A meditation by Ben Witherington III from “Is there a Dr. in the House” p. 37
I would have dressed up,
Only it was too much trouble.
I would have gone out,
Only it cost too much
I would have driven, Continue reading “If Only”
A meditation by Ben Witherington III from “Is there a Dr. in the House” p. 37
I would have dressed up,
Only it was too much trouble.
I would have gone out,
Only it cost too much
I would have driven, Continue reading “If Only”
Not only can we examine the number of cases (previous blog), we can also ask how representative was the evidence? In other words, how much like the real world was the evidence that was examined? If the cases studied do not reflect what is actually happening in the world, then the conclusion will not hold true. In the case of some views on the Bible, they are a reflection more of one’s own perceptions than of the ancient context.
In this case, a Bible Study example might be understanding Bible verses in their own context. If we take something as if it was written in our own context, or perhaps our assumptions about the ancient context are wrong, then a lot changes with certain verses. Over the last 30 or more years, E.P. Sanders studies on Ancient Palestine have reformed how Christians look at subjects that the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles address. The big one is justification. For the most part, these backdrop studies have enriched some difficult territory of theology, and all because we are clearer on Palestinian Judaism. In other words the evidence we now have is more representative of those times/contexts that what many have worked from previously.
One of the biggest discoveries was that ancient Judaism never looked their Old Testament laws as some kind “works righteousness” pathway. Many Christians often say, “Well that was the Old Testament, this is the New Testament.” Then, they move to tell you that the Old Testament was about laws and the New Testament is about grace. However, this could not be further from the truth. Christians too should recognize that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. Moreover, things like laws and social mores were available in their communities as the very grace of God. They had to figure out how to live in community and God was a big part of this.
Now, why this really matters is that as Reformers like Martin Luther and others claimed that the Catholic Church was basically making the same error as early Judaism. That meant, that all of Paul’s discussions on “works” are talking about any and every “good work” done by a Christian. Many in the Protestant world still cringe when someone tells them that Jesus or Paul wanted their followers to “do good works.” They like to repeat that the just shall live by faith or it is by grace through faith so that no one can boast. All of that is in the Bible, to be sure, but good works in general are the outworking of our justification. Luther himself saw this, and that is why his argument was against specific good works that Catholicism was calling good works (such as rosaries etc). He was very clear that anything Jesus commanded to do was a good work and should be done (See his book on Good Works).
What E.P. Sanders works has done, is to highlight that “doing good” is the extension of our relationships with God, and not something that one is trying to earn their place in heaven. Moreover, it helps us to see the Jews as not trying to work their way to heaven, like so many have claimed. Instead, they were relying on the grace of God and they even relied on their election by God. Jews were not notching their belts making sure they could go to heaven when they died. They were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah who would set this world back to rights.
So…as we have had more representative information come through ancient studies, it has affected the way we look at how Jesus lived in the first century, what Judaism was back then, and how to view Paul’s complex discussion on Law, good works, and grace. .
There is a quote I once heard by Cecilia Payne that if your evidence is good and your logic is clear then you should stick with your conclusion. This has often challenged me to be more honest with my evidence, but once I have my evidence and have done the necessary checking, then I seek ways to show my conclusion as being true. There are some helpful principles that we can keep in mind to keep us honest with our views.
Ask how many cases were examined? For instance, if someone says, “All Christians have had a certain experience,” are they really trying to say “all?” Instead, their statement can be drastically qualified to say, “Many Christians I know have had this experience.” However, if someone else comes forward and has done a fair assessment of Christians in general and their results are different, then we should go with the wider and fairer assessment. The point here is that the more cases studied, the better probability that the conclusion is accurate. As humans, we often do unfair and narrow assessments of a given subject. We find those who typically already agree with us and then we let them bolster our already hardened opinions. But, we could all use to be a bit more honest with ourselves.
I remember years ago someone had said, “Lots of people are saying…” It was in reference to something taking place at the church we were going to at the time. The problem with this statement is two-fold. First, sometimes this phrase is used as a way of getting one’s way. The point is, that if many people are talking about the issue, then that must mean those many people are right and leadership should take action. Obviously, even if many people were talking about something it would not mean that they are right. However, the second major issue with this ends up being inflation. Likely, the “lot” stands for a few, and thus not a lot. Upon asking people “who are these many people talking?” The list is usually one or two people. Thus, in the end even the complainer can usually realize there is no case after all.
