More “sophisticated” theology: John Polkinghorne proves that the Resurrection happened

February 20, 2012 • 6:31 am

The more I read “sophisticated” theology—and I’m reading the sort that tries to reconcile science and faith—the more convinced I am that it’s only superstition gussied up in academic prose and swathed in blankets of self-deception.  Right now I’m “into” (if one can use that word) John Polkinghorne.  Polkinghorne, now 82, was trained as a physicist, worked at Cambridge University, and then left his professorship to study for the Anglican priesthood.  He returned to Cambridge and became master of Queens College from 1989-1996.

He’s written many books, some on physics but most on the reconciliation of science and faith. Along the way he’s acquired a slew of honors, not only becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, but also garnering a knighthood (I suppose he’s called Sir Reverend John Polkinghorne or whatever).  And, inevitably, he won the Templeton Prize—ten years ago.

As Wikipedia notes:

Nancy Frankenberry, Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College, has described Polkinghorne as the finest British theologian/scientist of our time, citing his work on the possible relationship between chaos theory and natural theology. Owen Gingerich, an astronomer and former Harvard professor, has called him a leading voice on the relationship between science and religion.. . the novelist Simon Ings, writing in the New Scientist, said Polkinghorne’s argument for the proposition that God is real is cogent and his evidence elegant.

But Wikipedia also quotes some detractors, including Richard Dawkins and Anthony Grayling, whose scathing review of Polkinghorne’s book Questions of Truth (co-written with Nicholas Beale) can be read and enjoyed at The New Humanist.

If anyone is considered a “sophisticated” theologian in the realm of science and faith, then, it must be Polkinghorne.  So read him I must, and, unfortunately, I did.

I’ve just polished off Polkinghorne’s short book Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (2011, Yale University Press), and didn’t find it nourishing fodder.  While it’s better written than similar books by Alvin Plantinga and John Haught (the other famous reconcilers of science and faith), Polkinghorne’s arguments are no better. Indeed, some of them are the same. I was astounded, for instance, to see Polkinghorne making the “Argument from Hot Beverages” to adduce evidence for God. That argument, also used by John Haught, supposedly shows the existence of an ultimate truth behind the naturalistic truths of science (“why tea?”:  science says the kettle is boiling because the water is being heated, faith tells us that that the ultimate purpose is because you want a cup of tea. Ergo Jesus.)  Other arguments for God, such as the fine-tuning of physical constants, the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”, and the fact that the universe is comprehensible through human rationality, are also familiar.

Where Polkinghorne differs from some other scientist/theologians is in his explicit defense of the use of empiricism (rather than simply revelation) to argue for God, and in his defense of miracles.  Not all miracles—Genesis, for example, is to be taken as metaphor—but certainly the crucial miracles of the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus.

He’s clear in his belief that both science and faith seek real truths about the universe:

The second mistake is about religion. The question of truth is as central to its concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusionary exercise in comforting fantasy.

Both science and religion are part of the great human quest for truthful understanding. . . . The claim will be that both are seeking truth through the attainment of well-motivated beliefs. (p. 2).

At least he’s explicit about this, and about the fact that that truth can be attained through more than simple revelation.  Polkinghorne does admit that faith doesn’t give one the same kind of empirical certainties as does science, but gives us something equivalent: “well-motivated beliefs.”  He uses those words over and over again, but I’m not sure what they mean.  For one person’s motivation is different from another’s, and “motivation” to believe in God may make some believers more credulous than others.

At any rate, there is the usual denigration of science, dragging it down to the level of faith:

Above all, science requires commitment to the basic act of faith that there is a deep rational order in the world awaiting discovery, and that there is a sufficient degree of uniform consistency in the working of the universe to permit successful argument by induction as a means to discover aspects of that order, despite the inevitably limited and particular character of the experience that motivates the belief. . . Science yields well-motivated beliefs, but it does not deliver complete and absolute certainty about them. (pp. 9-11).

As if religion does! Note Polkinghorne’s equation of scientific “truth” with the “well-motivated beliefs” of faith.

One finds in this book many of the tropes familiar from other science-friendly theologians, who may indeed have borrowed the tropes from Reverend Sir John.  There’s the customary denigration of scientism (“the metaphysical belief that science tells us all that can be known or is worth knowing”), the assertion that science and faith are pals because many early scientists were religious (this is one of the stupidest arguments these people make: everyone was religious back then!), in the the hand of God visible in the emergent properties of matter and consciousness, in the fact that we can understand the universe, especially through mathematics (the implication is that God made it comprehensible for us), and in the fact that humans have a sense of morality and aesthetics, which is supposedly not comprehensible if we are merely evolved creatures. (This use of “the Moral Law” as evidence for God is also a favorite ploy of Francis Collins).

But, like all of these theologians, Polkinghorne is desperate to find justification for his beliefs—Christian ones in his case.  Where religion really differs from science is in how it approaches the search for truth.  In science, we’re always open (or should be, at least) to having our pet theories overturned; indeed, the good scientist deliberately looks for holes in her data or experiments. That’s what the investigators at CERN did when they found what seemed to be faster-than-light neutrinos.  Religion, on the other hand, begins with certain core beliefs that must be buttressed, and then simply looks for data supporting them.  If you can’t find that data, you make stuff up.  Thus, while it’s easy to toss Genesis under the bus, for evolution has disproved that story, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, as one-off miracles, are simply not negotiable.

And, indeed, Polkinghorne believes in those particular miracles, and in miracles in general.  He argues that theologians like him understand miracles as

“signs”, that is to say, events that manifest with specific clarity some particular aspect of the divine will and nature that is normally veiled from clear sight. Miracles are not arbitrary divine actions but events of deep disclosure.” (p. 95)

Polkinghorne does not tell us which miracles are real and which are merely stories, though it’s clear that the creation of humans ex nihilo was just a fable.  I want to concentrate on one miracle for which Polkinghorne says we do have evidence: the Resurrection of Christ.  For Polkinghorne this must be true, for if it isn’t, all of Christianity collapses in a heap.  So he goes about finding “evidence” for it.  Of course, such evidence is thin on the ground, for we have only the accounts of the gospels, but Polkinghorne wades in.

What is his evidence? According to Polkinghorne, there are two bits of evidence from the Gospels that convince him of the resurrection.

One line of evidence is the sequence of appearance stories recounting how the risen Christ met with his disciples. (p. 121)

Polkinghorne then cites Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as testimony for the Resurrection.

But what about the conflicting accounts of the resurrection in the different gospel?  These are many, and very well known; see here for a handy chart of the contradictions. Polkinghorne notes some discrepancies, but sweeps them away in favor of his two lines of evidence.

At first sight it might seem that we are faced with a bewildering confusion, consisting of a variety of stories, some set in Jerusalem and some in Galilee. Could this variety not simply reflect the fact that we are presented with a bunch of made-up tales, originating in the pious imaginations of a number of different communities? (p. 122).

Well, given that Biblical scholarship has shown us that the Bible is a farrago of made-up tales, perhaps the parsimonious answer here is “yes.”  But Polkinghorne dissents (my emphasis in the following):

I do not think so, for there is a recurrent theme, hardly likely to have arisen with such consistency from a gaggle of independent sources, namely that it was initially difficult to recognize the risen Christ. For example, Mary Magdalene took him to be the gardener (John 20:15), the couple on the road to Emmaus only recognised at the end of the journey who their companion had been (Luke 24:31); Matthew even tells us that it was on a Galilean hillside ‘some doubted’ who it was (28:17). It seems to me that this unexpected feature is more likely to be a historical reminiscence of the character of actual encounters, rather than a fortuitous coincidence in a set of independent confabulations. (pp. 122-123).

First of all, who ever said that the confabulations were independent? The gospels clearly borrowed from each other, as well as drawing from verbal accounts circulating at the time.  But what we see in the above is a man in the naked act of fooling himself—a man willing to ignore all the contradictions between the different accounts of the Resurrection to find truth in one or two things that are consistent. He is clearly desperate to show that the Resurrection actually happened.

Oh, but there’s one more consistency that heartens Polkinghorne.  This one I can’t believe (my emphasis again):

The second line of evidence is the story of the empty tomb, testified to in all four Gospels, with only minor variations of detail between the accounts. . .

. . . the most persuasive argument in favour of the authenticity of the empty tomb story is that it is women who make the discovery. In the ancient world, women were not considered to be capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law and anyone making up a tale would surely have assigned the central role to men. (p. 123).

Indeed!  The very fact that a tale seems improbable makes it more believable!  And despite all the contradictions of the accounts in the four gospels, this is the one on which Polkinghorne seizes to show that the tale is true.  He doesn’t consider the fact that maybe somebody making up the story might have the empty-tomb finders be women because the women were Jesus’s relatives and chief mourners, including his mother, his aunt, and Mary Magdalene.

But there are contradictions even about who found the empty tomb, and what happened thereafter.  In Luke, the empty tomb is found by unnamed women who came from Galilee with Jesus, in Matthew and Mark the empty tomb is found by Mary and Mary Magdalene, while in John the tomb is found by Mary Magdalene alone. And in Luke it is the “women from Galilee” who prepare Jesus’s body with “spices and ointments,” while in the Gospel of John the body is prepared by men: Joseph and Nicodemus. Polkinghorne doesn’t mention these disparities.

It is the willingness to overlook contradictory evidence that distinguishes theology from science, and here we have a prime example. In his fervor to prove the central tenet of Christianity, which he must do if his faith is to have any credibility, Polkinghorne ignores all the confabulations of the gospel authors to seize on two elements of the story that are consistent, pretending that this consistency is evidence for the truth of a tale.  But the stories aren’t independent, and aren’t even consistent in the ways Polkinghorne maintains.

In trying to show a comity between faith and science, and in asserting that they use related methods of empirical investigation to verify their respective “truths”, Polkinghorne unwittingly shows us the real difference between these “magisteria.”  He ignores inconvenient inconsistencies in the account of the gospels, the non-independence of those gospels, and weaknesses in his own arguments.  (This, by the way, is characteristic of the rest of his book.)  His argument is not scientific, but tendentious, for he knows from the outset what truth he must arrive at, and is willing to accept or fabricate anything to support that truth. Even sophisticated theologians who argue for a harmony and complementarity of science and faith, then, inadvertently demonstrate that the areas are incompatible.


344 thoughts on “More “sophisticated” theology: John Polkinghorne proves that the Resurrection happened

    1. [Wp]: since he is an ordained priest in the Church of England it is technically incorrect to call him “Sir John Polkinghorne”

      But he is Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne.

      /@

      1. Not sure if I follow. If he’s been knighted, he is “Sir John”. If he’s also a vicar and a doctor, then he’s The Rev. Dr. Sir John Polkinghorne.

    2. Well, of course it was initially difficult to recognize the risen Christ — no-one expects to see the recently entombed walking about days afterwards!

      /@

  1. Where Plantinga differs from some other scientist/theologians is his explicit defense of the use of empiricism (rather than revelation) to argue for God, and his defense of miracles.

    Is that supposed to be Polkinghorne and not Plantinga?

    1. Yes, I fixed it before I read your comment, while proofreading, which I’m now going to do again!

      Thanks.

  2. the interest attaching to Polkinghorne is that he is a physicist who became a Church of England vicar, which makes people think that he has a special line into the science-religion question. Were he a vicar who gave up the Church of England to become a physicist he would not be regarded as anything more special than sensible; but this is how the world wags.

    Thank you, Mr. Grayling.

  3. I am pretty sure that the First Book of Harry Potter featured a boy wizard that went to a school of wizards, make some friends and discovered he had some enemies. In the Second Book of Harry Potter, the school was still there, and the same friends, and some different enemies.

    Because these two books are consistent within the whole Harry Potter realm, I deem these stories to be true. Harry Potter is real, and so is the school. Somewhere in mid to northern UK, I am sure, although some accounts differ on this matter, but those are only trivial points that do not detract from the Truth with a capital ‘T’.

    1. One could also suggest, that two different sources, by two different authors only 20 years apart show how a man was killed and returned from the dead. That man was Freddy Krueger.

  4. 4th para (or thereabouts)

    “Where Plantinga differs from some other scientist/theologians is his explicit…”

    Did you mean “Where Polkinghorne differs…” ?

    Good post anyway.

    Pete

  5. Well if the book of Genesis is a metaphor and the garden story didn’t actually occur in reality, then there is no actual “original sin” and therefore no actual need for a “savior”.

    It’s sad to see a supposedly scientific mind poisoned with this nonsense to the point of forgetting what scientific thinking is all about.

    1. Exactly. It’s annoying how apologists isolate their different beliefs so they don’t have to confront the contradictions.

      Another one: anyone who believes in the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus must also believe in the literal, physical ascension of Jesus – an idea that only makes sense in a flat-earth view of the world.

      1. Why couldn’t he drift off into space from a spherical Earth? The tale is still nonsense, but it’s not immediately obvious to me how a spherical Earth makes it more so. Doubtless I’m forgetting something.

        The other end of the story, returning and being seen from everywhere, is another matter.

        1. The Ascension only makes sense if he was ascending to a higher plane, such as the firmament (the metal dome of the sky). With a spherical Earth, he’s just launching himself into orbit…and to where, exactly? Moonbase Alpha? Kolob? Beetlejuice?

          Us moderns are used to thinking of “Heaven” and what-not as some sort of ill-defined immaterial virtual reality or something like that. In ancient times, the afterlife was (often) just as physical and corporeal as the before-death. Indeed, if you knew the right passage and whom to tip, you could even get there yourself, visit the dearly departed for a while, and come back home in time for breakfast.

          b&

          1. To be fair, that’s not quite true. In many of the Greek cosmologies, the earth (and universe) were held to be spherical, but the stuff “above the moon” was held to be very different from the stuff below: this is what “ascending into heaven” is about, presumably.

            Still ridiculous, but for other reasons.

            On the other hand, the bit about Satan taking Jesus to see all the kingdoms of the earth doesn’t work in a spherical context.

      2. I have often wondered the same thing. Why would Jesus go up if the earth is round? 12 hours later would he have sunk into the earth? Did he have to get to orbit first?

      1. Same here!!! It amazes me that anybody with a little skepticism and critical thinking can believe this stuff. You can lead people to the trough of reason but you can not make them think.

