Friday, May 22, 2015

Thumbs down for John Loftus

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2015/05/22/another-terrible-atheist-debate-performance/

The Heroes And Villains Of History

I just heard Michael Medved discussing a recent study about who people consider the best and worst figures in history. The study involved about seven thousand students, with an average age of 23, from a few dozen countries around the world.

Jesus was ranked as the sixth best historical figure. George Bush was ranked as the fourth worst, even worse than Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung.

The study divided the respondents into four groups. The article I linked above comments:

"The only figure that all four groups disliked was Bush, the study found."

I think the study results reflect more negatively on the respondents than on Bush. The results also reflect poorly on the sources who have been misinforming these students, like the mainstream media and Hollywood.

Keep this study in mind the next time you hear about how much more intelligent the people in other nations are and how we should heed what they tell us about how bad people like George Bush are, how bad capitalism is, etc. If students in other nations, as well as many in this country, have such a severe case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, why should we trust their judgment? And the study results are absurd even if you ignore the ridiculous treatment of Bush.

Faithless Christians lock their doors!


In this response to Abolitionist John Reasnor's Opening Statements on incrementalism, Clinton Wilcox of Scott Klusendorf's Life Training Institute once again demonstrates that he doesn't believe the Gospel is the answer to abortion. This isn't a debate over political strategy, but the Gospel and how Christians should view sin and repentance.


That's like saying, Clinton Wilcox locks his doors, which once again demonstrates that he doesn't think the Gospel is the answer to car theft and house-burglary. 

The Gospel is the answer for people who believe the answer. For people who believe the Gospel.

But what about people who don't believe the Gospel? 

Dark skies


This is a surrejoinder to Alan's rejoinder:

But to answer Steve's question, no, it would not automatically connote a lunar eclipse since I presume ancient people could easily distinguish between a lunar eclipse that causes a reddish color and something more dramatic such as a nearby volcano causing severe atmospheric conditions.

To begin with, most ancient people never witnessed a volcanic eruption. You must live where there are active volcanoes. And even then, volcanic eruptions are rare. By contrast, a lunar eclipse is far more common. 

The biblical description—and this was a point in my article—conveys a cluster of heavenly and terrestrial events happening in conjunction with each other (e.g. Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, Rev 6). Not piece meal. Which explains why it terrifies the wicked. Meteorites, volcanoes, and perhaps some other catastrophe most certainly will cause this.

i) On what exegetical basis does he conclude that volcanoes (in conjunction with other phenomena) "most certainly" will cause this. None of his prooftexts specifies volcanos. At best, that's a possible way to explain the imagery. 

ii) Moreover, none of his prooftexts says the wicked are terrified by volcanic eruptions (in conjunction with other phenomena). 

this is not some normal eclipse that lasts mere moments or minutes,

A lunar eclipse can last for 100 minutes, not "mere moments" or a few minutes. 

it conveys a universal phenomenon, not a local region

A volcanic eruption is a local, regional phenomenon–not a universal phenomenon. 

At best, Alan can postulate a supervolcanic eruption with global atmospheric effects. But that's reading something into the text rather than reading something out of the text. At best, that would be consistent with the text, not an implication of the text. 

"Then the kings of the earth…"

i) To a modern reader, "the earth" will trigger a planetary perspective, but it would be anachronistic to impute that outlook to John's audience.

ii) In addition, taking refuge in mountains and caves indicates a local, regional perspective. Many parts of the world don't have mountains or caves. 

iii) Another problem with taking a global perspective is that endtime prophecy is typically set in the Mideast. What was the known world to the original audience.

If, however, we're going to broaden that out to include North America, South America, Japan, Iceland, Indonesia, &c., then why assume the Middle Eastern locale for endtime events is literally intended? Why not view that as a placeholder for events which may, in fact, occur in different capitals, with different superpowers? There's that tension in dispensational hermeneutics. 

But volcanic ash can cause the moon to have a reddish color.

But in that event an observer would seen the sun as well as the moon. Indeed, the sun would be more clearly visible than the moon-give the superior brightness of the sun. 

Steve is assuming some constant effect as well as only being perceived in a single, local region. The way the sun and the moon will appear to someone in say America will likely be perceived at a greater or lesser degree in Europe.

I don't see how that rescues Alan's argument. If the volcanic ash is thick enough to obscure the sun, it will be thick enough to obscure the moon. If, conversely, it's thin enough to emit filtered moonlight, then it's thin enough to emit filtered sunlight. Although the effect may be localized, it will be the same effect depending on the locality. If the fallout is think in that region, it will obscure sun and moon alike. If it's think in that region, it will filter sun and moon alike. 

