heard boil down to the Jews being too wicked, which is not only racist but also downright stupid.”

    According to Matthew 12,22-24 the Pharisees didn’t deny Jesus’ miracles but their divine origin. Moreover, it may be that one has to make a distinction between the time before and the time after Jesus’ death on the cross. It could be that before that event Jesus had a large body of followers but that Jesus’ execution made many of His followers doubt that Jesus was really the Messiah (see Luke 24,17-21), a view which may have had its root in Deuteronomy 21,23. In Galatians 3,13-14 Paul refers to this Old Testament passage and argues that it doesn’t invalidate but rather reinforces Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.

    • “According to Matthew 12,22-24 the Pharisees didn’t deny Jesus’ miracles but their divine origin. Moreover, it may be that one has to make a distinction between the time before and the time after Jesus’ death on the cross. It could be that before that event Jesus had a large body of followers but that Jesus’ execution made many of His followers doubt that Jesus was really the Messiah (see Luke 24,17-21), a view which may have had its root in Deuteronomy 21,23. In Galatians 3,13-14 Paul refers to this Old Testament passage and argues that it doesn’t invalidate but rather reinforces Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.”
      – So Paul managed to explain why Jesus had to die to the Gentiles, but Jesus was unable to explain why he had to die to his own chosen people? Doesn´t that mean that Paul was a better teacher than God incarnate? 😉

  23. Andy Schueler: “- I would disagree with that. Some miracle claims are easy to falsify, a child could falsify the claim that Noah´s flood literally happened (although that would obviously not have been easy without a modern education) because such a miracle would leave behind mountains of material evidence if it had actually happened. Other miracle claims are almost impossible to falsify – e.g. the virgin birth and the resurrrection of Jesus, how would you even try to falsify that? All you have is some ancient documents written decades after this allegedly happened.”

    I was talking about claims to be able to work miracles, so these examples are irrelevant in this respect.

  24. Andy Schueler: “Had the alleged Messiah come with glory and power, as the Jews expected, and used his divine powers to overthrow the roman empire or to appear to all cultures on this planet simultaneously – we would have plenty of material evidence for that.”

    The New Testament doesn’t claim that Jesus used His divine powers to overthrow the Roman Empire, so there is no reason to expect evidence for such a claim.

    Andy Schueler: “- Again, I still don´t buy this argument, I find the reasoning implausible and apparently no one has done an analysis if this claim that such “undesigned coincidences” occur very rarely in mythological accounts (they certainly occur sometimes, because we already talked about one such case) is actually true.”

    Your example definitely has nothing to do with “undesigned coincidences”. The idea to give an account of what happened to Heracles’ sons after he had died certainly is not unintended. Again, the pieces of information conveyed by “undesigned coincidences” must appear to be unintended and usually they are about minor details.

    • “The New Testament doesn’t claim that Jesus used His divine powers to overthrow the Roman Empire, so there is no reason to expect evidence for such a claim.”
      – That was not my point. My point was that the Jews *expected* a Messiah that comes in power and glory and *if* Jesus had overthrown the roman empire (it´s just an example – he could have done countless other things that deserve the label “power and glory”), the Jews would have been convinced that this is the Messiah.

      “Your example definitely has nothing to do with “undesigned coincidences”. The idea to give an account of what happened to Heracles’ sons after he had died certainly is not unintended. Again, the pieces of information conveyed by “undesigned coincidences” must appear to be unintended and usually they are about minor details.”
      – I already told you that the fate of his sons is not in any way central to the story, so why would this not count as an “undesigned coincidence”?

  25. Andy Schueler: “- Yes, *usually* they are more modest. But it´s not as if claiming to be the messiah would be a rare phenomenon, it´s so common for people that visit Jerusalem that the symptom even has it´s own name “Jerusalem syndrome”:
    
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_syndrome”

    As far as I can see this syndrom is a kind of mental disorder, but I was talking about sane and trustworthy persons.

    • “As far as I can see this syndrom is a kind of mental disorder, but I was talking about sane and trustworthy persons.”
      – 1. Nope, that the people showed no signs of psychopathological symptoms before visiting Jerusalem is part of the definition of this syndrome. And the syndrome itself is not a mental disorder, this syndrome is temporary and apparently triggered by the religious atmossphere in Jerusalem.
      2. It´s not as easy as you think to figure out if someone is “sane” or not (the cliche of the shouting maniac in a straightjacket covers some “insane” people, but only a small minority), and whether people are trustworthy or not is also not exactly easy to figure out.