  6. Yes an excellent post. I suspect if Polkinghorne had spent a fraction of the time working on alternate values for fundamental physical constants leading to stable universes — than he did pontificating about fine tuning — he would’ve made a lot more progress.

    But something else I learned from this post that blew me away… was that Frankenberry is a real surname, and not just a breakfast cereal. It must be hell for that person to find what images for her exist on the web.

  7. Belief in the resurrection is one of those things I find a touchstone on the judgement of my fellows. I have no idea idea how anyone in all honesty could approach the story with *equanimity* and believe it!

    Incidentally, there has been a good ongoing discussion of the argument against the resurrection by Bradley Bowen at The Secular Outpost, which is worth reading, since it throws some light on how some come to believe the unbelievable. I dare say a similar analysis could be performed on the miracle claims of any religion.

    1. From my own experience, its mostly just avoiding thinking about any alternative ideas on the matter. I remember watching a video where they had a mock trial debating the resurrection of Jesus, and they laid out the evidence for it in terms of how whether the Bible’s story is enough to show that it really happened. But stuff like that always jams the Resurrection accounts into a single story, ignores that they weren’t written in the same time or language as the Gospel story takes place in, and that there were no corroborating stories in any other works.

      Christianity cultures ignorance of the wider context of their stories alongside a distinct touchiness about being questioned about their stories. I’m sure many of us experienced getting told that it was a ‘mystery’, or being told not to ask questions about these stories, and some take it to heart pretty readily.

    2. I commend to all Robert Greg Cavin’s “Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?” (PDF copy). A hilarious worked example in joined-up thinking about gibbering nonsense.

      1. Why, oh WHY did I read that?

        I find it so difficult to believe that such journals exist, not to mention that people actually draw salaries writing and publishing this stuff. And (technically, at least) I’m a sociologist.

  8. Religion, on the other hand, begins with certain core beliefs that must be buttressed, and then simply looks for data supporting them.  If you can’t find that data, you make stuff up. 

    This sums it all up perfectly. QED.

    1. I have said many times that if you draw your conclusion first and look for your evidence afterward, what you’re doing is not science, and never will be.

      The science that cemented my atheism wasn’t biology; it was mathematics, specifically statistics. I’ve often wondered if religious people knew that whether they’d want to protect their kids from addition and subtraction. L

  9. An empty tomb is not proof of anything but an empty tomb. And the whole story seems to have been added later and framed in such a way as to weaken the gnostic positions, and thus their influence in the doctrines and beliefs of the early faith.

    Something that every new faith seems to go through. Islam. Mormonism. Early Judaism (polythesim/monotheism). I’m sure the Buddists and Hindus have gone through the same thing.

    1. My summary of the empty tomb argument:
      I’ve got an invisible miniature unicorn on the palm of my hand. What, you don’t see it? Well, that proves that it really is invisible!

  10. “The very fact that a tale seems improbable makes it more believable” – I believe because it is absurd. Oh, and; “So read him I must, and, unfortunately, I did”. Lovely! Thanks for reading it so I don’t have to, and for making me laugh so explosively I scared the cat out of the office.

    1. So then, if improbability leads to believability; then all the faith-heads that claim that God exists “because I have personally experienced God’s presence,” means that their probability leads to unbelievability. QED.

  11. Pretty sure the testimony of women was allowed and considered reliable in areas of Jewish life and culture which were considered their responsibility, rather than the responsibility of men. Mourning the dead was one of these tasks, but the accounts also mimic pagan stories where a woman/women discover that the god is dead and/or resurrected. Isis/Osiris comes to mind.

    The fact that the “nobody would have trusted women” meme gets continually repeated throughout apologetic circles is painfully embarrassing. It’s almost reaching the “why are there still monkeys?” level.

  12. Probably still not “sophisticated” enough though… Part of the definition of “sophisticated theology” seems to be that you haven’t dealt with it yet. What qualifies as “sophisticated” is only ever determined in retrospect, and by definition only includes stuff you haven’t yet looked into. The moment you look into it (and expose it as even more quasi-intellectual sophistry and obscurantism), it immediately becomes another example of atheists attacking “caricatures” and shooting down “easy targets”.

    1. +2. Has anyone seen an instance of this argument used where it wasn’t a courtier’s reply? Anyone know of a theologian who has ever said, “oh, well since you have read Dikkens, I will now stop dismissing your argument and address it.”

  13. Imagine Bernie Madoff selling you credit default swaps, and you have a good sense of the type of “sophistication” Polkinghorne is offering.

    I will grant the hypothetical that Polkinghorne might be drunk on his own swill, but that’s largely irrelevant.

    Cheers,

    b&

  14. Of course if he was a moslem he would say that the resurrection was another myth but that Mo really did ride to heaven on a horse.

    As a slight aside, I’ve always thought that one of the things that makes islam so dangerous is precisely the fact that it doesn’t have as much of this sort of bonkers supernaturalism in it, making it easier to spread.

    In hinduism, paganism etc there are loads of gods and they all squabble. Eh?

    In judaism there is only one god, but for some reason he picks just one small tribe to care about and ignores the rest. Eh?

    In xianity there is only one god who sacrifices himself to himself in order to impress himself. Eh?

    In islam, there is just one god and he cares about everyone who believes in him. That does sound rather more sensible than the rest.

    1. Does it really make sense that the omnipotent creator would really care that much what we thought about him? Enough to punish people forever when he can’t be bothered to present Itself clearly? That’s the sort of thing that makes no sense in any religion.

      1. Well,yeah, but if you take as a starting point that we were specifically created by this omnimax creator so that we would have specific types of thoughts about him (worship), it fits. (OK… the omnimax deity has to have the mind of a four year-old.)

            1. Not really. Islam probably originated under the influence of Monophysite Christians, who denied the ‘divinity’ of Christ.

              Polkinghorne’s argument from people not recognising Jesus is ludicrous. This was bog standard for pagan deities. Believe it or not there are a multitude of stories of pagan gods appearing to people in the ancient mediterranean world, only being recognised briefly before they disapear.

          1. Except the flying around on a chimera from arabia to jerusalem part.

            Or a fire-voice speaking to a guy in a cave.

            Or giant spiders growing up from the earth to fight infidels.

            Or the central insanity of it, that the Super-Infallibale God gave religion to the Jews, screwed it up, sent Jesus to correct Judaism, but the christians screwed that up, and then finally gave the Quran to Mohammed, and now it’s perfect and unchangeable.

            And that’s before the shia, sunni, sufi, alawi, kharijite specific stuff.

            Islam has /plenty/ of utterly ‘fantastic’ and ridiculous concepts and events in it. No more, and definitely no less, than other religions. It might just seem like it has less because we’re more unfamiliar with it.

  15. ‘In the ancient world, women were not considered to be capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law and anyone making up a tale would surely have assigned the central role to men’

    Let me see.

    In the Gospels, the resurrection is announced to the reader by a young man, an angel, two angels and Jesus himself. (Take your pick)

    Meanwhile, the stupid women actually believed that somebody had moved the body.

    Happily, some men raced to the tomb and checked out the story and put these foolish women in their place.

    Who would make up a story like that?

    1. Yes. The fact that Jesus eventually appears to the disciples (men) is part of the story, too. Did they forget that?

      Even if you were making up the story from scratch, the most believable thing is to have the women make the discovery first. It was their JOB to mourn the dead. If the empty tomb is part of a totally fictive narrative, you STILL need women to see it first. It’s more believable, not less.

  16. “I do not think so, for there is a recurrent theme, hardly likely to have arisen with such consistency from a gaggle of independent sources, namely that it was initially difficult to recognize the risen Christ. For example, Mary Magdalene took him to be the gardener (John 20:15), the couple on the road to Emmaus only recognised at the end of the journey who their companion had been (Luke 24:31); Matthew even tells us that it was on a Galilean hillside ‘some doubted’ who it was (28:17). It seems to me that this unexpected feature is more likely to be a historical reminiscence of the character of actual encounters, rather than a fortuitous coincidence in a set of independent confabulations. (pp. 122-123).”

    I am astonished that Polkinghorne thinks it a point in his favour that many people didn’t recognise him as Jesus, and that this was a consistent theme! Imagine a lawyer cross examining the witnesses. “So, Mary Magdalene, can you swear to this court that it was the defendant Jesus whom you saw?” “Well, at first I thought it was the gardener.” “You thought it was the GARDENER? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, SHE THOUGHT IT WAS THE GARDENER! I put it to you that this witness’s testimony should be discounted totally.” Now, next group of witnesses. “Are you all telling me that the two of you walked all the way to Emmaus in the company of this man and it was only at the end of the journey that you recognised him? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are we seriously being asked to believe that my client . . . ?”

    When famous and charismatic people die, rumours fly around of ghostly apparitions being sighted. Recent examples are Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. It is supremely plausible that the story of Jesus’s resurrection is just another example of the same thing. That is, if it isn’t pure fiction from start to finish.

      1. Yes, he’s been reported seen over 250,000 times since h was certified dead. That’s obviously much stronger evidence than that for Jesus. Laughable, but stronger.

    1. That was exactly my reaction to this bit of so-called evidence.

      It also calls to mind the known phenomenon of people changing their testimony due to subsequent interactions. How many times have police convinced witnesses that they saw what they first claimed not to have? How much “consensus” is arrived at only after mulling things over with others?

      The only thing this might possibly prove is that human behavior hasn’t changed much, including esp. the predilection for confirmation bias.

    2. Jerry posts so prolifically! This is already under “older” on the mobile format. I’ll contribute this anyway:

      I’ve often made just this comparison. In Mormonism, from which I escaped, the gold-standard for “proof”, or “confirmation” of a given proposition is a “burning in one’s bosom” – probably not unlike what Wesley meant when he talked of being “strangely warmed.”

      Really?! Would these same theists be content to be found guilty in a courtroom proceeding because the jurors felt a “burning in their bosom” when contemplating the theist’s guilt?

      *shakes head with wide eyes*

  17. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all go back to a single source — it’s not called the “Synoptic Problem” for nothing.

    So, to declare that there are three different accounts that agree with one-another with regard to the “main” story (if not the details) is, frankly, a lie. An egregious violation of their Ninth Commandment. (Not mine: My Ninth Commandment is “feed the pets before the people”).

    And, in fact, the earliest of the Gospels is Mark. And the earliest versions of Mark did not have any mention of the physical appearance of Jesus — only an empty tomb and a promise. Everything after 16:8 was added later.

    So, what you have is a late addition to a fable that was later plagiarized from and added to by two other authors. And John came even later than the Synoptics. (BTW: None of the Gospels were written down by eyewitnesses. It’s patent nonsense to think so.)

    Pardon me if I declare myself to be unimpressed with such “evidence”.

  18. About that virgin birth thing. Science shows a female can, in some species and theoretically in others, give birth through parthenogenesis, but only provide female offspring. I get that.
    What if “Mary” (assuming she ever existed) was a mosaic? What if she had two different sets of genes, one male and producing a testical that descended but emptied into the uterus though a Fallopian tube made of genetically female cells? It would have to descend to have the properly cooled temperature required for fertilization.
    And, what if this were so scary to her husband and family that it started the female genital mutilation we hear of, today?
    Total guesses, here, of course.

    1. Interesting, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

      The theory that it’s all just made-up makes the most sense. All these god-guys and prophets from earlier myths and religions need to be born from virgins. Jesus must have been too, right?

      1. True, but where and why did the virgin birth myth originate? Mosaicism such as this would be so rare that supposed it happened only once and then became a recurring mythological theme. (No way to prove, so just an imaginary thought to consider.)

        1. Well, I don’t think it’s a big leap for people to come up with the idea that “special” people simply can’t come into the world through a normal act of intercourse. It’s too often considered base or mundane.

          It’s the reason the Buddha was supposedly born through a slit in his mother’s side. “Normal” conception and/or birth just wouldn’t cut it for these “holy” men.

          I don’t think you actually need a real scientific anomaly to explain it, but who knows?

          1. Maybe that “slit in his mother’s side” could be tied in, as well. Maybe the peculiar anatomy created by mosaic genetics left no birth canal and thereby required self-fertilization and surgical delivery.
            Whoa!!! 🙂

              1. Mary was sleeping around and had to think of some way to deflect Joseph’s attention when she got knocked up. Fortunately for her, Joseph was not exactly the sharpest tool in the box…

        2. I think there are plenty of mythological virgin births (and births from male Gods) that predate Jesus. It’s not that hard of a myth to create.

              1. Okay, that, too. The Keanu sort, though, was like a lolcat: Add your own caption. That’s what made it all the more perfect.
                (More perfect… Whoah!)

      1. Sorry, I’m having a little trouble telling if you’re just joking around with the parthenogenesis thing.

        Let’s put it this way: there were only a few million homo sapiens on earth when Jesus was supposedly born. Now there are many billions. The millions in the time of Jesus were overwhelmingly illiterate; today, there are many billions of literate people.

        Now, if among all those billions of literate people there is not a single record of parthenogenesis occurring over the course of 100 years and not a single reliable record prior to that then, speaking purely in terms of statistics, it’s overwhelmingly probable that human parthenogenesis is impossible and stories of virgin births are … stories.

        Virgin birth stories long predate Jesus and the nativity was a later addition to the gospels. It’s overwhelmingly likely that Jesus’ virgin birth was retrofitted into the original Jesus stories after the fact to help it compete with the many other cults and religions whose prophets were supposedly born of virgins.

        1. Parthenogenesis absolutely requires that the offspring be female, proving beyond any doubt, that either Jesus (assuming he ever existed) was either a woman or was not born of parthenogenesis.

          The link you probably didn’t check, though, wasn’t about parthenogenesis. It actually does provide a genetically and biologically possible — albeit hugely improbable — method of a single human parent creating a male offspring. Hugely improbable because of the high likelihood of duplication of recessive genes inconsistent with life. If it were likely, we’d have records of this happening, stemming from the recent few hundred years — that is, after the cause of pregnancy became known. This knowledge doesn’t go as far back as you suggest. It took awhile for microscopes to be invented and developed, eggs to be captured for viewing, sperm to be seen, and the interaction between the two to be understood.

          As for joking, yes, I took the liberty of enjoying any and all humor attending this thread. Please, enjoy what laughs you can. Life is too short.