Indeed, it could filter sunlight but opaque moonlight since moonlight is dimmer than sunlight–whereas Alan's theory requires the reverse. That's his quandary. 

Sure it did, at least the sun. 

I have doubts about Alan's interpretation of the NASA pictures:

i) To begin with, what they clearly show is not the sun or moon, but a landscape floodlit by red illumination.

ii) Alan doesn't point to what he has in mind, but I guess he identifies the fireball directly above the volcano as the sun. If so, I question that identification. To begin with, it would be unusual for the sun to rise or set right over a mountain. If a mountain is located in the north or south, it will never be in the vicinity of sunrise or sunset. 

And even if a mountain is located in the east or west, it would only be during a few days of the year that the sun might rise or set right over the mountain. 

iii) Volcanos generate plasma clouds and St. Elmo's fire. They eject fiery particles into the atmosphere directly above the volcano. 

In addition, clouds above the volcano will be underlit by the lava and magma in the crater. That's not the sun. Rather, that's a reflection. 

iv) Moreover, the pictures don't' show the moon at all. 

Further, the thicker the clouds of ash, the more it would block out the moon, the lighter the more likely to give it a red tint.

Again, though, Alan's dilemma is that sun and moon are paired prophecy. Ash that's thick enough to block sunlight will block moonlight, while ash that's thick enough to filter moonlight will filter sunlight. So he needs to explain how his theory is consistent with reddish moonlight but opaquing sunlight. 

Lunar eclipses do not cause the reaction we see in the Bible from the celestial disturbances (notice the plural). 

That's not an exegetical conclusion. Alan is projecting what he thinks the observer will find fearful. 

God's eschatological harbinger will not be an atomized luminary event—it will be a cluster of events warning the wicked of his impending wrath.

You can have a cluster of events involving a meteor shower, solar eclipse, and lunar eclipse. You can have a sequential solar and lunar eclipse.

Not sure what Steve's point is. Ancient as well as modern people regard them as ominous. 

Modern observers don't typically regard a solar or lunar eclipse as an omen. 

I am sure Steve is not a preterist. I am almost certain he interprets the celestial disturbances in Mt 24 happening in the future. So not sure how "ancient people" is relevant since this is a prophetic description of a future people's reaction.

i) When we interpret an ancient text, we must consider for what that would mean to the original audience. 

ii) Moreover, even prophecies about the distance future are couched in imagery familiar to the ancient audience, viz. calvary, archers, warhorses, fortified cities, siege warfare. So that's the interpretive point of entry. 

John saw a vision of a harbinger that God will use to warn the world of his impending wrath. This harbinger is obviously nature, where John uses imagery to describe a unique cluster of heavenly-terrestrial events that will happen just before the day of the Lord.

If the imagery is symbolic, then we must ask what it stands for. For instance, what about Zechariah's vision of a lying scroll and winged women (Zech 5:1,9). Does Alan think that's literal?

What about Joseph's dream of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him (Gen 37:9). Does he think that's literal?

I think it's useful to explore how eschatological imagery could be physically realistic. But I don't regard that as the default meaning. There's no presumption that it must be physically realistic. That's just one of the interpretive options.

Steve selectively left out eyewitness accounts of seeing a reddish moon caused by volcanic ash. 

Alan keeps evading the conundrum of moonlight without sunlight. How does volcanic ash obscure the sun without obscuring the moon? 

So my point is that no one can read the biblical accounts of the harbinger in Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, and Rev 6 and walk away thinking that there is going to be a single, isolated lunar eclipse. 

No doubt the eschatological imagery is far more varied. 

Most Republicans Think Homosexuality Is Acceptable

Here's a Hot Air post on a Gallup poll to that effect. Notice this line in the post:

"It may be that, even among GOP skeptics of gay marriage, the normalization of gays in the media over the past 15 years has caused their moral opinions of homosexuality to change if not their belief that marriage, as a religious institution, should remain one for heterosexual couples only."

There it is: "in the media". Poor time management is a major problem in cultures like the United States. It's worse than abortion, neglect of the poor, and other moral problems people often cite when asked what's wrong with a culture. Americans spend far too much time on trivial and vulgar television programs and movies, following sports, and the like. Their priorities are desperately wrong, and their time management is awful. Click on the Time Management label at the end of this post, and you can see an archive of posts I've written on the subject. I've cited a lot of polling data and other research that's been done. One of the reasons why parents, pastors, teachers, and other people in such positions of influence don't adequately address the problem with time management is that so many of them are a significant part of the problem.

