My Unbelievable appearance is now available for listening and download

My appearance on the UK Christian radio show is now available for listening or downloading as a podcast here. Give it a listen, and discuss it here. A couple notes:

First, I kind of regret not referencing John Loftus’ outsider test for faith on the show directly, though I did allude to it indirectly when I recommended that Christians try to imagine how they would feel, hearing arguments similar to their own from a Mormon or Muslim.

I mention this partly because, after recording the show, I realized that John appeared on the show opposite Randal Rauser recently to discuss the outsider test. Notably, Randal didn’t dispute the validity of the outsider test. Instead, he tried to spin it into an attack on “naturalism.” I won’t rehash the problems with such arguments, because they don’t remotely affect my point about the weakness of the “evidence” for Jesus’ resurrection.

Second, during the show Justin (the host) brought up an alleged miracle a listener had e-mailed about. You can read the details here. Personally, it doesn’t sound like even a particularly impressive magic trick. And if any Christians think I’m being closed-minded saying that, they should imagine how they would respond to a similar report involving Sathya Sai Baba or Uri Geller.

Other than that, it doesn’t look like the Unbelievable website has a good place for listeners to discuss the show, so if some of Justin’s regular listeners were to stop by to comment, I’d be delighted to hear their perspective on the show.

UPDATE: The thread on the show for Unbelievable’s Facebook page is here.

  • Noah Smith

    Unbelievable has a facebook page for discussion. There’s an enormous thread on the miracle claim

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      I know, and I linked to it above. (Actually, there’s a thread on the show I was on, now, and I’ll add a link to that.)

    • Steven Carr

      Justin threw me off his facebook page.

      I think because I quoted one of his favourite apologists explaining that demons could well be helping lunatics to levitate.

      One thing Christians don’t like is reading quotes of what Christians say!

      • Noah Smith

        Have you ever checked out the christian premier radio facebook site? it’s like travelling back to the 9th century.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    At
    the end of our prayer, I felt something move underneath my hand and I
    pulled it back to look at what was happening. His previously scarred
    shut eye was open and underneath I could see the white of an eyeball.
    The man reached up and touched his eye and said something I didn’t
    understand as the translator had moved on. Another person took our
    attention away and asked us to pray for them so we did.
    After
    the prayer time was completed, the pastor of the congregation gave a
    message. During his message the man we had prayed for came onto the
    stage and gave a testimony about his eye which was translated for me.

    Wow, so he miraculously healed someone, and he can’t even remember precisely where and when it happened. And he obviously was not granted the power to understand foreign languages.

    Why, it’s Unbelievable!

  • Richard_Wein

    Hi Chris. I’ve just listened to the podcast.

    You rightly made the point early on that what needs to be explained is the Bible. More specifically we need to explain why the Bible says the things it does, and not necessarily why the events mentioned in the Bible happened, since we don’t know that they did happen. I don’t think Callum really got this point, and I’d like you to have returned to it when he later claimed (a couple of times) that naturalistic explanations were inadequate. Human fallibility and credulity (never mind deliberate invention or fraud) are sufficient to explain why events are mentioned in the Bible, without needing to assume that they actually happened. (Of course, the apologist may still claim that truth is the better explanation, but that invites the response that human fallibility is a more parsimonious explanation than a miracle. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.)

    Callum never got around to making much of an argument for the resurrection. He did little more than repeat Swinburne’s useless probability figures. In case any unwary listener was impressed by such pseudo-mathematics, it might have been useful to mention the sound-bite: “Garbage In–Garbage Out”.

    BTW I listened to the Loftus/Rauser podcast too. I thought Rauser tried to pour cold water on the Outsider Test by suggesting there was a symmetry between theism and atheism, so that the test was just as much of a problem for atheists. As far as I recall, he completely evaded the issue of the diversity of religious beliefs. Even if there were an appropriate symmetry between atheism and a non-specific theism (which I don’t accept), the Christian would still have the problem that he accepts a specific religion. It’s far harder to argue that there’s any sort of symmetry between specific religions and atheism, and I suspect that’s why Rauser evaded the issue.

    • S.D.