          1. Please don’t pull that “life’s too short” bullshit on me. Different people have different senses of humor. Just because you think something is obviously humorous doesn’t mean I will.

            This knowledge doesn’t go as far back as you suggest.

            Non sequitir. I didn’t even factor in knowledge about how birth works, I only factored in reliable records of virgin births — exactly zero. The causes of individual observations are irrelevant to the total number of observations. This is purely a probability argument from number of observations — zero legitimate virgin births and many myths and legends of virgin births very strongly suggests than any account of a virgin birth is a myth or legend.

            1. 1. You are not an audience of one. If you don’t find humor humorous, deal with it.
              2. Mary was not labeled a virgin, she was labeled nulliparous and mistranslated into virgin.’
              3. Your profanity and tone are unwarranted.

    2. Yeah… I’m not buying it… Too many virgin births…

      Plato was from a virgin birth. Mithras. Romulus, the founder of Rome. Perseus. Alexander the great. Augustus Ceaser. Publius Africanus, the man who defeated Hannibal. Dionysus.

      And many more gods, demi-gods, demons, kings, etc., etec, etc… It was really a commonly held belief that powerful men had often been sired by gods on virgin women.

      And people didn’t even believe it then. Origen was famous for his condemnation of much of the early Christian belief system and had the stones to point out the BS.

      The Christians said ‘these were prequal myths to our factual virgin birth spread by Satan to confuse the issue…’ They were as retarded then as now…

  19. A couple of notes on the scientism/science/faith front:

    (1) Polkinghorne is correct that most scientists use a form of “faith” (if that means belief without any evidence) when they trust induction, since most of them do not know of a non-circular justification of induction.

    Why should we trust that the future will be like the past? Or that unobserved cases will resemble observed cases? The only answer most scientists will give is induction itself, which is a blatantly circular argument. This is a version of the Humean Problem of Induction.

    (2) Professor Coyne writes, “In science, we’re always open (or should be, at least) to having our pet theories overturned; indeed, the good scientist deliberately looks for holes in her data or experiments.”

    But this is not how scientists actually form and update their beliefs, as Kuhn has argued.

    In the first place, a contrary observation does not allow anyone to reject a theory definitively; all it does is show that some conjunction is false. (This is sometimes called the ‘Duhem-Quine thesis.’) All you learn from a contrary observation is that something has gone wrong, but you don’t know what. (Maybe your instrument was inaccurate; maybe your data were incorrectly recorded; maybe the theory doesn’t actually make that prediction; and so on.)

    And in the second place, in practice, scientists allow long lists of anomalies to build up without rejecting a theory. (See Newtonian mechanics for example.) They tend only to reject their theory when there is another attractive theory available. Kuhn compares this, tellingly, to religious conversion. It’s analogous to how religious people will accept many anomalies in their world view, until some other religion seems attractive enough.

      1. Well, I certainly don’t believe that, and if Polkinghorne accepts that inference, that’s a mistake on his part. But I don’t see that inference in any of the quoted material.

    1. Nothing in your last two paras contradicts what Jerry said – what are you getting at?

      If Kuhn’s comparison is “telling” then its telling about Kuhn, not about science.

      1. What I’m getting at is what I wrote in my third-to-last paragraph: that scientists are not always open to having their pet theories overturned, and indeed that it often takes much more than just a bunch of contrary observations to convince scientists to abandon theories.

        1. Which, as I said, doesn’t contradict either what Jerry said or what he implied. “Science proceeds one funeral at a time” and all that.

          1. I think the issue is that you can’t really have a funeral until you have a birth. Without alternative hypotheses to explain theoretical anomalies, everyone’s going to stick with a workable, yet acknowledged flawed theory.

            Quantum theory is like that right now. Works just fine. Has flaws.

            Relativity is the same. We know something else is eventually going to replace it, we just don’t know what.

            The biological theory of evolution has been undergoing revisions ever since it was first proposed — on the basis of improved knowledge. If we had stopped where Darwin did, we’d be much the poorer for it.

          2. It sounded to me as if Professor Coyne was claiming or implying that scientists are willing to reject a theory when it predicts a falsified observation. If he didn’t actually imply that, then I’m simply making the observation that they don’t do this, and so their practice is more like religious faith then many would admit.

            1. Tom.

              I get what you are saying though this is a human weakness not a science or the scientific method weakness. Other scientists are not going to be so kind as to ignore any weakness in a theory that they have no emotional/financial attachment too. That’s why peer review is so important in science.

        2. Observations… Yeah. Doesn’t work like that. You have to go PAST mere observations, you have to have a mechanism and a BETTER theory.

          1. If you have observations contrary to an otherwise well-established theory – the sort that’s tidy, explains a lot with few suppositions, and has dodged many, many other chances to be disconfirmed – what you have is a theory with a problem. You do not, in practice, have a good reason to suppose it’s all a total mess and to be cast aside.

            So you keep plugging at it – and double-checking the contrary observations – rejecting no more of the established theory than you have to to get back to a theory that’s tidy, explains a lot with few suppositions, and has dodged many, many other chances to be disconfirmed – and this one too. The new picture is expected to make clear how the old theory did get it right so often. It’s up for grabs whether you need to call it a new theory at all, or a “revised” version of the old one.

    2. Polkinghorne is correct that most scientists use a form of “faith” (if that means belief without any evidence) when they trust induction, since most of them do not know of a non-circular justification of induction.

      Why should we trust that the future will be like the past? Or that unobserved cases will resemble observed cases? The only answer most scientists will give is induction itself, which is a blatantly circular argument. This is a version of the Humean Problem of Induction.

      This line of argument is annoying – it’s one I’ve seen Feser use too many times. The idea seems to be that in an ideal world we’d have spent a few centuries getting the metaphysics right so that scientific pursuit could finally begin, “fully justified.”

      Scientific method is not exactly circular – it is tangled, self-referential, and “heterarchical.” The scientific method and the inductive empiricism that underlies it is self-supporting in the sense that the methods and the assumptions themselves are themselves under question and subject to refinement as needed.

      Inductive empiricism can be judged by its fruits. (It’s hard to believe we still have this conversation while typing on computers and enjoying a 70+ life expectancy.)

      1. (It’s hard to believe we still have this conversation while typing on computers and enjoying a 70+ life expectancy.)

        I think this is indicative of the meager levels of enjoyment that we are supposedly enjoying.

      2. I realize that my own experiences aren’t necessarily represenative (in fact, probaly not), but the experiences that I do have with “sophisticated philosophy” are close to 100 % negative. In my experience the only reason anyone ever it brings up it to make some version of the following argument:
        Everything ultimately rests on a set of unproven assumptions, therefore my favorite piece of woo is no LESS “true”/”justified”/”rational” than anything else.

        1. Well, there’s sophisticated philosophy and there’s woo. I don’t think anyone would say that Quine (for instance) wasn’t a remarkable thinker, but it’s far too easy to “infer” from his work all kinds of stupid crap that he’d never have signed off on.

          On the other hand, I think religion has by and large begun discovering the laziest forms postmodern philosophy: now that religions have lost their “Absolute Truth” status due to the fruits of science, it’s comforting to fall back on “it’s true to us” and “ways of knowing” and “you can’t prove it isn’t true” language. Hence all the fulmination against “scientism.”

          In a similar vein, Jason Rosenhouse had a great quote in a recent piece:

          And that’s my main beef with so many defenders of theistic evolution. They act as though their job is done when they have refuted the logical form of the incompatibility argument. The evidential form, however, is unimpressed by their efforts. Their refutations are inevitably based on premises that are logically possible, but highly implausible.

          1. Thanks for your very thoughtful answer, Matt. As I said, my own experiences pro[b]ably aren’t represen[t]ative (Man, I really must learn to run a spell-check! 😛 )

        2. Oh, I don’t believe that. But I do wish people would think more about, and attempt more, to try to figure out exactly what’s wrong with that reasoning.

          Unless you have a developed account of why your beliefs don’t rest on unprovable assumptions, how exactly do you get to criticize other people’s beliefs?

        3. *Sigh*
          This is precicely why I don’t debate “sophisticated philosophers” (for some reason they always seem to assume that they are actually communicating with somebody that really does exist somewhere “out there” and not just in their own heads). My life’s too short for this, so my new approach is to feed them their own medicine and demand an infinite regress of reasons for everything they say. Failiure to produce such an infinite set of reasone will be taken as a sign that they don’t have anything worthwhile to say about anything at all.

          (…and I used to be such a nice guy :/ )

      3. Well, if we think that circular arguments do not confer justification, then science will be in the same boat as religion and any other way of forming beliefs, right? (That is, if it really is circular, which it seems to me that you are admitting.)

        You do mention the track record argument for science. I would say this only provides a limited justification of inductive empiricism, since scientists want to say more than that science has worked well up till now. I take it they want to say that it will continue to work well, which the Problem of Induction is in danger of showing to be a totally unsupported belief. From all you’ve said, it would be just as reasonable to conclude, counter-inductively, ‘Science has worked well in the past; therefore, we should stop using it.’ Counter-induction is just as justified–circularly–as induction, right?

        (Another problem is the Pessimistic Induction. Most scientific theories have been strictly false; so the present ones probably are too.)

        1. Tom, yes, there are underlying a priori beliefs, like “there are sentences that describe what is the case” and so forth. Check out Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” for a couple of them. Sam Harris talks about value in this way, too.

          But let’s take an example: there’s no way a priori to justify Occam’s Razor and related “values” (all things being equal we choose explanations that fit the data and are more simple, more humdrum, more conservative, less disruptive). But we have come to find out that Occam’s Razor “works” and so it is justified empirically, even if it may not be metaphysically justified (in the sense that it would be if it were deduced from incontrovertible axioms). This is not pure circular reasoning – it’s a feedback loop. See Dennett’s “cranes vs. skyhooks” argument.

          It’s easy to get too hung up on metaphysical notions like “proof.” I think we need to get more comfortable with justification that is statistical and predictive rather than absolute. I think Nelson Goodman said that “facts are small theories.” This means that anything which can be said about the world with certainty is “theory” all the way down, and in a system like his or Quine’s every belief and justification is subject to challenge and change. But change is costly – in principle there is always a way to incorporate a new belief by reorganizing your beliefs so that they are logically consistent, but if the price is that your beliefs are no longer consistent with evidence, or they badly violate some other value, then the new belief might be rejected after all.

          The classic is “will the sun rise tomorrow?” The problem of induction says “you can’t prove that it will.” But the corollary is that in order to even posit that the sun won’t rise, you have to change your beliefs preposterously to accomodate such a notion, e.g. I might believe the sun won’t rise tomorrow if God created the universe exactly as it is five seconds ago and all of our memories with it, and will snuff it in another five. If it gets to be five minutes later and it wasn’t snuffed, it’s only because he snuffed it and then created a brand new universe in the same way and I just happened to have a brand-new memory that “six minutes ago” I made a prediction. I can’t prove this, but it’s consistent with the evidence, and in such a world – in which existence pops in and out at God’s will – ‘tomorrow’ has no real meaning.

          The contents of religion do not pass any of these statistical/predictive/pragmatic tests, and most of their predictions are flat out wrong.

          Sorry for the long reply.

          1. I’m happy to read long replies. A few replies to your reply:

            (1) On track record arguments: It seems to me as if track record arguments are still inductions, and so still require circular argumentation unless we import a priori beliefs. Circular argumentation alone seems to me to confer zero evidence, not just a lack of incontrovertible proof.

            Now, you might think that induction can be justified a priori; I agree. But I suspect that few scientists (and no strict empiricists) will join you there.

            (2) On Quinean radical empiricist coherentism: If this is supposed to give us actually justified beliefs, then coherentism has to work, but there are very serious problems with it. The biggest is well known: that a self-consistent system might be mostly false. And in a Quinean system, there’s no such thing as a foundational belief to regulate acceptance and rejection of other beliefs. So in principle, no one can tell us (at least foundationally) that our beliefs “should” comport with the evidence.

            In any case, there will be many religious systems that are self-consistent, so the Quinean coherentist will have a hard time criticizing many religions, especially if principles of parsimony, etc., can’t be justified “all the way down.”

            (3) On the sun rising tomorrow: The Problem of Induction is not just that we don’t know it will; it’s that (absent a priori rationalistic principles) we have absolutely no evidence at all that it will, since circular arguments are useless. And without a priori principles of rationality, why should we say that changing your beliefs preposterously is “wrong”?

            (4) On religion: I agree that many religions make many failed predictions, for example that the world would have less evil in it. But again, without some kind of a priori principle of rationality, how do we know that failed predictions are a bad-making feature of a hypothesis?

            (5) Overall: I accept a priori justification, rational insight or intuition, and so on, which puts me squarely outside of the empiricist camp. What I gain is that I have various principles that tell me why induction is justified, why religion and science aren’t epistemologically on a par, and so on. But I don’t think many scientists want to go beyond empiricism, which is why they run into these difficulties. If all we have are competing “webs of belief,” and no way to get “outside” of them to evaluate them as a whole, then yes, all webs of belief are equally good or bad.

            1. without some kind of a priori principle of rationality, how do we know that failed predictions are a bad-making feature of a hypothesis?

              …by the very definition of what a hypothesis is.

            2. @Tom wrote: “If all we have are competing “webs of belief,” and no way to get “outside” of them to evaluate them as a whole, then yes, all webs of belief are equally good or bad.”

              By that argument, one could equally claim that, since everyone must die, it matters not the manner of death. By such logic, you would choose torture and claim it is no different from my choice of dying peacefully in my sleep. Christianity is such torture, as are your writings, I’m afraid. The analogy of the child repeatedly dropping a toy from her high chair was more on your level. If you can’t understand that, then there is no hope for you, for then, you would have deliberately chosen ignorance.

              If you do choose such ignorance and continued disrespect for science, I hope you will equally choose to stand by your religious convictions by avoiding all modern technologic and medical advances. Doing you, you will have the chance to prove to us, in your circular logic, the presence of your god. Of course, by then, when you’ve attained such proof, you’ll have died, but at least, your death will be equal to death by torture or by natural cause, since all deaths are equal.

    3. Why did you write this comment in english? You have no reason, other than induction (which only a scientistic fool would trust), to believe that anybody still speaks it.