Hot Air also has a post on how most Americans think that at least 20% of the population is homosexual. Where did they get that idea? Largely from the media they spend too much time with. The Hot Air post refers to "visibility in celebrity culture" and how "gays and gay-rights issues seem to be everywhere in media and on the news". Why are people following celebrity culture and depending on the mainstream media so much to begin with? And why didn't their misconceptions about homosexuality get corrected by more accurate sources they were spending time with? Because they aren't spending much time with more accurate sources. Even if they were, they probably wouldn't want to spend the time needed to do further research, think through the issues sufficiently, etc. Americans have more important things to do with their time, like watching sitcoms, going to baseball games, doing unnecessary housework, and reading romance novels.

The Most Plausible Apocalyptic Skies

 I want to reply to Steve's critique of my post:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2015/05/supervolcano.html 

He writes:
Here's a provocative post:
That's very interesting. However, I don't think the scientific or exegetical evidence justifies the conclusion:
i) To ancient readers, wouldn't a blood red moon automatically connote a lunar eclipse? Isn't that the association it would ordinarily trigger?
First, Steve does not mention the point of my post, which impinges on his critique. Instead, he focuses on a single aspect of it which distorts my actual argumentation. My point was to explain the plausibility of a scenario of the biblical description of the celestial harbinger to the return of Christ over above Mark Biltz's isolated lunar eclipse theory.

But to answer Steve's question, no, it would not automatically connote a lunar eclipse since I presume ancient people could easily distinguish between a lunar eclipse that causes a reddish color and something more dramatic such as a nearby volcano causing severe atmospheric conditions.
ii) In principle, there are different things that can block sunlight. However, when sun and moon are paired, with unusual optical effects attributed to both, surely that would suggest a solar and lunar eclipse.
The biblical description—and this was a point in my article—conveys a cluster of heavenly and terrestrial events happening in conjunction with each other (e.g. Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, Rev 6). Not piece meal. Which explains why it terrifies the wicked. Meteorites, volcanoes, and perhaps some other catastrophe most certainly will cause this. 
And that's an accurate description of both. In a solar eclipse, the sun turns black (except for a fiery halo or annulus), while the moon turns red. 

See my comments above. Moreover, the biblical description conveys (1) that this is not some normal eclipse that lasts mere moments or minutes, and (2) it conveys a universal phenomenon, not a local region (e.g. "Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free...” Rev 6:15)
iii) As for volcanic eruptions, how would volcanic ash have a differential effect on sunlight and moonlight? It would block out both, right?
Yes, of course, which is interesting that Matthew's account has the moon "not to give its light." But volcanic ash can cause the moon to have a reddish color. Heavenly-terrestrial catastrophes will not last for a mere moment. The biblical description conveys that this is an unprecedented event, lasting more than a moment.
iv) Even assuming, moreover, that it had a differential effect, if it's thick enough to block out sunlight, it will be more than thick enough to block out moonlight. The sun is far brighter than the moon, so what blocks sunlight will certainly block moonlight–which is dimmer to begin with. And if it's thin enough to let some light filter through, that would be sunlight rather than moonlight.
Steve is assuming some constant effect as well as only being perceived in a single, local region. The way the sun and the moon will appear to someone in say America will likely be perceived at a greater or lesser degree in Europe.
v) Although the NASA pictures are spectacular, they don't show a blackened sun and a reddened moon.
Sure it did, at least the sun. Further, the thicker the clouds of ash, the more it would block out the moon, the lighter the more likely to give it a red tint. And this gets me back to my point in my article. Lunar eclipses do not cause the reaction we see in the Bible from the celestial disturbances (notice the plural). God's eschatological harbinger will not be an atomized luminary event—it will be a cluster of events warning the wicked of his impending wrath.
vi) Didn't ancient people regard solar and lunar eclipses as very ominous (in both senses of the word). They took celestial prodigies seriously.
Not sure what Steve's point is. Ancient as well as modern people regard them as ominous. (1) I am sure Steve is not a preterist. I am almost certain he interprets the celestial disturbances in Mt 24 happening in the future. So not sure how "ancient people" is relevant since this is a prophetic description of a future people's reaction. (2) Again, the harbinger is a cluster of celestial-terrestrial events, not a isolated blimp on the radar.
vii) Perhaps Alan's unstated objection is that it's physically impossible to have a solar and lunar eclipse simultaneously, inasmuch as sun, moon, and earth must occupy different relative positions respectively:
My stated objection is what is more plausible:

"It is phenomenological language— that is, from our human perspective. So, what will be the exact nature of these celestial events? It is likely that the falling stars refer to meteors and the moon turning blood red and the sun darkening will be caused by an earthly cataclysmic disaster, possibly volcanoes (or worse, a singular super volcano). In any case, it will not be a single celestial event. It will be multiple events functioning together as a salvo of havoc, signaling the day of the Lord as unmistakable (page 63)."
In a solar eclipse, the moon comes between the sun and the earth: sun>moon>earth
In a lunar eclipse, the earth comes between the sun and the moon: sun>earth>moon
But that just means the imagery isn't realistic. It's stock, eschatological imagery. Indeed, John saw this in a vision. 
John saw a vision of a harbinger that God will use to warn the world of his impending wrath. This harbinger is obviously nature, where John uses imagery to describe a unique cluster of heavenly-terrestrial events that will happen just before the day of the Lord.
viii) Finally, I'll conclude with some eyewitness accounts of volcanic ash:
Steve selectively left out eyewitness accounts of seeing a reddish moon caused by volcanic ash. 

So my point is that no one can read the biblical accounts of the harbinger in Joel 2, Mt 24, Luke 21, and Rev 6 and walk away thinking that there is going to be a single, isolated lunar eclipse. Yet Mark Biltz popularizer of the blood-moon theory wants us to think so. 



Mere evangelical conditionalism

https://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/mere-evangelical-conditionalism-1/

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Incrementalism Debate Opening Argument

http://lti-blog.blogspot.com/2015/05/incrementalism-debate-opening-argument.html

Abolish moral confusion


I will comment on this "review":


He didn’t address the problem that we are not to do a little evil that good may come. Or at least he begged the question that legislation that dehumanizes groups of people, those exceptions such as victims conceived in rape, is not evil. You cannot just assume it isn’t evil you have to show that it isn’t.

For some odd reason, it doesn't even occur to Don that both sides, both debaters, have a burden of proof to discharge. What makes Don imagine the onus lies exclusively on the prolifer? 

He himself is begging the question by presuming that this amounts to "doing a little evil that good may come." But it's incumbent on him to show how that's the case.

Because there are some positive results from something does not necessarily make it right.

Same problem. He just leaves that dangling in mid-air. It's true that positive results don't necessarily make an action right. Conversely, it's equally true that positive results don't necessarily make an action wrong.

So he can't just leave it hanging there. He needs to offer some criteria for when that's right and when that's wrong. 

Take military ethics. Unless you're a pacifist, you believe that some actions which are ordinarily wrong become morally permissible or even obligatory in extreme situations. 

But at the same time I supported legislation and candidates that said otherwise. They were the lesser of evils as I saw it.But the problem with this you don’t really find this in the bible. In fact you see the opposite.

Many people are confused about the word "evil" in "the lesser of two evils." But that doesn't mean choosing between a lesser wrong and a greater wrong. Rather, that's choosing between bad and worse.

If I can't saving everyone in a nursing home that's on fire, I have a choice between bad (letting some die) and worse (letting all die). It's not immoral for me to rescue those I can. It's not a lesser "evil" in that sense.

And as the old saying goes, our actions speak much louder than our words. 

Not to mention how the inactions of AHA speak much louder than their hifalutin rhetoric.

I would say that the incrementalist strategy is a strategy that is without faith. It assumes that God will not act, it ignores the biblical norm we see, and it allows for the person to take on actions that send a message to the world that is inconsistent with God’s word. I think that is faithless. 

Honestly, that's just so dumb. It's like Christian parents who refuse to take a gravely ill child to the doctor because God can heal their child. 

It's like a Christian farmer who says, "I won't plant any crops this spring because God can make food miraculously materialize on my dinner table!"

Imagine if every pro-life leader in this country said, “No more compromise!” Imagine if everyone who calls themselves “pro-life” said, “I will not support anything or anyone that does not call ALL abortion sin and call for its immediate and total abolition!” Imagine if we just said to all those who opposed immediate and total abolition, “You can throw us in the furnace if you want to but I will not bow down to your idol for I know that God can save us and even if He didn’t we will worship only God.”

"Imagine" is the operative word. Imagine if everyone was nice to each other. Imagine if all Muslim militants became pacifists tomorrow. Imagine if all military dictators suddenly renounced violence. Imagine if all Latin American drug cartels became Christian charities. Imagine if all "abortion providers" changed their minds overnight. 

It's so hopelessly Pollyannaish. 