At the end of the discussion about science, religion, or even someone’s mouth vomit 🙂 feel free to ask “How many cases?” or “Who is this referring to?” It makes everyone a lot more honest with their positions.
What are the chances that your beliefs accurately represent reality? There are many factors that come into play, but one of them is when beliefs rely on other beliefs. If one belief is barely probable and the second one is barely probable, then combined they are improbable given some basic math. For instance.
Lately, I have been having conversations with Mormons and so I have been personally applying this to their case, but this can be applied to numerous beliefs. Therefore, please do not think I am picking on Mormonism, it just so happens that I have been conversing with Mormons lately. 🙂
One of Mormonism’s cherished beliefs is that Joseph Smith received a Revelation to found the Mormon Church as the true Christian Institution in the 1800’s. There are three beliefs that are wrapped up in this foundational doctrine of Mormonism. The first, is that Joseph Smith at the age of 14 was given a revelation from God that other churches were false and he was to found the true one. The second, is that Christianity, shortly after the Apostles became corrupt and no one really had the truth since, (or at least not much of it). Third, that other Christian Churches did not have a claim on being “truly Christian.”
Now, let’s take those beliefs one by one and input some possible numbers.
Now, assuming that all three must be true simultaneously gives us some interesting numbers. Take out a calculator and multiple .5 x .5 and you will get .25, which is 25%. In other words, if only two of them had to be true at the same time for the whole to be true, then our probability for them combined is rather low. 25% is a low probability. In other words, it is unlikely to be the case. We however, are dealing with three beliefs that are wrapped up together. Grab your calculator one more time and multiple .5 x .5 x .5 and you will get .125, or 12.5%. At 12.5% we are in the highly improbable arena. And, let me point out once more, that this was being extremely favorable with each belief. I pushed the principle of charity to the edge in this assessment. Therefore the likelihood of all three actually being the case is something like 1%.
Now it is your turn. Take one of your beliefs and try to become informed as to why you think it is the case. What are the various beliefs that are wrapped up together and how do you weigh out evidence to determine the likelihood of something being true or not? Perhaps you could think about the opposite belief and ask the question as to the likelihood of that belief instead.
Either way, this approach is kind of fun. And, it teaches us one thing. That when beliefs rely upon each other, the likelihood of each being true goes down in relation to the total number.
One way of thinking about truth and falsity is by asking questions on the probability of a given belief. One just has to develop a system of thinking through the likelihood of a given belief.
Geisler and Rhodes in “Come let us Reason” lay some general guidelines on probability which I include below from page 134.
99% – Virtually Certain – Overwhelming evidence in its favor. Things like the law of gravity fit here.
90% – Highly Probable – Very good evidence in its favor. It is highly probably that no two snowflakes that you see in your yard are alike.
70% – Probable – Sufficient evidence in its favor. Most medicines have to pass this test.
50% -Possible – What are the chances that your team will win the coin toss.
30% – Improbable – Insufficient Evidence in its favor. At this point, no one believes it except the few that it worked for.
10% – Highly improbable – Very little evidence in its favor. Like the theory that Jesus spent his early years studying with a Hindu Guru.
1% – Virtually Impossible – Almost no evidence in its favor. The existence of unicorns is at this level.
Perhaps we could start with God’s existence. How probable, given the world that we live in, is the existence of God? At this point, atheists and theists will disagree. Yet, there seem to be good reasons to think that the features of the universe we live in are more probable given God’s existence than his non-existence. The Philosopher Michael Peterson (Christian) does this continually against the Philosopher Michael Ruse (Atheist) in their “Science, Religion, and Evolution” book. I highly recommend the read. If the likelihood of the universe developing, biological adaptation, evil and goodness, free-will, and more are more likely given a theistic view of the world, then God’s existence is more probable than his non-existence.