      1. I trust induction. I’m pointing out that most scientists do not have a good argument for trusting induction. If they allowed a priori evidence, they might, but most scientists seem to think that the only important source of knowledge about the world is empirical.

          1. Hume showed that that’s a circular argument.

            ‘Why should we trust future inductions? Because in the past, induction worked; therefore, in the future, induction will work.’ But that argument itself relies on induction to prove induction.

            Compare:

            ‘Why should we not trust future inductions? Because in the past, induction worked; therefore, in the future, induction will stop working.’ That argument itself relies on counter-induction to prove counter-induction.

            Why is the first argument better than the second?

              1. The second argument is better because of its track record of being wrong. Argument-forms that are wrong in the past tend to be right in the future. This position is just as supportable circularly as the position that arguments that are right in the past tend to be right in the future.

              2. An analysis of the available evidence suggests that arguments that were right in the past will probably continue to be right in the future.

                You seem to be looking for philosophers to formalize the process that infants go through when they drop toys off the high chair. I suspect philosophers already have, but if so I’m not aware of it.

                An infant doesn’t yet know from experience that dropped items tend to fall toward the ground. She learns something from dropping a toy once. By repeating the experiment, she learns that things tend to fall if not supported. She also learns that what was true five minutes ago, or yesterday, is probably still true now.

                I don’t doubt that this is hard to formalize in philosophical language, but that doesn’t mean we can discount it. The universe tends to work the same way from day to day.

              3. Truthspeaker,

                Do you accept other circular arguments? (‘The Bible says we should trust the Bible. Therefore, let’s trust the Bible.’)

                How is that any different from ‘Induction works in the past. Therefore, by induction, we know that induction will continue to work’?

              4. The process by which I know something that worked in the past will probably work in the future is different than the process of induction itself.

              5. Truthspeaker,

                You write, “The process by which I know something that worked in the past will probably work in the future is different than the process of induction itself.”

                That looks just like induction to me. But if it isn’t, what’s the argument that something that worked in the past will probably work in the future?

              6. Tom, it’s a matter of evolution.

                Those who rely upon induction are more successful than those who don’t, so there is a tendency towards rationalism.

                Could there be something better? Perhaps. If so, its very superiority will be all that’s necessary to ensure its place as the dominant paradigm.

                The long-standing success of the current paradigm, though, suggests that it’s unlikely to be toppled anytime soon.

                Did you have any suggestions for something that might be better?

                No?

                Are you bothered by the success of rationalism? If so, get cracking on its successor, and best of luck to you. If not, what’s the problem?

                Cheers,

                b&

              7. Ben,

                I agree that using induction has tended to be beneficial to an organism.

                My overall point is that unless we admit some kind of non-empirical source of evidence, there is literally no good reason to believe induction will continue to work, and thus more generally, that science will continue to deliver true beliefs.

                This may not bother some people. But it’s common to see science-minded people criticizing religion for a lack of non-circular evidence. The basis for this criticism seems to evaporate if it turns out that induction has no non-circular evidence in its favor either.

              8. You are using “evidence” wrong – I don’t think “circular evidence” is a category.

                Let’s make this really stupidly simplistic and pretend that religion are on the same epistemic footing because both employ circular reasoning.

                “Religion model”:

                A because B
                B because C
                C because A

                “Science model”:
                A because B
                B because C
                C because A
                Overwhelming evidence for B

                Even here in this dumb model, evidence for B “breaks the circle” and turns it into a “heterarchy” where the terrain is no longer flat, and elements A and C start to cohere around B even though the whole thing is still self-referential.

            1. I wish you’d stop saying “prove.” Induction from evidence is not about proof, it’s about prediction (and explanation). I have a lot of evidence that it has worked in the past (sewage treatment facilities, laptops, mars rovers, atomic clocks), and we would all have to change our beliefs radically to even posit that it will no longer be trustworthy. You are just not going to get the 100%-absolute-metaphysical satisfaction you crave.

              1. But the problem isn’t just that we can’t predict with 100% certainty.

                The problem is that trusting science (if trusting science requires trusting induction) requires a circular argument, if all we have is observation.

                And circular arguments don’t just confer insufficient justification; they confer no justification at all, right? If all we have is circular argumentation, isn’t it just as reasonable to believe science will stop working tomorrow as to believe it will continue to work?

              2. It’s precisely because we have observation that we don’t have to trust in a circular argument.

              3. OK, suppose for the moment I said “yes, trusting science requires a circular argument, and so there’s no justification at all for believing that it will ever work again.”

                Then what? Do you replace it with anything? What will work better? On what would you base an argument so that it is no longer circular?

              4. Another Matt,

                If it turns out that (a fundamental epistemological basis of) science is totally unjustified, I’m not sure there is anything to replace it with. Maybe we could keep doing it, hoping (by faith) that it will continue to work.

                But I think it is possible to solve the Problem of Induction. The solution is a priori, independent of observation. In particular, we know through logic that probably, induction will continue to work, or through rational intuition that probably, induction will continue to work.

                The problem is that both of these ways of knowing–logic and rational intuition–go beyond the methods and instruments of science, which many scientists are loath to do. Scientists often don’t want to admit that there are important ways of learning about the world that are wholly independent of sensory observation and scientific instruments. In short, scientists are often empiricists, but solving the Problem of Induction requires rationalism.

              5. Tom,

                Whence the need to “solve” the problem of induction, rather than just live with it? It’s like the “all observation is theory-laden” problem. We don’t need to solve them – we just need to be aware of them and incorporate that awareness into the methods of science “as a going concern.”

                “Solving” them might help you sleep better at night, though.

              6. Another Matt,

                I don’t know whether scientists in general think we need to solve the Problem of Induction.

                But scientists who think that we are positively justified in believing that science will work should have a solution, don’t you think? If you appeal to a method of forming beliefs that has literally zero justification, the beliefs you form on the basis will be similarly unjustified, right?

                That’s why I think it would be hard to “live with” the Problem of Induction, at least on a kind of meta-science level. If someone steps back and wants to know why we should trust this thing we call ‘science,’ what can the scientist tell her?

                And getting back to the original post, why can’t religious people just say they’ll “live with” all the problems of religion, or in particular, the problem of justifying religion? ‘I don’t know how to justify faith non-circularly. But I’ll just live with that.’ Anyone who wants to argue that science is somehow epistemically better that religion should probably have some way of justifying science, I think.

              7. Tom, you’re sitting at a computer, uploading messages to the internet, asking if science actually works because you’re not sure if we can prove that the assumptions that observation based evidence has successful predictive value.

                If you don’t think that it’s justifiable to act as if repeatedly demonstrated phenomenon actually exist and will continue existing in the future, prove you actually exist and aren’t just a figment of your own delusion.

          1. Rob,

            I don’t know whether a priori knowledge is useful in science. But if anyone is going to trust science, or induction, or argue that science is epistemologically better than religion, that person will need to have some kind of non-scientific way of arguing that, on pain of circularity.

            For example, consider this proposition: Empirical observation is the only trustworthy way of learning about the world. Now subject that proposition to its own epistemological standard: it fails. No observation is an observation of that proposition being true.

            1. Tom,

              By my count you’ve posted here over a dozen times today. Rather than have this thread devolve into one person arguing against a bunch of others, I’d prefer you to take the argument offline.

              1. Professor Coyne,

                Sorry for posting too much. I didn’t realize it was causing any harm. I understand why you’d want to avoid, e.g., spamming, but I didn’t know that you wanted to limit numbers of comments (or comments from one person?) in general.

                For anyone else, if I don’t reply to your post, please don’t think it’s because I don’t care about what you’re saying; it’s because I’m arguing with too many of you at once.

          2. Almost every scientific theory worthy of the name is transempirical in the sense traditionally meant in philosophy.

            This in fact precisely what makes the “induction” worry so silly – who thinks that scientists reason the way Hume claimed? Nobody these days.

        1. “most scientists do not have a good argument for trusting induction”

          Which is perfectly irrelevant. My point was that rejecting induction is something you can talk about, but not something anyone can actually do (consistently, anyway). It isn’t just a science-stopper, it’s an everything-stopper.

          You can’t speak without it. You can’t eat without it. You literally can’t crap your pants without it, because you wouldn’t have worn pants in the first place.

          1. Yep. Accepting induction is one of the early steps out of solipsism. If you need an argument for it, that fact that it helps get you out of solipsism should suffice.

            1. Truthspeaker,

              How does induction help with rejecting solipsism? I don’t understand what the argument is supposed to be. Suppose we assume, even, that induction is justified. Now what’s the argument against solipsism?

              1. To reject solipsism, you have to accept that there is an outside world and our senses give us information about it. Induction follows from that.

          2. Rhr,

            It looks as if you’re admitting that ultimately, science is no more epistemically justified than religious faith.

            People can’t avoid using induction, but they have no good reason to do it from the perspective of forming justified beliefs.

            1. He just gave a good reason for doing so – it’s impossible to function in the world without it. You would starve to death if you didn’t die of exposure first.

            2. “It looks as if you’re admitting that ultimately, science is no more epistemically justified than religious faith.”

              Wrong. The difference is this: religious epistemology can actually be improved upon, namely we can drop it in favor of empiricism. Empiricism apparently can’t be improved upon.

        2. “I trust induction”

          I’m curious, why didn’t you say “I have faith in induction”? That would have been more consistent on your part, since you’re already trying to conflate religious certainty without evidence with the scientific endeavor (the first principle of which is that you must not fool yourself).

    4. “And in the second place, in practice, scientists allow long lists of anomalies to build up without rejecting a theory. (See Newtonian mechanics for example.) They tend only to reject their theory when there is another attractive theory available.”

      This is ahistorical (what about the large group of people who spent decades struggling to invent quantum mechanics?) and, in any case, not at all equivalent to what religious believers do. Your major error is assuming that a scientific theory must be entirely right or wrong.

      Take modern particle physics for example – it predicts that the universe contains an equal number of protons and antiprotons, a prediction which is known to be wrong. Are particle physicists desparately clinging to an outmoded idea until they can clutch onto another?

      No, because the theory isn’t entirely wrong. It still correctly predicts the scattering of electrons, the decay of pions, and many other things. It has a sphere of validity.

      You imply that Newtonian physics was rejected (eventually), but that’s incorrect. It still has a sphere of validity and is actively used within that realm. For example, computational molecular dynamics is more Newtonian than quantum.

      On the other hand, no religion has ever had a sphere of validity. Religious believers have always maintained their belief outside of that sphere. If you want to argue that science is equivalent to religion, you will have to demonstrate that scientists maintain the thuth of their theories outside of their spheres of validity.

      1. Well, I certainly don’t think that science is equivalent to religion. What I’m more trying to emphasize here is that it’s been insufficiently explained how they’re different in a few key aspects.

        I don’t think the claim about how science operates is ahistorical; Kuhn himself provides a lot of actual examples in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Your example about protons and antiprotons is a good one; anomalies are fine, as long as there’s no better theory on offer.

        We use the word ‘verisimilitude’ to refer to how close a theory gets to the truth, and yes, some theories are more verisimilitudinous than others. And we hang on to theories to the degree that they’re verisimilitudinous. But see for example the rejection of Ptolemaic astronomy for Copernican; this didn’t happen the moment someone observed anomalies. And we didn’t reject Newtonian celestial mechanics the moment anyone observed the perihelion precession of Mercury.

        I think religious people largely do the same thing; they hang onto religions to the degree that the religions make sense of their worldview, their intuitions, respond to social pressures, and so on. They tend not to think about the anomalies, as long as the religion seems to them to confer enough benefits. I take it that religious people would say that their religion’s “sphere of validity” is in their personal lives, their ethical beliefs, their other intuitions, and so on.

        Again, I’m not suggesting that religion and science are equivalent in general. I’m simply questioning whether they can be profitably distinguished based on their responses to anomalies.

        1. “And we didn’t reject Newtonian celestial mechanics the moment anyone observed the perihelion precession of Mercury.”

          Oh, man, I was hoping you’d fall into this trap.

          Let’s look at how this actually played out historically. There was a time when Newtonian physics made incorrect predictions about not just Mercury but Uranus too! Can you believe those awful physicists cligning to this obviously bogus theory?!?!?1

          In retrospect, we can now say that their predictions about Mercury were wrong because Newtonian mechanics itself was wrong. But what about Uranus? Those predictions were wrong because it was being perturbed by an undiscovered Neptune.

          But you want them to have given up on Newton anyway, tout court, despite the fact that AT THE TIME they didn’t have enough evidence to say that it was Newton who was wrong about either planet.

          “Your example about protons and antiprotons is a good one; anomalies are fine, as long as there’s no better theory on offer.”

          No, anomolies are not at all fine. Not a bit. Totally unacceptable.

          But which theory should we throw away today? We don’t yet know which part is wrong.

          Does your understanding of the practice of science extend beyond throwing out the word Kuhn?

          1. Well, I didn’t say anywhere that I think they should have given up at the moment the anomalies were observed. I don’t think science is falsificationistic, nor should be. My point is descriptive: scientists accept anomalies, sometimes for many years.

            Sorry if I caused some misunderstanding when I said anomalies are “fine”; I meant from the perspective of theory choice. Yes, they mean something has gone wrong; yes, they bother scientists; but they don’t by themselves make scientists reject theories. There are lots of anomalies in lots of present-day theories.

            So if someone accuses religious people of erring by holding onto “theories” that suffer from lots of anomalies, it’s still open for the religious person to reply that scientists do that, too.

            There may be problems with religion or religious practice that don’t also occur in science or scientific practice, but this is not one of them. That’s the point I’m making in this sub-thread.

        2. It’s been explained. You don’t want to here about it. You’re too busy patting yourself on the back for being a clever thinker while throwing around Sophmore philosophy.

          It’s OLD.

          Hume, his goddam self said “BFD this purity bullshit of induction (well, not those words, but I’m getting tired of your sophmore arguments) so go ahead and use it anyway and we should engage it with practical skepticism and COMMON SENSE.

          Religion throws away common sense and practical skepticism for severe skepticism of everything that doesn’t fit neatly into their fairy tale and tries to hammer in things that do not. And it’s not just Christians. It’s EVERY religion.