Selling evolution


Writing in Nature ("Selling Darwin"), Coyne has conceded:
[T]ruth be told, evolution hasn't yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn't evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of 'like begets like'. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.

"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be"


"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," said Gates, who as U.S. secretary of defense helped end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that barred openly gay individuals from serving in the military. 
http://www.aol.com/article/2015/05/21/boy-scouts-of-america-president-says-ban-on-gay-leaders-unsustai/21186025/

That's confused on two or three basic levels:

i) Although we must deal with the "world" as it is, not as we might wish it to be, the BSA is hardly the "world." Rather, that's a free association. A private organization.

In the nature of the case, a free association can be whatever the members wish it to be. A free association is selective. A subset of like-minded individuals who come together based on common concerns or shared interests.

ii) Moreover, even though we must deal with the world as it is, there are many instances in which we can and ought to influence the world. Those who came before us impacted the world we received at their hands. We can do the same. Although we begin by playing the hand we were dealt, we can reshuffle the deck. 

iii) Furthermore, his statement is self-refuting. To say the status quo can't be sustained is to admit that "the world" is not a given. It changes, for better or worse. And we can be agents of change. Our influence is limited and unpredictable. But we should do what we can. We can make a difference. Sometimes great, sometimes small. But every bit helps someone. 

Supervolcano


Here's a provocative post:


That's very interesting. However, I don't think the scientific or exegetical evidence justifies the conclusion:

i) To ancient readers, wouldn't a blood red moon automatically connote a lunar eclipse? Isn't that the association it would ordinarily trigger?

ii) In principle, there are different things that can block sunlight. However, when sun and moon are paired, with unusual optical effects attributed to both, surely that would suggest a solar and lunar eclipse.

And that's an accurate description of both. In a solar eclipse, the sun turns black (except for a fiery halo or annulus), while the moon turns red. 

iii) As for volcanic eruptions, how would volcanic ash have a differential effect on sunlight and moonlight? It would block out both, right?

iv) Even assuming, moreover, that it had a differential effect, if it's thick enough to block out sunlight, it will be more than thick enough to block out moonlight. The sun is far brighter than the moon, so what blocks sunlight will certainly block moonlight–which is dimmer to begin with.

And if it's thin enough to let some light filter through, that would be sunlight rather than moonlight. 

v) Although the NASA pictures are spectacular, they don't show a blackened sun and a reddened moon.

vi) Didn't ancient people regard solar and lunar eclipses as very ominous (in both senses of the word). They took celestial prodigies seriously.

vii) Perhaps Alan's unstated objection is that it's physically impossible to have a solar and lunar eclipse simultaneously, inasmuch as sun, moon, and earth must occupy different relative positions respectively:

In a solar eclipse, the moon comes between the sun and the earth: sun>moon>earth

In a lunar eclipse, the earth comes between the sun and the moon: sun>earth>moon

But that just means the imagery isn't realistic. It's stock, eschatological imagery. Indeed, John saw this in a vision. 

viii) Finally, I'll conclude with some eyewitness accounts of volcanic ash:


Susan La Riviere, Yakima 

Once the new year of 1980 hit, seismologists and volcanologists became alerted to steam coming out of Mount St. Helens’ dome. Small earthquakes were noted and citizens were warned that there might be a volcanic eruption within the year. Here in Yakima, we were not warned about emergency precautions to take if an eruption happened. Although volcanic activity was part of our conversations, no one seriously considered that the mountain would explode. 

On Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, I was on the phone talking long distance to my parents who were visiting relatives in south Louisiana. I said, “It looks like a terrible dust storm is coming from the west. The sky is black in that direction and it isn’t yet noon. I also heard some thunder so we might get ... Mom? Dad? Are you there?” All phone connections were cut off. I heard a loud clap of what sounded like thunder, the windows shuttered and a storm of darkness surrounded the house. We could not see the street lamp at the corner of Barge and North 36th Avenue.

The television was not working, but KIT radio announcers came in clearly with news about the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens. We were told to fill the bathtub with water because it was unknown if the ash was radioactive. Farmers were warned to shelter their animals, and owners of domestic animals were instructed to bring all the pets into the house. The sky rained sand the rest of May 18. 

Water did not wash the sand from roofs. Instead, the sand absorbed the water and the combined weight caused many roofs to collapse. Yakima was buried in sand and the sky was filled with powdered ash for many months.