However, there are other religious beliefs that are not likely. Namely that this world is held up on a turtles back, or the universe is eternal, or that Joseph Smith really did re-start and purify the church. If you can show that the likelihood of a given belief is higher than 50%, you are in a ok place to defend the belief. The higher up the line you go with the percentages, the higher the likelihood of the belief.
It might even help us to examine various beliefs that we hold about ideas, people, or institutions against various evidence we are aware of to figure out the basic probabilities or likelihoods of their in fact being true.
Sometimes we reason in a circle, but we shouldn’t. In other words, we begin with what we are trying to end with. Christians are often guilty of this when it comes to the Bible. Here is what some do.
“The Bible is true because it is God’s inspired book.” Well, it is the case that the Bible is true, but there is no proof offered in this statement. It is like saying the Bible is true because it is the Bible. We have to do something else to begin to prove the initial statement.
Let’s take it in even clearer directions to see the problem. “The Bible is true because the Bible says so.” Now, this is a clear form of the circular reasoning that we sometimes see and should avoid participating in. Again, the Bible does say that it is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). However, that is not a good proof to a skeptic that it is so. Paul’s own grounding in writing that verse was hinting at how God had worked through the authors to bring about a product that is beneficial to God’s people.
Our job with the skeptic and with other Christians is to show if there are good reasons, outside of some authoritarian statement of belief, that a given belief is so. Here are a couple of ways to break the circle.
First, you could start off down a historical path. If the Bible lacks historical credibility where it really is trying to make historical points, then how could God inspire it? Isn’t God supposed to be truth? However, if one could find some great footing in showing the history of major sections of the Bible, it would at least lend greater weight to its claims.
Second, you could focus on Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is who he said he was, namely God in human flesh, and he said the Scriptures were God’s word to humanity, and thus without error, then we would have a divine/human person who has made it known to us. Christ himself is a powerful pathway outside of the circle.
Third, you could argue propositionally (as Richard Swinburne has) that if there is a God, he would seek to make himself known in two ways. The first is in a personal way. Coming in a way we all could understand (think of Jesus). The second is in a propositional way. Through a medium that is understandable. This would be the Bible. If it is the case that God would do something like this, then the grounds for an “inspired book” would be grounded in a philosophical sense. Namely, in the very nature of God, one who reveals himself.
As Christians we do believe the Bible is inspired. Yet our grounding for thinking the Bible is inspired is not based on circular reasoning. Let’s make sure our reasoning is solid, and to be so, we should not reason in a circle. 🙂
This most recent encounter with some Mormon missionaries has strengthened my resolve for rationality (Let the read understand this as logic/truth) in religion. What kept coming up, no matter the questions I asked, was that we who are not Mormon should go and pray about it. We should ask “Heavenly Father” to reveal to us the truth. Now, someone like myself believes that any honest seeker of the truth should be able to find the One True God. But, that is in part because of how we can verify who that true God is or not.
In the case of these Mormon missionaries, they had no way of falsifying their belief. In other words, they could not offer any reason of how their belief could be false. Why? Because they had some subjective experience that validated what they were seeking. Thus, now nothing is ever supposed to contravene that. Now, Christians…you may want to quote something in favor of your experiences sometimes. Namely, that a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument. But is this true?
There are two ways of looking at this question. But, there is a serious problem with this idea. Sure, if the experience is valid, (1)you did not have a confirmation bias, (2)it seems true compared to other beliefs, (3)and does not contradict known facts about reality. But, in the case of the Mormon plea to ‘pray’ (which I think is sincere), no amount of subjective experiences are going to overcome the fact that their system of religion is built on a weak foundation. Namely, their denial of Jesus’ divinity which is something he claimed, and thus his claim to eternity. Moreover, their thinking Christianity became apostate. Even more, their mishandling the Trinity.
You see, how does one go about delineating between the various, and different spiritual experiences that people have. Muhammad (founder of Islam) had spiritual experience, Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) had a supposed experience, many Hindus share of their experience. How do we determine which is really true? Well, there is a way. I am taking my categories from “Come Let us Reason” by Geisler and Brooks. One can find Ravi Zacharias make similar points in his Question and Answer sessions. These three avenues will help you sort the true from the false.