          And THAT is the difference. So stop arguing like you’re a college sophmore and think like you managed to learn something in college.

      1. (1) How do you think Bayes’s Theorem solves the Problem of Induction? And, perhaps more importantly, do you have an argument based on scientific methods that Bayesian reasoning is “sound” (in the metalogical sense), that it correctly describes the way probabilities “in the world” actually work?

        (2) Kuhn argues that new paradigms cannot encompass the old, if you’re using “encompass” in the sense I think you are. For one thing, the words mean different things. (Newtonian ‘gravity’ means something different from General Relativity’s ‘gravity.’) For another, they generate different predictions. They also generate different instructions for upcoming scientists, different text to put into textbooks, and so on.

        1. But (2) is provably wrong, as Bunge showed in 1974 at the latest. You can axiomatize a theory of reference and show that gravity in the newtonian sense is precisely related to gravity in GR. In fact, it is worse for the Kuhnian than that: theories can’t very well be incommmeasurable *and* rival, can they? By admitting they are rival, you have said, loosely, they are about the same thing!

    5. As to (1), if scientists did indeed trust induction, that would be a kind of faith. But scientists do not simply record data and extrapolate from them, they construct explanatory frameworks, which we might as well call ‘theories’. An example: simply recording that the sun rises every morning confers no truth to the statement ‘The sun will rise tomorrow’—that can only be achieved by an explanation of why the sun appears to do what it does.

      For more on this point, see Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity. For the general problem of induction, see Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery.

      And as to (2), that is indeed how science works. Just by way of example, look at the faster-than-light-neutrinos story and how the guys from Gran Sasso (from whence some fine wine hails, btw) took pains to stress again and again that the primary function of their publishing their data was so that other groups could try and find what everybody assumes must be a mistake in their experiment. Of course, it is always possible to try to evade an attempt at refutation; Popper (who was the first to systematize falsificationism) explicitly recognized this in his work, but also made sure to point out that any evasion that didn’t entail an increase in epistemic content (such as the postulation of what came to be called Neptune to account for anomalies in the motion of Uranus) lessens the scientific respectability of a theory. And it significantly heightens such respectability if you can name, in advance, a crucial experiment whose going one particular way you would take as definitively refuting your theory, such as Einstein did with respect to e.g. gravitational effects on photons, first observed by Eddington.

      1. Nice post. He’s not going to listen. He’s stuck in Sophmore year philosophy. He’s mimicing Hume without understand Hume.

      2. Precisely. The “why” in your first point is the key.

        Religious “knowledge” likes to pretend to be about “why,” but it has no explanatory or predictive power.

        Knowledge gained scientifically doesn’t simply assert “x is what happened yesterday, so it will happen tomorrow, also.” It tries to discover why x happens in the first place. When a theory’s predictions are fulfilled, you can say you’ve come up with some reliable knowledge.

        Religion doesn’t do that, and that’s the difference.

    6. I know this was already worked over pretty well but it has a few serious problems to which I wanted to call attention:

      Polkinghorne is correct that most scientists use a form of “faith” (if that means belief without any evidence) when they trust induction, since most of them do not know of a non-circular justification of induction.

      Bayes’ theorem is a non-circular justification of induction. It’s one of the primary mathematical methods of scientific induction.

      Why should we trust that the future will be like the past? Or that unobserved cases will resemble observed cases? The only answer most scientists will give is induction itself, which is a blatantly circular argument.

      But I’m pretty sure that these scientists actually use the reductio as absurdum that is implicit in this argument. Let’s imagine we live in a world where the future is not like the past, or where unobserved cases consistently diverge from observed cases. It’s pretty clear that this is either a universe with different natural laws than our own or none at all. If there are natural laws (i.e. consistencies across time and space) then we have a contradiction. On the other hand, if there are no consistencies then the universe would have to be pure thermal noise. We end up right back where we started: we either live in a lawful world or we are Boltzmann brains. (This is also the answer to the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” Mathematics can only ever be ineffective in a universe so chaotic that we wouldn’t have stars and galaxies let alone biological evolution and minds.)

      This is also the weak anthropic principle. As others point out we can ignore cognition entirely; our physiology relies on induction. If induction didn’t “work” we wouldn’t exist as we do in the first place.

      But this is not how scientists actually form and update their beliefs, as Kuhn has argued.

      Kuhn didn’t really make much in the way of arguments. Basically he said, “Here’s what scientists do and here’s why it works.” When people argued against his thesis he would insist that, according to his absolutely correct theory of knowledge, these critics were “talking through him” because they “occupied a different paradigm” and couldn’t understand his theory because they’re stuck in a certain “gestalt state” with respect to the question being debated. If you want to introduce philosophy of science into the conversation you should maybe cite a philosopher who actually put the least amount of effort into defending his theories instead of simply declaring his critics to be wrong (as Kuhn did).

      Kuhn was more generally a pretty nasty piece of work. Errol Morris did a blog on NYT about Kuhn (his thesis advisor at the time) throwing an ashtray at his head for pointing out some inconsistencies in Kuhn’s theories. How seriously can I take a philosopher who responds to criticism by throwing things?

      Imre Lakatos made a much more effective argument (than Kuhn’s non-argument) along the same lines as yours, but it also addresses your criticism. Suggest you do a little more reading on the subject.

    7. Preposterous! Most scientists mention testing, not theological “induction”.

      If you think induction is the case, what would convince you you were wrong? You don’t offer that, instead you blatantly tell us you can’t offer it.

      On the other hand, it is easy to test if testing does not work.

    8. And since induction was referenced in the way of making hypothesis for testing, not as the “just so” story of theologians/philosophers trying to peg science as ‘belief’, let me note that induction is a fine way to discover patterns for testing.

      Also Kuhn was mentioned, and here the same question applies: what would convince you Kuhn’s ideas could be wrong? He didn’t define “conversion” or “paradigm” well enough to do testing, what I know of.

  20. Great take down Jerry. My own theory( using the term in the loose sense of course) is that these guys are so invested in their beliefs because of their life’s work, they are desparate to damp down the cognitive dissonance that must be screaming in their heads. Can you imagine one of them waking up one day and announcing: “Holy shit, Dawkins is right. Guess I blew my four score and twenty!”

  21. “Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things”

    Seriously, John Polkinghorne? It is comforting therefore it must be true?

    1. Or that you can’t be guided or comforted by something false?

      Huh?

      He can’t actually mean that. It’s too hopelessly vapid and in gross contradiction to the facts.

      1. Well at least not “real” or “authentic” guidance or comfort. Not the guidance or comfort… (wait for it)… worth having.

  22. Polkinghornes phrase “well-motivated beliefs” implicitly presumes a partial ordering relationship (A≥B) on the set of possible beliefs.

    The problem with Polkinghorne’s claim that “science requires commitment to the basic act of faith that there is a deep rational order in the world” et cetera is that the alternative to Affirmation is Refutation. Mathematics allows taking an axiomatic premise corresponding to the commitment (in more rigorous terms) and deriving an algorithm corresponding to the methodology of science. While the results of science may lack “complete and absolute certainty”, the method of science absolutely identifies what belief comes closest to this under the Affirmation. The only alternative is under the Refutation – in which case, there is no possibility of distinguishing which of two beliefs is better motivated than the other.

  23. Sometimes we’re too literate for our own good. Polkinghorne seems to assume that what’s written is testimony, written as it happened. Literacy was not the rule in that time, it was the exception. Oral stories were poems, writing was prose. Oral stories were filled with devices like metaphor so it would be easy to remember and pass on. But oral stories would evolve over time more easily than written word. The “eyewitness” accounts were written down decades after the events they purported. The gospels were written down after Paul’s epistles as a kind of prequel to his writing to tie his revelations to Jewish legend and Messiah prophecy. And that neglects that these “gospels” were selected for inclusion in the Scripture a few centuries after their creation. The “absurd” is the tenuous journey of the writing of the tale must make the improbable doubly believable!
    An intelligent man would know this but he chooses to overlook and actually claim them as “proof” of the resurection! Sad day when Polkinghorne’s skepticism was suplanted by faith to the point of ignoring evidence.  

    1. Well, yeah except that he might be relying upon the powers of a supernatural omnimax deity to make sure that the telling of this all so important message is done without error.

      Or it’s all a made up fiction, that he happens to accept as truth.

  24. This sort of superstitious clap trap is pervasive in America currently. It is very evident in the financial industry which has become more and more voodoo’ish over the past 30+ years. Of course, religion has always softened our brains for economic exploitation and worship of the dollar popes. I work in the financial industry and have pissed lenders off for thirty years by letting the evidence talk to me instead of me telling the evidence what to reveal. I’ve never encountered a lender who is capable of understanding the evidence. The depth of the superstitious mindset in America is truly abysmal.

  25. I rather like Polkinghorne’s illuminating QUANTUM THEORY; A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION, and I recommended it as a concise but not trivializing appetite-whetter for folks who are curious about whether pursuing studies in quantum physics might be for them.

    Aside from that, however, I can’t think of any other of Polkinghorne’s writings that I found to be noteworthily illuminating — indeed, right offhand I can’t think of anything else of his I thought enough of to read clean to the end (my loss, I am sure fans of Polkinghorne’s theological conjectures will declare).

  26. Silly sentences like this one make it hard to take the writer seriously: “the assertion that science and faith are pals because many early scientists were religious (this is one of the stupidest arguments these people make: everyone was religious back then!)”.

    First, while there’s a surface truth to the claim (people did tend to be connected to the church because that was the social custom), the writer should know that the Enlightenment was also an era when people were throwing off the authority of the church. (Buckley’s “At the Origins of Modern Atheism” is a good place to review this history.)

    Second, the claim is insultingly condescending, a characteristic, unfortunately, of much that comes from evolutionists in these discussions. Shall those who believe in creation return the favor by simply rejecting arguments for evolution offered by a scientists and philosophers who are metaphysical naturalists simply on the basis that they’re all naturalists(“they simply can’t help themselves, poor chaps”)? Both young earth and old earth creationists are offering scientific evidence that should be considered on that basis.

    Third, the reality that so many of the fathers of science (in modern times) were Christians (in reality, not merely names on the church roll) at least shows that these intelligent, educated people didn’t see an incompatibility between science and religion. That’s the purpose of the claim.

    [This raises an important side issue not directly a part of the writer’s argument above. The real debate here is continually obscured by the simplistic framing of “science vs. religion.” The debate isn’t science vs. religion; it is naturalistic, neo-Darwinian evolution vs. special creation by God, one scientific matter among many. In the vast spread of scientific endeavors, you find little antagonism based upon religious beliefs.]

    If it was hard taking seriously the comment about everyone being religious in the early years of scientific development, it was more so with this claim:

    “Where religion really differs from science is in how it approaches the search for truth. In science, we’re always open (or should be, at least) to having our pet theories overturned; indeed, the good scientist deliberately looks for holes in her data or experiments. That’s what the investigators at CERN did when they found what seemed to be faster-than-light neutrinos. Religion, on the other hand, begins with certain core beliefs that must be buttressed, and then simply looks for data supporting them.”

    Philip Johnson made very clear where the real problem lies in this debate: this is fundamentally a philosophical/theological debate, not a scientific one. While one will find both Christians who reject evolution and those who accept it, metaphysical naturalists *must* find some explanation other than creation, and the only viable option (or should I say “options”, given that there are competing evolutionary explanations?)is naturalistic, neo-Darwinism. Naturalists’ philosophical commitments will permit nothing else but a purely naturalistic explanation no matter where the evidence points. It is impossible for them to even consider a supernatural explanation, and not because they have proved already that none is possible (note the chicken’s way out of atheists today who won’t claim that they actually deny God’s existence). Naturalists simply don’t want to find God behind it all; it is mere prejudice (at least until they make a good case for naturalism). Isn’t it ironic that those who claim to be the most rational and open-minded show themselves to be the most restricted their thinking.

    1. Both young earth and old earth creationists are offering scientific evidence that should be considered on that basis.

      No, they aren’t. They’re offering bullshit dredged up from the same vat as ghost hunters, cryptozoologists, UFO nuts, and Elvis worshippers.

      Show us just one article in a major peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence for any form of creationism, and I’ll eat my hat.

      The rest of your screed was either similar bullshitting or simply devoid of content. Sorry.

      Cheers,

      b&

    2. The debate isn’t science vs. religion; it is naturalistic, neo-Darwinian evolution vs. special creation by God, one scientific matter among many. In the vast spread of scientific endeavors, you find little antagonism based upon religious beliefs.

      *ahegm*

      Both young earth and old earth creationists are offering scientific evidence that should be considered on that basis.

      I can assure that Young Earth Creationism is no friend of geology, chemistry and physics.

    3. What would you say were the strongest line of evidence for divine creation currently available? (If it’s just another version of the argument from design, the “first cause” argument, the God of the gaps, the “fine tuning” argument, the “moral law” argument, irreducible complexity, appeals to the 2nd law of thermodynamics or conservation of information you might as well not bother though…)

    4. Belonging to a church wasn’t just a social custom, it was the law. Not being a Christian meant, at best, being a second-class-citizen, and was likely to result in exile, imprisonment, torture, and/or execution.

    5. “Third, the reality that so many of the fathers of science (in modern times) were Christians (in reality, not merely names on the church roll) at least shows that these intelligent, educated people didn’t see an incompatibility between science and religion. That’s the purpose of the claim.”

      Newton was a devout believer in alchemy, Wallace was a devoted attender of spiritual seances, and Priestley was a believer in the phlogiston theory. Should we provide similar plausibility to these unsupported beliefs? Your reasoning only fashions Jerry’s point for him: it attests to the extreme pertinaciousness with which intelligent people will adhere to unsupported opinions.

      “The debate isn’t science vs. religion; it is naturalistic, neo-Darwinian evolution vs. special creation by God, one scientific matter among many.”

      Yes, science vs. religion.

      “In the vast spread of scientific endeavors, you find little antagonism based upon religious beliefs.”

      Really? Wait…why wouldn’t the religious oppose: Newtonian physics, Dalton’s Law, Mendeleev’s first modern periodic table, Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron, Broglie’s wave-model of atomic structure, Pauli’s exclusion principle, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle? Either the religious don’t understand these discoveries or they don’t think they can, directly, disprove the existence of their God. What set the discoveries of Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein apart from other scientific discoveries? Think about it.