Glenn Rice, Yakima


On May 18, 1980, my family was on the way to a summer home in the Cascades. As we approached the “Y” at the intersection of Highway 12 and State Route 410, the sky became dark with clouds, wind, dust, thunder and lightning. This was different because the air also smelled of sulfur. I said, “Turn the radio on; something is happening.” And indeed it was! We turned around, and it took an hour and a half to return to Yakima because of poor visibility. The sun seemingly set in the east, it was dark, the streetlights came on, the birds were silent and the crickets were out.

Ramona Murray, Selah

May 18, 1980, looked like the beginning of a beautiful spring day in the Wenas Valley. The hay fields looked good on our cattle ranch and our cattle were grazing on the other side of the hill.

Suddenly, the sky turned black with red and green lightning and something was falling from the sky. We thought it was rain, but it was ash. Mount St. Helens had erupted.
The sparrows clustered by our rooftop near the porch light. Thank goodness the power stayed on and radio station KIT kept us informed.
In the afternoon, my husband, Austin, and our son Dave tied kerchiefs over their noses, took flashlights and left in the pickup to see about our cattle. The cattle had broken down the fence and were coming home. One cow died. 

My daughter Valerie and I went to bed for a while. At about 7:30 p.m., the ash stopped falling and the sky was light. We stepped outside. It smelled like a chemical lab and it looked like the moon. Everything was gray. A red tailed hawk was searching in the sky, cawing. The little bantam rooster was crowing. These were welcome sounds.

Nancy M. Burgess, Yakima

I went out to take the covers off the tomatoes, and when I went in, I told my wife, “There’s a big storm coming. A really black cloud in the southwest is heading our way.”
Later, at church, we were sitting in the choir, and the ash started falling like rain on the slanted window above us. Our priest told us not to worry. He had been in Italy during World War II and Mount Vesuvius had erupted. He said this was not nearly as bad. He was the only one who didn’t make it home.

When we got home, I went next door to check on my 80-year-old mom. I was worried she would be frightened. Instead, she had set out all of her candles and filled the bathtub with water.

My sister in New York told me later that she had tried to call our mom when she heard about the eruption. The operator told her that all circuits were down and that Yakima had been wiped out. She was frantic before she finally got through to me.

I was in the State Patrol. It was my day off, but all off-duty personnel had been called in to work. They sent me out to the Naches junction to turn back any cars heading up toward the mountains. We stopped one car, and the man said his kids were camping up that way and nobody was going to keep him from going to find them. We let him pass.
Lightning was flashing all around us, but it wasn’t like it usually is. This lightning flashed horizontally. The hair on our heads was standing straight up. It was really pretty scary. We finally went into the gas station to get out of the ash and wind.

The "real" problem with miracles


I'm going to comment on this post, by militant atheist Keith Parsons:
So, the credibility of a miracle claim given certain evidence and background comes down to three factors:(1) p(e/m & k), the likelihood that we would have the evidence e given that the miracle did take place and given our relevant background knowledge.(2) p(m/k), the prior probability of the occurrence of the miracle, that is its probability given only background knowledge and independently of the particular evidence e that we are now considering.(3) p(e/k), the likelihood of having the evidence e given only background knowledge. This is equivalent to the total probability of e: p(e/m & k) × p(m/k) + p(e/~m & k) × p(~m/k), that is, the probability that we would have evidence e whether or not m took place.

I've always had misgivings about that kind of analysis. I think it artificially partitions the evidence. 

It's as if Bayesians first hand a runner a backpack full of rocks (prior probability). Considered in isolation, he can't win or even cross the finish line with all that dead weight on his back. Yet they then proceed to lighten the load (posterior probability), which enables him to huff and puff his way past the finish line.

But why load him down with rocks in the first place if they know all along that they are going to remove most of the rocks, by taking the totality of the evidence into account? Why divide it up that way? Why not work back from their conclusion?

If we have the total evidence at our disposal, isn't it very artificial to divvy it up between prior and posterior probability? It's like we're pretending, in the prior, that we don't know as much. That we're in the dark, except for generalities. We suppress our full knowledge for the sake of distributing the odds between prior and posterior probability.

Now, that makes sense if, indeed, we don't know all the facts at the time we begin our assessment. But if, in fact, we enjoy the benefit of hindsight, then shouldn't the body of total evidence supply the frame of reference all along

A skeptic such as Hume, who does not presuppose the existence of God, will, of course, put p(m/k) very low, not far from zero. On the other hand, a Christian, one who believes in a God who can and on occasion will perform miracles, will often have a very different prior probability for p(m/k) for a given m. In other words, if ks is the presumed background knowledge of the skeptic, and kc is the presumed background knowledge of the Christian, then, for many purported miracles, p(m/kc) p(m/ks).

i) That's misleading. Although a miracle presumes the existence of God, it doesn't presume prior belief in God. So that objection confounds the order of knowledge with the order of being.