Sure, a person can have an experience, but if it denies significant portions of reality elsewhere, then something is awry with the experience. Namely, you cannot use the experience to justify your beliefs. And, if one does when their other beliefs are so contradictory to begin with, then that means there is a huge confirmation bias in the works.
To be a bull about the true does not mean being bullish. It sometimes just means standing firm. 🙂
So, I have been writing on why the church (or Christians) need to have good critical thinking. Check out all the recent articles before this one to dive deeper with me. I have been offering reasons, both biblical and more, that Christianity is not a ‘spiritual’ religion alone like so many others. As Rowan Williams once pointed out, Christianity is the most material religion. Namely, it is the most physically focused. It is also the most historically driven religion as well. Today, I met with some Mormon’s who were trying to convert a young man. The young man asked if I would come along. Well, after the encounter I can say once again, that Mormonism is a ship that cannot float (check out picture to the left).
I absolutely love debating and discussing the truth. But, that is not what these Mormon missionaries had in mind. The two younger women are dedicating a couple of years of their life to spreading the “truth” and they were not even focused on figuring it out. As they talked about their classic views, such as Christianity going into Apostasy shortly after the Apostles (no proof offered by the way), and how Joseph Smith, their 14 year old prophet who received the truth, when no one else in the world who sought God were worthy of receiving it (do you see the problem here?), was given it and he restored the church to the ‘truth.’
First, let me point out how prideful this comment is. Since Jesus promised that those who seek would find, and countless millions have sought and found truth and have joined Christian Churches, some young person who knows almost nothing, can tell them they are all wrong. Mormons will likely try and soften the blow of this point, but it cannot be deflected. Moreover, take any other 14 year old who is “searching” and what is the probability that we should believe them? Near 0% probability. We take this and apply it to Joseph Smith and the claim is unbelievable.
As I was sitting there listening to their ‘speech,’ I could not help but think about the kind of spell they were under. Now, by spell, I only mean to convey that they were not thinking rationally, and there has to be all sorts of things that are getting in the way of their rational processing. At one point I provided a test case for them. It was to find out at what point something could falsify their belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I offered a comparison to do this. I said, that if it was shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead, it would falsify Christianity. Therefore, if it was shown that Joseph Smith’s teachings contradicted the Bible, or there was no archaeological evidence for their book of Mormon, could it falsify their beliefs?
The basic answer they gave was no. One even went on to say that even if Jesus was not dead and resurrected in the past, that one day they believe he would be, and thus they could still believe it. Surely, this not mainstream Mormon teaching, but still. I then moved on to ask if there was a contradiction between their teachings on the Bible, which would they pick? They never chose. They were concerned with them having a bad understanding, or they would have to go and ask their authority, their leaders, their prophets etc. It was also kind of interesting. In the beginning it was encouraged to ask questions, but in the end it was encouraged to just pray. It seemed as if they wanted to share their message but not get their message challenged. The truth is, it has been a number of years since I have sat down and discussed with Mormons. But, I could not help to relate to the atheist at this point. Namely, if this is ‘religion’ I want nothing of it.
Good thing there is more to Christianity than a will to believe, but I will share more in the next blog.
Inductive and Deductive Reasoning are both important in life. I myself have tended toward inductive reasoning because of the kinds of obstacles I have encountered in day to day life. I think in part my gifts have combined well into looking at narrow or wide sets of data and coming to conclusions. I am always willing to look for more evidence that might affect the overall outcome of a conclusion. However, years ago I noticed a prominent Christian Philosopher named William Lane Craig making some very strong arguments for the Christian faith which were found in deductive form. This should not be surprising, as Christians have always had a host of arguments in this form. Still, seeing this lead thinker helped me to realize I needed to strengthen my deductive reasoning to formulate and follow arguments in deductive form with greater clarity.
What is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning?
Let’s take a look at one deductive argument for the existence of God.