      “this is fundamentally a philosophical/theological debate, not a scientific one.”

      Who told us the the planet was round? Who said the planet was in orbit in an obscure solar system, which was on the periphery of an incomprehensibly vast cosmos exploding away from its autochthonous wellspring of energy? Who told us that micro-organisms exist inside our bodies? Who told us about our close kinship with other animals? Who gave us the age of our species, our planet, and our universe? Who gave us the theory of evolution? The utter effrontery and foolishness required to suggest a discussion, to which science has offered the most, is not a scientific discussion boggles the mind.

      “While one will find both Christians who reject evolution and those who accept it”

      Most, if not all, Christians do not accept the theory of evolution–at least, not the scientific theory. They may accept their Catholic Church, basement-bedroom theory, but not the scientific theory. The implication that there are just as many who accept evolution as reject it, once again, shows your ignorance.

      “It is impossible for them to even consider a supernatural explanation, and not because they have proved already that none is possible (note the chicken’s way out of atheists today who won’t claim that they actually deny God’s existence).”

      Modern science can’t prove or disprove a deistic god exists, but it makes him unnecessary and unlikely. However, modern science, and for that matter, history and logic disprove the existence of your theistic god.

      “Isn’t it ironic that those who claim to be the most rational and open-minded show themselves to be the most restricted their thinking.”

      Isn’t it ironic that those who claim others are irrational and close-minded show themselves to be the most irrational and close-minded individuals in the archive of humankind? As Dawkins stated,”Everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god – from Ra to Shiva – in which he does not believe. All that the serious and objective atheist does is to take the next step and to say that there is just one more god to disbelieve in.”

    6. Oh? Oh really? YECs are providing the world with crucial scientific evidence? Wowser.

      Someone should contact BP, Exxon, Chevron and the other oil conglomerates, since flood geology is bound to shake up their understanding of where to find fossil fuels. I mean, that’s where the rubber meets the road, is it not? One can cry, “academic bias!” till one is blue in the face with respect to journal publications, but if there’s money to be made in it, surely they’ll listen.

      So, run along, Rick — tell them all about it! Let us know how that goes!

    7. Both young earth and old earth creationists are offering scientific evidence that should be considered on that basis.

      I’m sorry, but that is probably the stupidest thing I’ve read in a week. And I’ve read two Megan McArdle columns and my mother’s facebook page…

      Creation Science:

      Wall. Shit. Throw. Lie.

  27. P.S. I can imagine someone clapping hand to forehead after reading my note and exclaiming “This isn’t a discussion about science and religion!”. This is obviously so. I merely got stuck on a couple of toss-off silly side comments. Maybe I’ll take up the actual theme of the discussion later. Or someone else can do it who is more familiar with the subject than the writer.

    1. He’s studied theology and the history of religion.

      It’s not called the “synoptic problem” for nothing.

      Mark, Matthew, and Luke all borrow from a basal source(s). Matthew plagiarized from Mark, Luke embellishes Matthew. John is different, wildly so, and is most likely based on a different source(s). And over the centuries, they were edited, added to, and embellished over and over again.

      And none of these fables was written down by anyone who actually saw a living Jesus. Even attributing names to gospel writers is “by tradition” (meaning, no proof can be found as to true authorship).

      You make a common mistake in assuming that four different people provide eyewitness reports of the events. That’s patently wrong. I don’t know of any modern theologian who would declare that.

      Luke even says so “himself”. Luke 1:1. He’s an historian, not an eyewitness.

    2. Scholarship on the Gospels’ origins is widely available. See, for example, any of the books by Bart Ehrman, or “The End of Biblical Studies” by Hector Avalos. Alternately, you can search at Amazon.com under “Gospel origins”, search at Wikipedia.org, or Google the topic. To save you a bit of trouble, I can tell you that these scholars conclude that the Gospels borrowed from each other, and used the same source material (except for maybe the Gospel of John, but that one is just right off the reservation).

      So that would be my guess as to why he thinks “the Gospels clearly borrowed from each other.”

  28. I’ve always liked the “Argument from Hot Beverages,” because it is such a classic case of real old fashioned scientism. As a mis-application of science, it didn’t used to be “the metaphysical belief that science tells us all that can be known or is worth knowing” (a working theory — not a metaphysical belief — which I am happy to endorse); but was more often identified as the treatment of a scientific theory or observation as universally paradigmatic, as an explanation for everything, and true beyond dispute. If the water in a tea kettle boils because someone wants a cup of tea, then the water in Old Faithful must boil because someone wants it to boil as part of a universal plan. If conscious intention exists as part of the full explanation of what happens at tea-time, then it must exist in and explain everything, therefore Jesus.

  29. Not only are they contradictory, but they are almost impossible to reconcile if taken at face value. In Matthew the ascension into heaven encompasses the entirety of the post-resurrection account, but by the time of John, Jesus is appearing to so many people that the book can’t even list all of the occurrences. The continuity in Matthew doesn’t allow for this, because Jesus goes straight to Galilee after the women find the empty tomb. (The earliest gospel, Mark, does have a post-resurrection account, but it’s likely a fabrication)

    The evidence for the resurrection is very thin if its advocates are declaring that the unbelievability of the story is its primary virtue. Another “sophisticated” argument is that no one at the time of Jesus’s death would have believed it if the entire thing was false (of course, the Jews, who more than anybody should have known whether Jesus was the messiah and fulfilled the prophecies, rejected it, so what does that say about its veracity?). Most of the arguments are based on a poor understanding of human psychology and underestimate the power of delusion from the desire to believe. The only question we need to ask is where is the evidence? The gospels are mere anecdotes, as Thomas Paine said, so they should not be trusted. If Jesus was the messiah and wanted people to know, then he should’ve appeared to the entire world, yet history is largely silent about his existence.

  30. I think some people mistake faith for trust.

    “I trust the sun will rise tomorrow”, is different I think from “I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow” – is there someone who has written on this?

    1. Or more exactly (and verbosely), the taking of a premise without justification from any priors, from the taking of a premise as a consequential probabilistic inference from others more basic.

      A whack at Google Scholar turns up a journal piece that looks of notional interest (if on theory of empirically dubious provenance):
      Isaacs, K.S., Alexander, J.M., Haggard, E.A. (1963). Faith, Trust and Gullibility. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 44:461-469. Snippet:

      Thus, for instance, the person who has not developed to the stage of trust
      does not perceive the distinction between faith and trust, or he will perceive the
      distinction as insignificant in itself or in its consequences.

      Alas, on-line doesn’t turn up a full copy, and the local U library has the dead-tree volume buried in deep storage.

    2. ThyroidPlanet, a better example would be, if you used a light switch that only worked randomly one time in 1,000 — you could say “I have faith that this time it will work.” versus using a light switch that always worked, and saying “I trust this time it will work, based on all the previous experiences.”

        1. Trusting the switch with 1/1000 confidence each time is not faith that it will work this time – it is figuring that it is a wildly outside chance.

          We’ve got several uses of ‘faith’. One is simple confidence, possibly based on evidence and proportioned to it. Another is confidence more or less independent of evidence. When it comes to the sun rising tomorrow, we’ve got the first sort of faith. When it comes to Jesus rising tomorrow, the only faith we could have is the second.

      1. I would agree with you. Compulsive gamblers behave like that: they know their chance of winning at roulette is 1/37, but they have “faith” that this time is the “lucky” one. Thta’s very different from “trust,” which is built slowly over time through multiple events where the desired outcome has indeed occurred.

      1. regarding piero and JeffEngel’s comments :

        after discussing those SEP entries, my understanding is that “faith” is largely a religious concept. “Trust” entails a person (imaginary or real).

        then AFAICT they mix the terms.

  31. Polkinghorne uses old “stories” and a letter as evidence that a dead man was resurrected? How can such weak evidence possibly overcome the massive evidence that the dead stay dead?

  32. I say this to the good Rev. Dr. Sir John Polkinghorne,

    “I have a Unicorn in my root cellar; prove I don’t without opening the door.”

    1. The very fact of the existence of your root cellar _proves_ you have a unicorn in there; why else would a storehouse for roots exist if not to satisfy the hunger of a unicorn?

      [waits for truck full of Tempelton cash]

      1. Oh, right, you wanted disproof of the unicorn.

        Well, nuts to that – my belief in unicorns comforts and consoles me (especially during those times when I doubt the existence of unicorns) and anything you say against my cherished belief will be met with hysterical yelling about totalitarianism and perhaps bearded explosions.

        In closing, I hope you’ve left Ol’ Pointy (for that is his name) a dish of water to go with those roots.

          1. You’ve misunderstood. I don’t believe in unicorns, but I might be a pancornist. Everything is part of the Horn Energy.

            1. Well as long as you believe something that seems ridiculous on its face but really speaks toward a deeper truth.

      2. I don’t believe in unicorns myself but belief in unicorn gives comfort to millions of people with otherwise would live dreary lives. Their belief should be respected as a meaningful way of knowing that complements science.

  33. Here’s a fun game: in the quoted paragraph from wikipedia, in your head replace all the references to religion with references to unicorns. For example:

    “Owen Gingerich, an astronomer and former Harvard professor, has called him a leading voice on the relationship between science and unicorns.”

    Hey, it’s better to laugh than to wallow in despair over these people’s stupidity.

          1. You’re saying that unicorn horn points toward the hard Truth just before it becomes the deep Truth? IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW TIME TO SELL ALL MY THINGS

  34. . . . the most persuasive argument in favour of the authenticity of the empty tomb story is that it is women who make the discovery. In the ancient world, women were not considered to be capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law and anyone making up a tale would surely have assigned the central role to men.

    Mental note to self: have cousin unearth my body and pretend to be me. Have him sighted by 5-year old rather than an adult since, according to Polkinghorne, that makes the sighting more believeable.

    1. Well let’s see what a real historian has to say about the status of women in the early chuch. According to Gillian Cloke¹, women were especially targeted by early Christian missionaries. She says “many more females than males were converting to Christianity in its first centuries.” and says we should recognise “Christianity’s appeal to women as an important factor in its success.” and furthermore that “in the first Christian centuries the new belief system used women and their position in the family/household environment to transmit and reproduce itself.”

      One may speculate that the stories of women finding the empty tomb were manufactured with this express strategy in mind.

      [1] Gillian Cloke, “Women, Worship and Mission: The Church in the Household,” The Early Christian World, vol. 1, ed. Philip Esler, Routledge (1 Jan 2004), http://www.amazon.co.uk/Early-Christian-World-1/dp/0415350921/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329765210&sr=8-1

      1. I don’t suppose she has any…what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yes — that’s it! Evidence? To back up her theses?

        I ask because “first centuries” implies, well, first, second, and third centuries CE. There isn’t anything from the first century and damned little more than a tiny fragment of G. John that might be from the second century. Things start to pick up in the third century, but the pickings are still mighty slim.

        That hasn’t stopped the Christians from making up all kinds of just-so stories about the whole period, of course. But, basically, all they’re doing is taking Mediaeval manuscripts of Greco-Roman mythology set in Judea and inventing their own modern mythology with that as the backdrop.

        While what you’re describing of Cloke could theoretically be different, the whole “post-sufferage-style empowerment of Christian women in the first century church” stinks to high heaven of pure bullshit.

        Cheers,

        b&

        1. I don’t have a copy of the book, I just have some notes I made. I came across the paper on a CFI course, so I assumed there might be something in it. But if not, maybe someone could enlighten me.

            1. Well, my primary concern is for evidence (or lack thereof).

              But you point to another concern. Even if she has evidence, she’s trying to pass off events a third to a half a millennium after the “facts” as somehow being “early.” Go that far back before the present, and you’ve passed over the Enlightenment and into the tail end of the Renaissance, fer chrissakes.

              Cheers,

              b&

  35. It’s an amazing coincidence that pure reason can prove the truth of the religion you already happen to believe. I’d be much more impressed with one’s objectivity if the reasoning proved the truth of a religion that one didn’t much care for. Zoroastrianism, perhaps.

    Overall, his argumentation appears to be “Arguments from Personal Incredulity”, hence no different in style from that of creationists.

  36. What empty tomb?

    We have no proof that there was even a jesus much less a tomb much less an empty tomb. Even if there was an empty tomb, it is a huge leap to jesus being god who then got up and flew away.

    The scholarly consensus is that much of the NT is fiction. The big debates are whether it is all fiction or there are some grains of truth scattered here and there.

    1. I’ve never understood the “empty tomb” argument. Throughout history we’ve had at least tens of thousands of examples of empty tombs, probably many more. On every occasion that a cause has been inferred (the vast majority) that cause has been human grave robbers.

      So far, we’ve never had a single reliable record of a tomb being empty due to a resurrection.

      The parsimonious explanation for an empty tomb, especially of a celebrity whose body parts could be sold as relics, is grave robbers.

  37. He doesn’t consider the fact that maybe somebody making up the story might have the empty-tomb finders be women because the women were Jesus’s relatives and chief mourners, including his mother, his aunt, and Mary Magdalene.

    Mark says no such thing. On the contrary he seems to make a point of the women not being relatives of Jesus (just as Joseph of Aramethea rather than Joseph his father is the one to retrieve the body for burial) in correspondence with Mark 3:35.

    (Yes, I’ve just finished a book on Mark.)

    1. Interesting you should mention Joseph of Arimathea. He’s mentioned just once,and then nothing further is said about him. Would he not have been interested in the fate of the guy he generously offered a tomb for?

      Suppose I’m a generous kind of fellow, and I give you a car for your birthday; you are very grateful, and you friends are very impressed by my generosity. Then one day some of your friens finds the car abandoned in a ditch. Is it credible that no-one would inform me of the fact?

  38. …”events that manifest with specific clarity some particular aspect of the divine will and nature that is normally veiled from clear sight….”

    And why are miracles normally veiled from clear sight?

    The very reference sources for Polkinghorne’s assertions regarding the Resurrection are simply teeming with accounts of miracles all in very clear sight indeed.