Suppose I don't believe in God. But if I witness a miracle, or a trusted acquaintance shares with me his experience of a miracle, then that's a reason for me to ditch my skepticism. I was skeptical because I was ignorant of the evidence. I had no exposure to firsthand or reliable secondhand information. I should say to myself, "Well, I used to be an atheist, but that's because I didn't know any better. Now that I've encountered this evidence, I see that my atheism was premature."

ii) Since a miracle involves personal agency or personal intention, overriding the ordinary course of nature, the question is how to assign a probability value to God's will to perform (or not perform) a miracle. I don't see how statistics or background knowledge regarding the general uniformity of nature is germane to how we anticipate or estimate God's intention to perform a miracle. 

This is hardly surprising since evidence quite sufficient to overcome a moderate burden of proof will be woefully insufficient to overcome a very heavy burden. 

Of course, that begs the question. Any given miracle has a very low antecedent probability. Therefore, it takes really impressive evidence to overcome the presumption that any given miracle never happened. So goes the argument. 

In fairness, one might say that's true of any particular event. But reported miracles are typically represented has demanding a higher–indeed, much higher–burden of proof than ordinary events. Indeed, that's what Parsons is insinuating. 

Yet his way of framing the issue fosters a prejudicial impression, as if the rational default position is disbelief in miracles, but if a Christian apologist can muster overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a miracle can heave itself over the finish line in one last gasp.

But why should we grant that tendentious way of framing the issue? It puts the Christian apologist at an unfair disadvantage. Let's consider a few examples:

1. A high school football player drops dead of cardiac arrest during practice. The odds of this happening are low. Statistically speaking, few teenage boys die of heart attacks. 

And there's more to it than actuaries. There's the underlying reason: usually, that's the age at which the vital organs are in peak condition.

But an autopsy reveals the fact that the ill-fated player had an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Given his specific condition, it was quite likely that he would die of heart failure from overexertion.

Perhaps that illustrates the distinction between prior and posterior probability. If so:

i) The ordinary unlikelihood of a teenage boy dying of heart failure demands a special explanation if it happens. The very fact that it's normally so improbable means that we need to investigate how it happened to discover the cause. You wouldn't autopsy a 90-year-old who died of cardiac arrest. 

ii) At the same time, the distinction between prior and posterior probability theory seems artificial after the fact. The odds may be germane before the autopsy, but after the autopsy, isn't the only relevant evidence his heart condition, and not the general odds of that happening?

It's not so much that posterior probability overcomes prior probability in this case, but that the real explanation replaces prior probability. Prior probability is just a placeholder unless and until we become more informed about the particulars of this specific case. 

2) Edwin Prescott III loses control when he tries to make the hairpin turn of the Grand Corniche. His Bugatti Veyron plunges over the cliff, and he dies in a conflagration.

An investigation turns of mechanical failure. Specifically, the brakes gave out.

However, the prior probability of brake failure on a Bugatti Veyron is very low. In addition, the car was serviced just a week before the fatal "accident."

Now, there are different ways of assessing prior probability in this case. You could begin with statistics on the failure rate of its brake system. How frequently (or infrequently) does that happen?

There's the factory specs on the average lifespan of the brakes, and factory recommendation on when they should be replaced. 

You could have an engineering analysis of the conditions under which the constituents deteriorate (e.g. metal stress). 

However, a homicide detective makes a couple of observations. Prescott's wife stood to inherit the husband's fortune in case of accidental death. And she was having an affair with the dashing automechanic who serviced the car a week before. 

The assumption, therefore, is that the brakes were tampered with, even if the car was too damaged in the conflagration to make a conclusive determination.

Assuming that illustrates the distinction between prior and posterior probability:

i) It's not as if the posterior probability subtracts from the prior probability. It's not like we sum the probability of each (prior and posterior) individually, then combine them to arrive at the sum total–do we? 

The prior probability is an admission of ignorance regarding the specifics of the case in hand. But once we know about the affair and the terms of the will, then that's what we go with.

ii) At best, the high antecedent unlikelihood of that happening makes the "accident" inherently suspect. That prompts the homicide detective to consider factors other than mechanical failure.

3. At a high-stakes poker game, a player is dealt a final card to complete a royal flush at the very time the opposing player calls his bluff. The opposing player has bet everything on this hand. He's all in. 

i) Assuming a random deck, the antecedent probability of a royal flush is low. 