      I thought you might be interested in quite another reaction to the show. I have to say that I (and in all likelihood most of your British listeners) felt that Chris didn’t pick up on Callum’s sincere attempt not to embarrass him for being wholly unfamiliar with the probabilities approach he was discussing. Chris’s claim to having read Swinburne was pretty painfully untrue as the conversation progressed, and you (if you had British ears) could hear both Justin and Callum trying to keep the conversation from going an embarrassing direction. If he were familiar at all with Swinburne’s approach, then he certainly wouldn’t have raised the sorts of naïve–I mean the word in its philosophical sense–objections to Callum’s points that came out in the course of the show. An obvious example was Chris’s objection from the claims of Mormonism. Callum did a very nice job explaining that *on naturalistic grounds* the evidences for and against Mormonism and Christianity are not equal. Chris appeared not to understand this point as the conversation carried on, even repeating his assertion without so much as acknowledging Callum’s counter-argument. He merely reduced Callum’s claim to something like “well, I don’t agree with Mormonism because I wasn’t brought up a Mormon.” I think at that point in the show the majority of us were trying to keep the eyes from rolling. Chris’s assertion amounted to the following: all things between Mormonism and Christianity being equal, the evidences for the latter are no more probable (or improbable) than the evidences for the former. No one who was even cursorily aware of the work of Swinburne could honestly reduce a Swinburnian probabilistic argument to this. Callum wasn’t *evading* the issue of a plurality of religious beliefs. He was offering brief and rather general descriptions of the probabilistic argument that a beginner could understand (as he was asked to do explicitly at the beginning of the show). Again, anyone familiar with the work Swinburne has done–anyone who has peaked at his books–knows that the probabilistic arguments are both extensive with respect to the relevant information and cumulative. I think Callum did an admirable job of presenting a “Beginner’s Guide” to the argument in under two hours. Of course, had Chris done the requisite study, the conversation might have developed in any number of interesting directions. I suppose asking someone who bragged about turning people *away from* the study of source texts (who in the WORLD would brag about that?) to do the requisite reading is expecting a bit much.
      Anyway, that’s what I took away from the program. Sharpen the steel, Chris. I would’ve like to have heard a more learned contribution from you.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

        I thought you might be interested in quite another reaction to the show. I have to say that I (and in all likelihood most of your British listeners) felt that Chris didn’t pick up on Callum’s sincere attempt not to embarrass him for being wholly unfamiliar with the probabilities approach he was discussing. Chris’s claim to having read Swinburne was pretty painfully untrue as the conversation progressed, and you (if you had British ears) could hear both Justin and Callum trying to keep the conversation from going an embarrassing direction.

        False. I have read Swinburne’s book, and I’m quite familiar with Bayesianism in general. I’m somewhat skeptical of the value of it as applied to history. You can get some of that here, in my review (which I sadly never got around to finishing) of Richard Carrier’s Proving History. On the other hand, I’ve warmed to Bayesianism since I started doing a systematic read-through of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blogging a couple months ago.

        Though you do have me worrying there may have been a huge culture-based miscommunication on this point. I’ll have to contact Justin and Calum about this.

        If he were familiar at all with Swinburne’s approach, then he certainly wouldn’t have raised the sorts of naïve–I mean the word in its philosophical sense–objections to Callum’s points that came out in the course of the show. An obvious example was Chris’s objection from the claims of Mormonism. Callum did a very nice job explaining that *on naturalistic grounds* the evidences for and against Mormonism and Christianity are not equal.

        Wrong again. The evidence for Christianity and Mormonism are in fact very different, but Calum admitted that, hypothetically, if we didn’t have such strong evidence against Mormonism, he’d still be very skeptical of Mormonism’s claims. The question then is whether he can justify assigning a different prior to Mormonism. Calum tried to by invoking religious context, but I pointed out that a Mormon would claim to have just as good of context for Mormonism as Calum claims for Christianity. As far as I can tell, Calum never really tried to respond to that point.

        The only other thing in your comment I see as worth responding to is your claim that I “bragged about turning people *away from* the study of source texts.” That’s a bizarre misrepresentation of what I said on the show. What I’m trying to do is warn people about wildly inaccurate writers like Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig (for reasons I’ve documented at great length in my various writings). I’m trying to warn people who might not even have access to a big university library, like I did when I wrote my first book. I’m also trying to make it so that people who do have access to university libraries don’t have to take quite so much time to figure out not to trust the likes Strobel and Craig, which they shouldn’t have to, any more than people should need to get a Ph.D. in biology before they learn not to trust creationists about science.

        • S.D.