    From the parting of the Red Sea to the burning bush, to walking on water to healing the sick, to reviving Lazarus to feeding thousands with a single loaf; from lamps burning for eight days on one day’s worth of oil to curing blindness to the stopping of the sun in the sky; from a talking donkey to the death of the first-born sons; from a rod turning into a snake to daily manna from Heaven to restoration of body parts to making wine from water. On and on itgoes. Hundreds of miracles, seen by common people in stark daylight.

    So why does Polkinghorne not say that miracles are now abnormally veiled? Answer – because he is a speaking as an apologist for an extremely and inexplicably bashful god, not as a scientist.

    1. Add to that the point that these miracles aren’t really all that clear. I’ll grant you, doing some act that (eventually) convinces 30% of the world’s population to agree with you would be extremely impressive for a human being. But for any God worthy of the title, that’s a major underperformance.

      1. …especially considering that the god in question is best known for flooding the entire planet, parting the sea, stopping the sun in its tracks for an entire day, and so forth.

        Wait. What? Jesus was happy wandering around Jerusalem for a month and a half with gaping chest wounds that he invited people to stick their hands in to prove his case, but I’m supposed to take the word of a couple of door-to-door “elder” salesmen not quite old enough to shave? Puh-leeze.

        b&

        1. You just made me think of something.

          1. Jesus said in john 14:12 that his followers would do things greater than what Jesus did.

          2. Like you said, Jesus made his case by showing his gaping hand/feet and gut wounds.

          From 1 and 2 we should expect of proselytisers to show us gaping gut wounds if they truly are of Jesus.

          So next time a bible-thumpe comes a-knocking ask to touch his entrails with your hand; if he refuses he clearly is not from god. 😉

          1. I prefer a similar but significantly different approach.

            Remind them that they’re there because Jesus, in his final message to his creation, commanded them to spread the Gospel. And, to be sure everybody is on the same page, ask them to read those final words — namely, the last chapter of Mark.

            For, in those words, you will hear not only the commandment from Jesus’s own lips (by way of some really cheap paper and a hell of a lot of translations and worse) that they should do what they are, at that moment, doing, but also a message to their audiences: how the disciples will prove that they are genuine.

            After they finish, offer them a tall glass of ammonia with a bleach chaser. When they refuse, they are proving to you and themselves that they are faithless atheists. If they point out that the last chapter of Mark is a later addition, that’s the perfect opportunity to get indignant about how somebody could so shamelessly lie about the incarnation of Jesus, and what else in there is also a lie?

            But first do be sure you know how to summon emergency services, just in case….

            Cheers,

            b&

            1. Excellent idea.

              Maybe you can buy a bottle similar to those and fill it with a disgusting smelling/tasting liquid that is otherwise innocuous to offer to them.

              If it emits smoke, even better.

        2. Oh, no! Those are heretics, cultists! Don’t believe them! Believe these other guys over here … well, just because.

  39. I think we should introduce Polkinghorne to Cissy Houston. She says the holy spirit told her after she gave birth that Whitney was going to die early in life. She actually put that in the funeral program and not ONE person has called to to task on that.

    I guess the assumption is that if she said it happened, then it happened. As far as I can tell, there’s about as much evidence for Cissy’s holy ghost encounter as there is for the resurrection.

    1. ForCarl, there is more evidence about Cissy Houston’s comments — because we know (have evidence) Cissy Houston existed. Not so with Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John. Or jesus.

      Cissy was at least an eye-witness to the event she describes. Not so with the gospel writers.

      Cissy’s statement does not contradict any known historical events, unlike all of the gospels.

      Cissy’s statement does not require suspension of the physical laws of nature (imaging a voice is not a miracle), unlike all of the gospels that contain so-called miracles.

      Cissy’s statement has the benign benefit of not requiring anyone to kill an unbeliever in her statement.

      1. Cissy’s statements are not benign. Because they go unchallenged, they become infused in our culture as facts, and thus promote more damaging magical thinking that gets in the way of so much in terms of science and progress and basic human intellectual evolution.

        Just because she exists does not mean that her “witnessing” of her imaginary conversation makes it any less imaginary.

        She didn’t claim any “miracles” unless you count her inflated ego of being singled out and told something in a way that most people do not have the “privledge” of experiencing.

        Her total claim is unprovable and thus falls into the same category as the resurrection and enjoys absolutely no “more” validity than anything related to the gospels stories.

        1. That “they go unchallenged” may represent nothing more than our humanity in choosing not to besmirch a mother’s grief…

    2. “told her after she gave birth that Whitney was going to die early in life.”

      And yet she lived to her late 40s. Late middle age?

  40. There are several ridiculous things about Polkinghorne’s claims, and they do not really concern the usual suspects.

    First, the resurrection in Mark is added, so it is clear that there were resurrection stories “out there”, and doubtless, as reports of reports of reports of who knows what, conflicted with each other. Stories like this are repeated ad libitum, not memorised. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that any of them report original events.

    Second, Paul’s testimony is made as a claim to apostolic authority, and there is simply no reason to believe that whatever appeared to Paul was other than a hallucination, like appearances of Mary today.

    Third, there is in fact no evidence whatever that Jesus was ever buried in a tomb, let alone that the tomb was empty. Since we are told that the disciples fled in fear, and the gospels are not agreed as to where the apparitions of the risen Jesus were seen, whether in Galilee or Jerusalem, there is no reason to believe that the stories reflect events that actually occurred.

    Fourth, Joseph of Arimathea is a convenient deus ex machina in the story. There is no evidence for his existence, but he was necessary in order to make it plausible that the body had been taken down from the cross. Some prominent person above suspicion — or a member of the family — would have to appeal for release of the body — very unlikely in these circumstances. Usually, crucified criminals were left on the cross as carrion, and later the remains would have been disposed of on the municipal rubbish tip. (Crosses were not tall, just tall enough to enable to body to hang so as to restrict breathing (in the end, no longer able to hold themselves up, the crucified died of asphyxiation), and bodies were accessible to dogs, birds, insects, and other animals from the start.) The gospels cannot both have Jesus being used as a warning example of what happens to pretenders to the throne, and have the body taken down and buried with reverence. This is simply implausible.

    Fifth, it should be borne in mind that Matthew speaks of the graves being opened and bodies being raised and being seen by many. No one takes this claim seriously, yet it is of a piece with the resurrection of Jesus.

    Sixth, there is no clarity as to what was raised. The lack of recognition, idea that the body could enter locked rooms, the disappearance of the body (which appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus), all suggest, as one biblical scholar has it, that the risen body was an eschatological figure, and not, in any sense, a risen physical body.

    Even before you get to “empirical” evidence, these matters must be settled.

    1. THANK YOU!!!!

      I’ve been saying for YEARS that the entire crucifixion story stinks to high heaven.

      Our modern sensibilities cannot wrap our heads around the practice of hanging someone in public and leaving them on display for a long period of time.

      But that’s what the gibbet was…and the practice was in widespread use in England and the Continent into the 1800s.

      Crucifixion was the Roman method of executing escaped slaves, slaves who murdered their masters (the entire household of slaves were executed), and others who practiced sedition. The point of the process was for someone to die slowly and in terrible pain (the word “excruciating” comes from the practice for a reason). It’s a process that is designed to take days. A 3-hour “passion”? Bullshit. That’s just the beginning of the process.

      And no way, no how does that body get taken down. Once up, it stays up until it rots. That was the whole point — to serve as a warning to the rest of the populace.

      One other point. There is absolutely NO WAY someone at the point of death in crucifixion can cry out in a loud voice. Period. Death by crucifixion is caused by pulmonary edema — fluid build-up in the lungs. Victims cannot breath in. No inhalation of breath = no exhalation of breath. No exhalation of breath = a physical impossibility of being able to cry out, and especially not in a loud voice.

      Anyone on a cross able to cry out in a loud voice is nowhere near death. Not even close.

      And the Romans weren’t noted for “pretend” crucifixions.

  41. THE PROBLEM OF INDUCTION AND WHY IT’S A PROBLEM

    I thought I’d start a new thread here devoted simply to the Problem of Induction.

    I. The Problem of Induction

    Let’s say that induction is the process of reasoning that looks like this:
    ‘In the past, p; therefore, probably, in the future, p.’
    Or more generally,
    ‘Most of our observed xs have been F; therefore, probably, most of the unobserved xs are F,’ where x is a type of object and F is some property or feature.

    Now let’s set aside a priori justifications of the Problem of Induction; our question is whether it’s possible to justify induction empirically, and if not, why we should care.

    The main argument that it’s impossible to justify induction empirically is that such a justification would have to be circular: ‘In the past, induction worked; therefore, probably, in the future, induction will work.’
    Or,
    ‘We have observed induction working many times; therefore, it will probably work in the cases we haven’t verified yet.’

    Any appeal to observation to justify induction seems to be guilty of this, since we cannot literally directly observe the future. All we can observe are the past and present. To reason from the past and present to the future requires induction. So justifying induction (in new cases) using observation requires justifying induction using induction.

    In other words, if someone is asking you how to reason about unobserved cases, and you suggest induction, and she asks you why you think it will work this time, if you say because it has worked in the past, you’re employing a circular argument.

    II. Why We Should Care

    Suppose that there is no non-circular justification of induction. Then if we agree that circular justifications are no justification at all, we agree that induction is ultimately unjustified, that the defining reasoning process of science is unjustified.

    In turn, it’s difficult to see how someone could respond to someone like Polkinghorne by arguing that science enjoys some epistemological advantage over religion. Both would be ultimately unjustifiable.

    III. The Solution

    The solution to the Problem of Induction is a priori or intellectual or intuitionistic, and non-observational. But many scientists will hold that the only important or trustworthy source of knowledge about the world is observation, so this solution is closed to them. In turn, they ultimately have to admit that “scientific ways of knowing” are no more ultimately justified than “religious ways of knowing.” That is, again, unless they abandon empiricism and acknowledge that there are non-observational and non-scientific ways of learning about the world, and that one of them can solve the Problem of Induction.

      1. When offered the problem of induction, I usually offer the following:

        Since the Problem of Induction states that we cannot know for certain that anything is true, I offer this test. Place your hand into a meat grinder of sufficient size and grinding power, and hit the “on” switch.

        Funny, not one person has taken me up on this offer.

        1. Precisely! Just as solipsists, no-one who tries to refute induction ever behaves accordingly.

          If I go to the casino and 17 comes up 1500 times in a row, would it be reasonable to bet on 32 the next time? Certainly not: most probably the wheel has been rigged or some mechanism got stuck so that it is higly probable that the next throw will also be 17.

    1. Sorry, but, as I said above, you’ve posted too many times today, and now you’re starting new threads. Cool the posting, please, and take it offline if you wish to continue. I won’t have this thread hijacked so one person argues repeatedly with many.

    2. In turn, they ultimately have to admit that “scientific ways of knowing” are no more ultimately justified than “religious ways of knowing.”

      I see that Dr. Coyne has intervened. So I won’t say much.

      1. This is a lie. Science works even if you don’t believe in it. It is the most successful human endevour ever, lifting us from the stone age to the space age.

      2. Religion is useless for knowing anything. The truth claims of religion aren’t anchored in reality and aren’t testable. Religions diverge whereas science converges on the truth.

      You see this today. Religions evolve rapidly and there are now 42,000 Real True xian sects with more every year. There are multiple religions with new ones created all the time e.g., Scientology, Moonism, Mormonism, Wicca, etc. and more.

      The only way religions have found to settle their conflicting claims is violence and war. The RCC settled the Albigensian heresy by killing around a million people and mopping up the survivors over a century. They got every one of them.

    3. It’s been explained. You don’t want to here about it. You’re too busy patting yourself on the back for being a clever thinker while throwing around Sophmore philosophy.

      It’s OLD.

      Hume, his goddam self said “BFD this purity bullshit of induction wankery (well, not those words, but I’m getting tired of your sophmore arguments) so go ahead and use it anyway and we should engage it with practical skepticism and COMMON SENSE.

      (BTW, he did say practical skepticism and common sense.)

      Religion throws away common sense and practical skepticism for severe skepticism of everything that doesn’t fit neatly into their fairy tale and tries to hammer in things that do not. And it’s not just Christians. It’s EVERY religion.

      And THAT is the difference. So stop arguing like you’re a college sophmore and think like you managed to learn something in college. I mean, besides how to beat a dead horse because you want to play word games.

      1. ( Psssst, MosesZD: it’s sophomore, not sophmore. Offered in good faith [forgive the term!], as I entirely agree with you.)

        1. It’s also “hear”, as in to listen, rather than “here”, opposite of there. Offered in good humor, as I have no faith.

    4. “Reason” seems to be a learned skill — a cultural construct. There are languages extant on earth in which Aristotelian logic is impossible — these languages simply lack some features (long assumed necessary for language in general) that are needed for syllogistic reasoning. That is to say, there is no such thing as purely a priori reasoning. “All married man are bachelors” is not a priori for one must acquire semantic content for at least one of these concepts (if it is a definition) or both (if it is an equivalence relation). “2+2=4” is not a priori for its truth is subject to the truth of (e.g.) the ZF axioms of set theory, it is not self evident. Russell and Whitehead needed 3 volumes to prove the similar theorem “1+1=2”.

      Another way to look at this is thermodynamically. If the second law of thermodynamics is true then induction works. When you see a broken egg you can assume that it was in recent history an unbroken egg, and you can furthermore assume that at no point in the future will it ever be unbroken again. If SLoT wasn’t true you couldn’t make these assumptions. But this is exactly the sort of temporal pattern that justified induction.

      The puzzle you’re drifting around is how semantic content can be acquired in the first place. The answer is that whether or not you personally believe in induction your brain certainly does (and brains HAVE done so for a few tens of millions of years at least). Google “jeff hawkins” or “hierarchical temporal memory” for some clues as to how this might work.

      Since you’re beating the problem of induction like a dead horse and endorsing a priori reasoning as the solution, let me introduce you to my friend the baron. A priori reasoning has the same foundational problems as inductive reasoning. Either you must state unjustified axioms (points of faith) or you must engage in an infinite regress of proving your a priori theses.

      Finally, even if we must concede that critical thought requires as a foundation a few axioms taken on faith we can compare the axioms required by critical thought to the axioms required by any sort of religious belief. I maintain that critical thought and science rely on a strict subset of the assumptions required to justify religious belief. Then your criticism becomes “but the foundations of science are only slightly less justified then the foundations of religion,” which is not much of an indictment of science in my opinion.