But you also have the opportune timing of the hand. The lucky player is dealt a winning hand at the climax of the game, when both players have everything to gain or everything to lose. 

ii) Theoretically, one response would be to say, "That's so unlikely that I can't believe what I'm seeing! My eyes are playing tricks on me!"

Likewise, there must be some technical glitch in the casino camera footage. 

Another response might be: "Well, I guess the odds of a royal flush aren't so improbable after all!" 

iii) The antecedent odds against a royal flush in tandem with the opportune timing is very suspicious. The fix is in!

The player got to the dealer. Bribed him or put the squeeze on the dealer by threatening his family.

Let's say an investigation confirms that suspicion. If so, then isn't prior probability moot at that juncture? If you can prove that the player cheated in collusion with the dealer, then the abstract odds no longer figure at all in the final explanation. 

Once we know that the dealer is a cardsharp, isn't prior probability a moot point? It's not so much that the real explanation overcomes the prior, but that it cancels out the relevance of that consideration tout court. 

We now have many reasons, many more than Hume could have known, for regarding it as very likely that we will have miracle reports when no miracle has occurred. 

He disregards extensive documentation for modern miracles and the paranormal. 

Much psychological research has shown the extent to which perception is constructive. 
Like perception, memory is largely a construction. We remember things as they should have been or as how we want them to have been rather than how they were.

i) That argument is self-defeating, for it undercuts Hume's appeal to uniform experience. Hume's argument against miracles is based on testimonial evidence. If, however, testimonial evidence is unreliable, that sabotages Hume's standard of comparison. 

ii) The fact, moreover, that we tend to recollect things we personally find interesting is what makes them memorable in the first place. 

Strong desires or expectations seriously bias our judgments as well as our perceptions. 

One again, that cuts both ways. It applies perforce to atheist observers. Parsons keeps raising counterproductive objections.

Hallucinations and other sensory delusions are now known to be much more common, even among psychologically healthy people than was previously believed. Oliver Sacks’ recent book Hallucinations shows that this is so. All sorts of factors can lead psychologically normal people to hallucinate—grief, emotional duress, sensory deprivation or monotony, and exhaustion, for instance. 

He simply begs the question by discounting crisis apparitions as hallucinatory. It doesn't even occur to him that his preemptory dismissal is circular.

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are well-known phenomena that sometimes occur just as people are going to sleep or waking. They have been known for centuries and probably account for many reported experiences of demons, witches, or ghosts. In the 1980s many people, including author Whitley Strieber, reported that they had been abducted by aliens, taken on board spacecraft, and subjected to what were apparently medical probes. These experiences seemed very real to the people that endured them, yet they were in all probability due to hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations. 

He fails to draw an elementary distinction between sleep paralysis and sleep paralysis with awareness (ASP). Sleep paralysis is universal. A natural mechanism to protect the body when we dream.

But ASP or old-hag syndrome is not universal. For that reason alone, merely appealing to sleep paralysis fails to explain old-hag syndrome. Appealing to sleep paralysis fails explain why some people experience old-hag syndrome but others don't. LIkewise, it fails to explain why some people experience it at one point in life, but not another.

David Hufford is probably the world authority on old-hag syndrome. He's an academic folklorist at Penn State. Here's some of his material:



Folklorists now know how stories can grow and spread through a community and how rapidly they can take on fantastic or miraculous content. Even in an era of electronic communications, and even when eyewitnesses are alive and vigorous, false stories can and do spread widely. Consider the famous case of Flight Nineteen: In December 1945 a flight of TBF Avenger dive bombers took off for a training mission from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and subsequently disappeared. Within thirty years, written accounts told weird stories of how the flight had met its allegedly mysterious end in the “Bermuda Triangle.” 

I don't know why he thinks urban legends like the Bermuda Triangle prove his thesis. We get most of our information about the world second hand, from history books, science textbooks, or the "news media." 

For instance, some stories turn out to be hoaxes, but that's not something the average person could know in advance. The medium is the same for hoaxes and true stories. If that's a problem for religious knowledge, that's no less a problem for secular knowledge. Parsons keeps shooting himself in the foot. 

When recounting events we tend to recall gist rather than specifics and imagination and wishful thinking are always ready to impact the story. 

To my knowledge, that's a gross overgeneralization. He fails to distinguish between events and conversations. We tend to remember the gist of a conversation, rather than verbatim recall.  But we can have specific and stable memories of events we see. Memory is selective. It can and often does select for specifics. That's because the specifics are sometimes memorable.