          Okay, it’s false. You’ve read Swinburne’s book. Do you mind saying which one? If you do a quick Google search, you can figure out which of his books (plural) expound probabilistic arguments for Christian belief. No one will be the wiser ;). Now, in all fairness to me, what I wrote in my criticism is that you were clearly unfamiliar with the probabilities approach that Callum was discussing, i.e. Swinburne’s arguments. I didn’t claim or mean to imply that you were unfamiliar with the concept of probabilities. That said, your responses (all of them on this point) were nothing more than sweeping assertions based on personal incredulity, e.g. “Swinburne got it all wrong because I’m an atheist” (I’m paraphrasing, but your claim was of this sweeping variety). You never explained why he got *all* of the probabilities wrong (there are dozens that he accounts for in his arguments), and neither Justin nor Callum pressed you for details out of obvious concern for embarrassment. They might easily have insisted you offer at least one reason why one of the probabilities, say the probability of God’s existence, is less than 0.5. They didn’t. They were being generous. Secondly, you said “wrong again” in your response above and then followed those words with a complete agreement about what I said. I truly feel you would benefit from taking greater care with how you express yourself. People who disagree with you aren’t always *trying* to misunderstand. It’s a good rule of thumb in philosophical discussions to assume the best of your interlocutors (and carry your sense of humor around with you). So, the hypothetical is the problem. We *do* know that Joseph Smith had a storied history as a con artist. Asking Callum to scrap that piece of information is indeed tantamount to affixing the clause “All things being equal” to your claim about Christianity and Mormonism. What Callum said, and you were dismissive of this point, was that we (a) have evidence that Joseph Smith was a violent con man and (b) have multiple evidences that Jesus was not. These pieces of information simply must be factored into the probabilistic calculus. Your response, that we have *other* cases of weirdness and con artistry in the founding of religious sects, is a textbook non-sequitor. That’s like saying, “look, there are a lot of teachers who have sex with students, so it’s probably the case that you (a teacher) have sex with your students. I realize that public education is running downhill faster than we can catch it, but surely your undergraduate institution covered basic logic fallacies at some point. Last point, you *literally* said on the show that you discourage people new to apologetics and philosophy from going to source texts. If I misunderstood your meaning, then I think I can hardly be blamed. Again, pay attention to how you express yourself and knowing that you aren’t an especially careful fellow be generous with people when they “misconstrue” your meaning. I wish you the best and sincerely hope you continue to pursue philosophical study, perhaps with a bit more seriousness.

          • Mark

            Dude, Callum didn’t even try to justify most of his claims; he didn’t defend Swinburne’s argument or probability assignments in any meaningful way, just announced that they existed. In such a scenario, it’s difficult to see why it’s automatically incumbent on Chris to show why those assignments are wrong. If Callum’s claim on the show is literally nothing more interesting than “Swinburne thinks that a 50% prior for theism is defensible,” then it’s perfectly reasonable to respond that lots of people besides Swinburne disagree. And I’m not blaming Callum for this – it seems mainly like a side-effect of the show’s length and format that he had to spend all his time explaining what Swinburne is even talking about, rather than why Swinburne is right.

            As for the Joseph Smith thing, you’ve misunderstood (again). Chris pointed out that Callum would be unconvinced by Mormon apologetics even if we lacked evidence for Smith’s deceptiveness. If you agree it’s reasonable to be skeptical of Mormonism in such a hypothetical situation, then you HAVE to maintain the tesimony for orthodox Christian miracles is of better quality than the testimony for Mormon miracles – even outside of the hypothetical. It’s pretty simple: if you agree that A entails B provided that C, and you agree that you wouldn’t believe B whether or not C is true (which it isn’t), then you’re obligated to disbelieve A in fact. To turn around and then complain that C isn’t actually true, as you’ve been repeatedly doing, is the true non sequitur.

            I really feel your snide remarks about logical fallacies and uncharitable interpretations embarrass you badly in light of your, well, logical fallacies and uncharitable interpretations.

          • Ophis

            “You never explained why he got *all* of the probabilities wrong (there are dozens that he accounts for in his arguments)”

            I think you may have unwittingly answered your own objection here.

            ” What Callum said, and you were dismissive of this point, was that we (a) have evidence that Joseph Smith was a violent con man and (b) have multiple evidences that Jesus was not.”

            Point a is true, but point b is not. As Chris mentioned on the show, we have far more extensive evidence about Joseph Smith’s life than we have about Jesus’. If we had early reports about Jesus from neutral or hostile sources, like we have for Joseph Smith, we might well find that Jesus was as bad as Smith was. Unfortunately we have no such sources so we just don’t know.

            ” Your response, that we have *other* cases of weirdness and con artistry in the founding of religious sects, is a textbook non-sequitor. That’s like saying, “look, there are a lot of teachers who have sex with students, so it’s probably the case that you (a teacher) have sex with your students.”

            We don’t just have a few isolated cases though. If you are a Christian, you presumably believe that every other religious group (excluding Judaism) has its roots in delusions, legends and conmen. The claim that Christianity couldn’t have had a similar origin requires justification.

        • Richard_Wein

          Though you do have me worrying there may have been a huge culture-based miscommunication on this point.

          Don’t worry. I think SD was imagining it. I’m a Brit too, and I detected no such thing.

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