Guest post over on Defeating the Dragons about the meaning of “wisdom”.
In my last post, I addressed a common excuse atheists use to avoid dealing with testimony of God’s interactions with history: misuse of prior probability. Just because a particular event does not have precedent doesn’t mean it can be handwaved; a prior probability that is undefined cannot be treated as a prior probability of zero. Before July 16, 1945, there had never been such thing as a nuclear bomb, but that didn’t stop Trinity from going off.
As an example, I suggested a botched alien landing, evidenced for archeologists in the testimonies of a prehistoric people and a handful of complex mathematical engravings. Now, whether that is sufficient evidence doesn’t matter; the point is that we’d theoretically be willing to evaluate this evidence despite having no prior experience with alien landings and no reasonable way to estimate the prior probability of an alien landing.
However, several commenters responded by arguing that the analogy of an alien landing was improper, that these hypothetical aliens would necessarily be part of nature. An alien landing, while unprecedented, wouldn’t break any of the laws of physics, and so it’s not on the same level with a miracle. Read more of this post
When it becomes apparent that Christians like myself are depending primarily on history for empirical evidence of God’s involvement in history (imagine that!), atheists quite often appeal to probabilities….specifically, Bayesian probability.
Now, Bayesian probability is a complicated subject, but the relevant point here is that the probability of a particular event (or of a particular explanation being true) depends on its prior probability: the base rate of that particular event within the general population of events. Simply put, if a particular event is already known to be extremely rare, this “rareness” needs to be included in evaluating evidence for that event.
Bayes’ Theorem (image by mattbuck)
This becomes particularly important when we’re comparing competing explanations. Even if the evidence seems to point more toward one explanation, that explanation might not be the most probable if it was already very unlikely. For example, hearing a loud thunderous roar outside is good evidence that there’s a thunderstorm….unless, of course, you live in the desert outside Baghdad, where thunderstorms are vanishingly rare and roadside bombs are much more frequent. Read more of this post
I consider it a Great American Pastime to leisurely scroll through the delightful nuggets of wisdom that are Chick Tracts. With titles like A Demon’s Nightmare, Holy Joe, Back From The Dead?, and Camel’s In The Tent, it’s hard to find a more startlingly brilliant collection of superstition, misinformation, racial prejudice, illogicality, misanthropy, and outright fiction….unless, of course, you go digging through Kent Hovind’s stuff.
So yes, I’ll confess it: I love reading Chick Tracts. It’s incredibly entertaining to see just how ridiculous fundamentalism can get. Granted, Chick largely represents Independent Fundamental Baptists, which are a fringe group at best (though admittedly more common than snake handlers). “And such were some of you….”
One of the more famous titles is Big Daddy, a thrilling exposé on the problems with biology, geology, chemistry, cosmology, and the scientific method in general. “A professor thought we came from monkeys, until a student proved evolution was a lie. Humorous, yet powerful! Students love it.” Read more of this post
At the repeated urging of John from The Superstitious Naked Ape, I took the time to sit down and watch Dr. Richard Carrier’s lecture for the UNCG Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics on why he believes Jesus never existed. You can watch it yourself here. Or you can just read my comments below as I go through the video.
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“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
We see this and similar quotes thrown around quite often, usually in attempts to vilify religious belief. As such, it’s rather laughable; pretending that Christians secretly disbelieve in God is as ridiculous as pretending that atheists secretly know God exists. It’s not an argument or assertion that has any place in rational discourse.
But blind faith does exist; we see it all the time. When confronted with difficult evidence, certain small-minded people like to handwave it by declaring “Well, I have faith!” This sort of idiocy deserves all the ridicule it can get.
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“I realized that fundamentalism…is unnecessary.” YES.
Definitions can be tricky things. Words have wildly divergent meanings depending on who is using them and why. So nailing down concrete definitions is a good thing to do any time you get the chance.
I’m sure I’m appropriating this from somewhere, but oh well.
Atheist: a person who finds it improbable that an agent cause brought about our reality.
Theist: a person who finds it probable that an agent cause brought about our reality.
Agnostic: anybody else.
This is the bottom line. All other definitions are just rhetorical posturing.
One of the principal reasons I moved away from fundamentalism was the overwhelming presence of fallacies. As a good Fundamentalist Homeschooler, I was taught to hunt down and identify fallacies as efficiently and ruthlessly as the heat-seeking missile shown below.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder missile uses an infrared heat-seeking module and a warhead that expands into a jagged spinning ring of metal death on impact. Image courtesy USAF.
Unfortunately, fundamentalism is home to some pretty egregious fallacies in its own right, ones that became rapidly apparent as I turned my abilities back on my own indoctrinated beliefs. Wait, why do we believe such-and-such? No good reason at all? Interesting.
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The ring-like arcs in this image are the light from even-more-distant galaxies, bent into a halo by the gravitational distortion of the central galaxy. This gravitational lensing allows us to measure the weight of dark matter inside the central galaxy….something we don’t yet really know anything about. But we’ll find out someday. Image courtesy NASA.
Some questions have answers. But some questions are just impossible. Absolutely, unquestionably, without-a-doubt impossible.
I was raised to believe that all answers were knowable; all problems had solutions. They were all in the Bible, somewhere; if you just looked long enough and hard enough, you’d find them. All of life’s answers could be found by study, prayer, and listening to what authorities told you the Bible meant. 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” was touted as the unquestionable proof that the Bible has All The Answers….despite the fact that this passage has nothing to do with the contents of Scripture.
Turns out, we were wrong. Not because the Bible isn’t useful. As it turns out, abandoning fundamental prooftext-crazed literalism doesn’t suddenly cause the pages of your Bible to crumble and fall apart. It’s still the same book. But we were wrong: the Bible doesn’t have all the answers, because some questions don’t have answers.
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