      1. “but the foundations of science are only slightly less justified then the foundations of religion,”

        Should be:

        “but the foundations of science are only slightly more justified than the foundations of religion”

        Fewer assumptions=more justification, my bad

        1. And here we reveal the fundamental problem with intuitionism:

          Prove it.

          JK, I’m sympathetic to intuitionism as an approach to justifying mathematics, especially since it actually seems to have a great deal of historical verisimilitude. I only pull out the ZF argument when someone tried to insist that “2+2=4” is a priori true. Just as there are extant natural languages with no logical quantifiers there are also extant natural languages (the same ones unsurprisingly) without counting systems. To speakers of such languages, 2+2=many.

          1. To speakers of such languages, 2+2=many.

            This sort of relativism is absurd. It may be true that a speaker S of such a language could not add 2 and 2. However if I gave him two bananas and then another two he would still have four. If he had four children then he could give them one each. If I gave him two then another three, he would have one left over for himself when he had shared them out. I think he might notice the difference.

            1. Your test isn’t really fair since it does the work of counting for him. S knows all his children as individuals so he can just pick up one banana for each child. Implicitly, it’s defining the number four as “the number of children that I have plus myself.” Suppose S has another baby on the way?

              The real way to test this is to just show the person a number of objects — say, five bananas — and then have the person pick out the same number of objects without looking. These guys are terrible at that game.

              1. Many years ago I was pretty good at chess; I played board 1 on the under-18 country team. But I haven’t played chess seriously for decades. So while I can easily beat a complete tyro I would be well and truly trounced by the average club player. I still have (somewhere!) records of games I played half a century ago. If I reconstructed a position from one of these games I may well not be able to re-construct the “brilliant sacrifice” I made in that position. I have simply lost some of the skills I had then.

                Does that mean that “for me 50 years ago” move X was the best move, whereas “for me now” move Y was the best move. No, it means that “for me then” move X was the best I could fine, whereas “for me now” move Y is the best I can find. Objectively move Z might be better than both, and, if so that would be true both then and now. What’s more a grandmaster might be able to demonstrate the fact.

              2. I don’t quite understand what you’re driving at. If your point is that these people simply haven’t learned to do math then you should go read the link more closely. These people have repeatedly asked for help learning to count and do arithmetic and have failed in every attempt. To the extent that anyone can tell they simply don’t seem to have concepts for numbers or anything similarly abstract. They have a different way of conceiving of quantity than we do — one that doesn’t seem to involve numbers as we know them.

                My best guess at how human beings could completely lack number concepts is that numeracy is part of the language acquisition process. In particular, if numeracy is not acquired by puberty or so it’s essentially impossible to achieve “fluency” with number concepts.

              3. Learning has nothing to do with it. As far as I know my dog is incapable of learning to do maths. Nevertheless if he buries two bones and then sometime later buries another two bones, he still has four bones when he comes to dig them up.

              4. We’re talking through each other as Kuhn might say. I’m not disagreeing that there is a particular number of bones. I’m saying that the ability to conceive of particular numbers in the first place is an acquired skill.

    5. As fun and instructive as this is, I’m not sure it’s fair to continue arguing with Tom after Jerry asked him to stop participating in the thread.

      1. How is it “not fair”? “Fairness” only comes into play if this is a contest with winners and losers. I’m not trying to win anything by beating up on poor Tom while his arms are tied behind his back, I’m trying to constructively criticize the ideas he has already posted to the page.

        Plus answering Tom’s arguments is helping me to organize my own thoughts on the subject. I guess I don’t have to do this in the comments but then again if I have a different perspective why shouldn’t I share it? To suggest he needs the chance to “defend himself” is once again suggesting that this is a contest in which one person wins and one person loses which is not at all how I see it. I’m not attacking Tom, I’m suggesting a few other ways to look at the problem he’s pointing out.

        1. A fair-minded interaction is not a contest but a demonstration of respect, human to human. Your statement indicates you are not fair-minded, ergo you are disrespectful

          1. Are you sure you want to leap to that conclusion just because we have different opinions on netiquette? That somehow doesn’t seem fair-minded to me.

            1. Of course, it doesn’t. You’ve demonstrated quite well that your world revolves around you. Such egocentrism requires that you find fairness only when you have the upper hand.

  42. Wow…there is a lot of intellectual energy being expended here. It appears to me that the claim is “math does a great job of explaining nature ergo Jesus”.

    Even if one accepts some incredible creative force at work (which I don’t), what does that have to do with the religions thought up by bronze age humans?

    Did Jesus predict the Shrodinger equation?

    I must be missing something.

  43. I had the self-inflicted misfortune of attending a lecture hosted by my University (shame!!) by Dr Polkinghorne (forget about the other titiles, there is nothing to revere in a reverend, as to be “elevated” to the House of Lord – do not get me started …). It was dreadful. A typical excerpt: “The picture I want of God’s relationship with the world is one of continuing interaction, not occasional intervention; poking with the divine finger when things go wrong. I believe that God interacts with the world, but doesn’t overrule the freedom he has given to creatures. […]
    The most difficult problem is to understand the suffering in the world. It is one that troubles those of who are believers more than any other. There is a mystery in suffering”.

    What is truly breathtaking in people like Polkingthorne is their extreme bad faith. 90% of his lecture was on the cosmological, prime mover kind of entity that frankly should not bother anybody, but in the last ten minutes he really went to town with screenfuls of emaciated children and references to a Jesus Christ who had been totally absent in the previous hour and a half. When I pointed the inconsistency between the non-revealed god of the 90% of his presentation and the Jesus Christ of the last ten minutes, he just ignored it. Pressed on how one is to choose among the hundreds of gods currently on offer, he bleated some platitude on the obvious choice of being Anglican in England (that’s proof, guys).
    I am sorry: these people are best ignored, correction, derided for their hypocrisy. The fact that they had had the benefit of a scientific education and decided to betray it for 30 pieces of silver of the Templeton Foundations of this world is a reason to pity and despise them, not to give them a credibility they so decidedly lack.

    1. Thanks for the story. Bad faith is a nice pun on his situation; and his inability to glean the basic lessons from Sociology 1. An Anglican indeed – sigh!

  44. Something is nagging in the back of my mind about why the people to find the tomb empty should be women. Not to be too Jungian about it, but isn’t there something about the whole nurturing stereotype/archetype that mean it whould be women when the all-powerful couldn’t be more vulnerable? Is it a trope?

    1. Interesting point, worth analysing in depth. I’m unqualified to do so, but there must be many Jungian psychologists who have said something about it.

  45. This is a question (or two) for Prof. Coyne: why do you use ‘Christ’ instead of ‘Jesus’ when referring to the Christian mythic protagonist? Doesn’t ‘Christ’ imply ‘messiah,’ while ‘Jesus’ entails only a putative historical figure?

    1. In my opinion, if “Jesus” is putative, “Christ” is doubly so. In fact, “Christ” could refer to anyone at all, while “Jesus” is circumscribed to those sharing that name. I’m not answerig on behalf of Dr. Coyne, by the way; just offering my opinion.

    2. In my opinion, if “Jesus” is putative, “Christ” is doubly so. In fact, “Christ” could refer to anyone at all, while “Jesus” is circumscribed to those sharing that name. I’m not answering on behalf of Dr. Coyne, by the way; just offering my opinion.

      1. “Christ” is a title and there were several people who claimed to be “the Christ”, or whatever that was in Aramaic. “Jesus” is medieval Latin for the Classical Latin “Iesus,” which is the Latinisation of some Aramaic name. So the probability of there having been someone literally called “Jesus” wandering around first century Palestine is precisely zero. However (I can’t find the reference), apparently, the Aramaic equivalences of “Joseph”, “Mary” and “Jesus” were quite common in the area at the time and one would expect to have a “Jesus” born to parents called “Joseph” and “Mary” at least once every three years. The Bible actually allows quite a wide date range for the birth of “Jesus”, so it is quite possible that someone should actually find evidence of a person with that name living at that time.

        1. “Jesus” is the same name as “Joshua”, who was of course a great Jewish hero, so it was a very common name. And there were indeed a pile of troublemaking preachers called “Jesus” around that time.

          1. Er, wot?

            I am unaware of any evidence of anybody in Classical Judea named, “Jesus,” who could rightly be described as a “troublemaker preacher.”

            The closest I can think of would be Jesus bar Damnaeus, the subject of the lesser-known “Jesus” quote in Josephus, but, intrigue aside, he wasn’t a “troublemaker.” And he was a priest, not a preacher. Or, there’s Jesus ben Stada, troublemaker, crucified by Romans, even, but I don’t think he was a preacher.

            I’m also pretty sure (but I wouldn’t bet more than lunch on it) that, aside from bar Damneus (who would have been quite young), none of the dozen or so Jesuses of the period were active in the first third of the first century — they were all a couple decades too early or too late to have been contemporaries with the (unknown-to-history-until-several-decades-after-the-“fact”) Jesus “Zombie of Zion” the Christ of (then-not-yet-founded) Nazareth.

            If you have evidence to the contrary, especially physical evidence or something authored by somebody who had even been born before the Great Invisible Zombie Invasion of Jerusalem in (least pathetic guess, known to contradict other equally authoritative bullshit sources) 33, I and the rest of the world would greatly appreciate knowing of it.

            Cheers,

            b&

            1. Jesus ben Pandira, a miracle-working apocalyptic preacher executed 1st century BCE; Jesus ben Ananias, an apocalyptic preacher who died in the Siege of Jerusalem; Jesus ben Gamala, a politician advocating peace; Jesus ben Thebuth, a priest who sold precious artefacts from the Temple; Jesus ben Stada, a 2nd century CE agitator … remember that the last big thing for the Jews had been the Maccabean revolt, the rise of the fundies now celebrated as Hannukah. Troublemaking was one of the things they did then.

              1. Ben Stadas I mentioned…and none save bar Damneus was contmeporary with the Missing Messiah….

                I mean, I’m sure I could come up with a like of a long list of “political activists” named “George,” but none of that would have any bearing on the first president or a more recent father-and-son duo, especially if my list were all of people who lived in the Civil War era….

                Cheers,

                b&

              2. What I mean is that if the standard of proof is “but it’s possible!” then the answer is “yeah, so what? Lots round there then.” And for “then” I suspect 30ADish is way too precise.

                (Obviously, I’m keenly awaiting the Carrier book 😀 )

              3. That Maccabean/Hannukah/Fundie thing… I only recently heard about the fundie aspect and still don’t know what to do about it. As a cultural (atheist) Jew — well, Jewess, actually — I hate to give up a happy holiday full of latkes, but celebrating fundies? Not good!

    1. Based on a prior comment relating asking Polkinghorne about his choice of religion – apparently Mohammed and the flying horse would not be plausible in England.

      Polkinghorne may have some trouble with interfaith relations with British Muslims, which could all have been avoided had he abandoned atheism in Riyadh.

  46. I took the ‘not recognized at first’ bit a little differently than others here. To me it’s almost like that tried and tired old story about footprints in the sand, and how there’s two sets and then one, but the one isn’t your footprints, it jesus carrying you.
    He was there and you didn’t realize it. Its not that the people after the resurrection made an error, it’s that ‘that gardener’ was really jesus, or the good samaritan is /really/ jesus, etc.

    If anything the fact that the story contains such an obvious trope makes it less beleivable, not ‘consistent’. Saying it’s consistent is like saying ‘yes, that episode of the A-Team was very realistic, because the bad guys had poor aim, and as we all know, bad guys really do have poor aim.’.

  47. Above all, science requires commitment to the basic act of faith that there is a deep rational order in the world awaiting discovery, and that there is a sufficient degree of uniform consistency in the working of the universe to permit successful argument by induction as a means to discover aspects of that order, despite the inevitably limited and particular character of the experience that motivates the belief. . .

    Funny how that describes Polkinghorne’s use of signs and miracles.

    But that is not why I hate that theological strawman for science. It is because it is useless, if you can’t tell what is not working at some point, you can’t eventually tell what is working. What would ever convince an inductionist his pattern search is wrong?

    Notably there is no way to tell if induction itself isn’t working. What would ever convince an inductionist his pattern searching is wrong?

  48. We all experience coincidences that are so unbelievable to have happened that one can only believe that a Divine Hand was involved. The Divine Hand is working in the lives of those who deny Its existence. These people say, “What luck” or “What a small world” or “I was in the right place at the right time” instead of recognizing that coincidences are miracles. Miracles happen every day. Our eyes just have to be opened to see them as such.

    1. Do you think this is true for instances where someone was “in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

      I was once caught in the crossfire of a street gang gun fight. “What luck!” — I wasn’t hurt! But if I had been shot and paralyzed by this freak occurrence, would it be right to call that coincidence a miracle?

      If all coincidences are evidence of the Divine Hand, the Divine seems to be indiscriminately benevolent and malevolent according to its whim at the moment.

      1. And imagine how unlikely it would be if no one _ever_ were in the right place at the right time, or the wrong/wrong one? So many people, so many events – surely that would be evidence of a divinely forced mediocrity.

        Stuff happens. If you’re not going to exercise some statistical awareness, you can’t draw much in the way of conclusions from that.

  49. Great post! I found it while googling John Polkinghorne because I’d just listened to an old BBC Radio 4 discussion show, In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg – scroll down to Thu 18 Feb 1999 to download the (free) podcast of ‘Space in Religion and Science’:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iots/all

    Polkinghorne and Margaret Wertheim are discussing cyberspace. At 07m13s Wertheim is quoted as having written that ‘…cyberspace is an attempt to realise a technological substitute for the Christian space of Heaven, a place where we will be freed from the limitations and embarrassment of physical embodiment’. Fair enough, if a bit overblown (in a characteristically academic manner). However, I couldn’t believe that when, in response, Polkinghorne stated that the difference is that cyberspace is a man-made fantasy realm whereas ‘…Heaven is a divinely-sustained world of a destiny beyond death that is concerned with reality’, he wasn’t either challenged or simply laughed out of the studio. In fact, Wertheim goes on to agree with him!

    At that point I thought, “I have to find out who this Polkinghorne guy is” and here I am… Amused and saddened at the same time.

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