Numbers 1 and 2 are premises in the argument. If 1 and 2 are true, and the conclusion properly stated, then they guarantee the conclusion. I highly recommend taking a look at William Lane Craig’s work on his website reasonablefaith.org
Now, let’s highlight an inductive argument. Evolution is by definition an inductive argument. It starts with particular evidence of creatures today and the diversity that is found throughout the world of these creatures. Then, it takes a look at various remains of creatures of past era’s and compares. The question is, does Evolution offer the kind of argument that looks at the widest possible data? I will leave that for you to decide. Christians have gone both ways on this one, so long as God is seen to be working through the processes. Still, the point remains. There is a look at the various data throughout the world. Then there are various explanations that are offered to explain all of that data. Evolution is an explanation used to explain all of that data.
The tricky thing about any inductive argument is that the argument has to offer the widest and strongest possible explanation while not ignoring other good evidence. Now, let’s move on from Evolution and let’s make a point about Christian doctrine.
Christians often build inductive arguments based off of the Bible. They have their two, three, or even series of verses on a topic. Thus, they have done their inductive work of gathering some evidence. Then, they formulate various conclusions from their position. One example could be that God is sovereign or that he has predestined events for humanity, or he has given creaturely freedom. The problem with many Christian positions is that they have often done their inductive work in selective ways. Therefore, they leave out key pieces of data from the Bible in areas that would broaden a given assessment. In any inductive argument, one has to be careful of bias in their selectivity of evidence. The lesson for us Christians is to see if our views are actually in line with a wide set of data from the Bible, and not just a few verses from our favorite teachers. It is easy to stand on one verse, but we must be careful not to let one verse dictate how we read all the other verses.
Understanding Correlation and Causation can help straighten out thousands of errors in thinking. And, I might add…in thinking about spiritual things especially. Let’s give a few examples.
The main point of causation and correlation, is that there can be events taking place simultaneously but not be caused by each other. Let’s take a look at the first example.
Every time that Shirley walks in the door you get a cold feeling. Does that mean that Shirley has brought the cold? Does that mean there might be something spiritually awry with Shirley? Likely not. However, perhaps in this case there is a good and easy explanation. If this is Wisconsin in the middle of Winter, anyone who opens any outside door is going to let a lot of heat out and the people in the house will feel less heat. In this case, the causation exists, but it does not correlate to attitude or spirituality in any way.
Jessica and the clapping hands give us a sense of what is going on with correlation and causation as well. The difficulty for us is that we only have so many claps and jumps to go off of. In other words we only have so much information. Instead of saying that the clapping hands are causing Jessica to jump, perhaps there is the sheer coincidence of hands clapping at the same pace of a workout song that Jessica is working out to. Moreover, the moment that you walked in, just happed to be the jumping exercises. Thus, the two correlate, but there is no causation.
The Visiting Minister’s scowl. Here there is a scowl to someone in the congregation. They left with the distinct feeling that something is wrong. But, the difficulty with thinking that the enemy is after him could be easily resolved by understanding more about the situation. The scowl at you is just a correlation, but you did not cause the scowl, nor has the enemy caused the scowl. The best way of knowing why the minister scowled, would be to ask him. The likely answer would be, “Hmmm…I was scowling????” Thus, the person that perceived a scowl is often wrong. However, the minister might say that his/her back was hurting her/him at that exact moment. Or, they might say they ate too much pizza the night before and they have an upset stomach because of their poor decision. The timing of the scowl, merely correlates to your passing by. There is no cause from the enemy or from yourself.
The town with the cancer cases is an interesting example. It would be easy to pin the number of cancer cases on a given water issue. Moreover, it is possible for something like this to be a contributing cause of poor health. A while back in a small town in Wisconsin researchers were actually asked to come and check the water cause of the number of cancer cases. The tests came back fine and similar to the surrounding towns that were not having more cases of cancer. Correlation is sometimes at work in these cases, which can give the initial observer the felt effect of causation, but in reality there was not cause whatsoever. The cancers will have to be pinned on something other than the water.
Dominoes. This one is plain for the eye to see. Just because the dominoes were falling at the same time as the computer malfunctioned, there is no causation. A little virus or bump in the electrical grid or hard-drive issue are possible causes of the computer malfunctioning. Dominoes however are not.
As human beings, we must be careful to separate causation from correlation. If we do this we can be better able to trace the facts and not apply unnecessary meaning to mere happenstance.