  26. Andy Schueler: “Just like miracle healings like those that Jesus allegedly did are everything but uncommon, you can write books about them – some Christians did just that, Craig Keener wrote a two-volume set of books (1248 pages in total!) collecting miracle stories allegedly experienced by Christians from all across the globe.”

    You simply assume that these testimonies are not true, which is begging the question. One of the miracle workers Keener mentions is the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880). However, Blumhardt is a well-respected person and, as the following quote from Keener’s book shows, there is an example of a person who rejected the possibilities of miracles but who nevertheless didn’t regard Blumhardt as a fraud:

    “… David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history. Strauss developed the eighteenthcentury emphasis on naturalistic historical explanation, using literary-psychological categories to preserve the value of the text while stripping it of any “unhistorical” supernaturalist elements. …

    Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (see ch. 10), and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friend’s cure as psychosomatic. Likewise he regarded Blumhardt as a sincere pastor who was simply limited mentally. For his part, Blumhardt, who also had theological training that included exposure to rationalism, did not have a high view of Strauss either.”

    (Source: http://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Credibility-Testament-Accounts-Volume/dp/0801039525)

    • “You simply assume that these testimonies are not true, which is begging the question.”
      – Nope, I don´t just assume that they are false, I say that there is no evidence for these testimonies beyond the testimonies themselves. And I said that the most extraordinary of these testimonies (Keener´s book includes even testimonies about alleged resurrections!) always seem to happen in the most superstitious countries and always lack all details that would be required to fact-check the story.

      “One of the miracle workers Keener mentions is the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880). However, Blumhardt is a well-respected person and, as the following quote from Keener’s book shows, there is an example of a person who rejected the possibilities of miracles but who nevertheless didn’t regard Blumhardt as a fraud:”
      – Again (please read carefully because I said this many times before and am repeating myself), fraud is not the only explanation. I already said that, if an alleged miracle worker is NOT taking money for his healings, I think it is much more likely that he genuinely believes in his powers instead of being a fraud.

  27. Andy Schueler: “There is not a single first hand testimony about anything in the gospels, the only thing that could reasonably be called a first hand testimony about anything are some of the pauline epistles (the ones that he actually wrote himself). And they are a further reason why I don´t buy what is written in the gospels because Paul curiously never talks about Jesus´ life, his virgin birth, his ministry – not a single word, he describes Jesus almost exclusively on a *spiritual* level, and the risen Christ that Paul describes which allegedly “appeared to many” is described in such a way, that the “appearances” were similar to the appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus (i.e. not a risen Christ in the flesh, but rather a spiritual entity).
    The fact that the authentic pauline epistles, which are the earliest documents we have written by christians, are so radically different from the gospels and fail to provide any support for most of the claims made by the gospels is actually the main reason why I consider the gospels to be close to 100% fictional.”

    The Pauline epistles were not meant to provide the readers with details about what Jesus did and said. Nevertheless there are such details in the Pauline epistles (e.g. Romans 12,14, 13,8-9, 1 Corinthians 7,10, 9,14, 11,23-25, 13,2, 1 Thessalonians 4,15-18). 1 Corinthians 7,25 only makes sense, if we assume that Paul esteemed and was familiar with what Jesus had said.

    • “The Pauline epistles were not meant to provide the readers with details about what Jesus did and said”
      – Do you assume that or do you know that? If you know that – how exactly do you know that Paul *knew* the biographical details about Jesus as they were written down in the gospels later, but chose not to mention them, instead of just not knowing them because those details are fabrications that were added to the story after Paul was already dead?

      “Nevertheless there are such details in the Pauline epistles (e.g. Romans 12,14, 13,8-9, 1 Corinthians 7,10, 9,14, 11,23-25, 13,2, 1 Thessalonians 4,15-18). 1 Corinthians 7,25 only makes sense, if we assume that Paul esteemed and was familiar with what Jesus had said.”
      – Perhaps I should be more clear, when I was talking about the “life and ministry” of Jesus, I was talking about the biographies as they were written down in the gospels. From virgin birth to the death on the cross. Paul mentions nothing of that. Not one bit. All you can find is a handful of short sayings that are similar to sayings that Jesus allegedly uttered according to the gospels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s