Sam Harris Quote

For the love of the pursuit of knowledge

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Dimmesdale
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Sam Harris Quote

Post #1

Post by Dimmesdale »

Question for debate: is the comparison Sam Harris makes in this quote a true, or a false, comparison?

I say it is false. Here it is:

"If you think saying a few Latin words over your pancakes will turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you're crazy...but if you think more or less the same thing about the body of Jesus, and a cracker, you're just a Catholic." - Sam Harris

This quotation in my view makes a false comparison, between a private revelation that is "crazy" and a widespread belief that is supposedly no different, but on a mass scale.

Now, let's say that there is someone who thinks he can turn pancakes into the body of Elvis. I am not going to say right away that he or she is crazy. I would ask him or her WHY they think the way they do. I will try to investigate the REASONINGS for said belief, before rushing to judgment.

Now, THAT said, I think it is also a GIVEN that there are many mentally ill people who hold such erroneous beliefs. And they are indeed the products of delusion. So, again, if for the sake of argument we have a GENUINELY IRRATIONAL (i.e., "insane") belief, can you use the same example and compare it to widespread religious beliefs?

I think it is erroneous.

This is because when you have a belief that is more widely shared by others, you have a better chance at least of it being true. This is because it is possible to MARSHAL greater EVIDENCES from MORE SOURCES, than if you were simply the sole claimant of this view.

For example, various texts. A Catholic can turn to things like the Bible, Church History, Scholarship, and so on to make the case for his view based on the AUTHORITIES that go beyond him or her. Let's say for the sake of argument that some of the Church Fathers got their source of knowledge from one of the original Apostles who followed Jesus. Let's say that this is even documented by secular history. If that is the case, then there is a very good chance that the CLAIM at least, of turning bread into the Body, is bona fide. The chances increase that this teaching emanated from the lips of Jesus Himself due to the Church Father's VERY CLOSE PROXIMITY to that source of knowledge.

That may not say much, you might think. After all, what if Jesus Himself was crazy? Just because you have a claim that goes back to the SOURCE doesn't make it true, right?

Well, that's when we may hone in on the character of Jesus Himself. If we can prove certain OTHER THINGS about Jesus that may also SHED LIGHT on the PARTICULAR DOCTRINE of the Bread. If you could show, for instance, that Jesus stayed true to his principles, led a very moral life, etc, that MIGHT at least rule him out as a charlatan or mentally unstable personality. If you could, for the sake of argument, document certain of his miracles as legitimate, that itself might shed light on the legitimacy of the Eucharist as being real ALSO. After all, if Jesus RESURRECTION cannot be debunked, as many apologists claim, then that opens up the POSSIBILITY at least that Jesus really was divine or a powerful metaphysical being. And that provides a foundation for asserting that this particular miracle of the Bread has a degree of legitimacy, whereas an isolated individual with only his private opinion, is not compelling to nearly the same degree.

So no, Sam Harris, your comparison is not accurate. It is apples and oranges.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

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Athetotheist wrote: Fri Feb 05, 2021 10:03 am
Dimmesdale wrote: Fri Jan 29, 2021 5:12 pmAfter all, if Jesus RESURRECTION cannot be debunked, as many apologists claim, then that opens up the POSSIBILITY at least that Jesus really was divine or a powerful metaphysical being.
I'm a long way from being a fan of Sam Harris, but can the belief that Muhammed flew to heaven on a winged horse be debunked? Can miraculous feats attributed to the Buddha be debunked? It seems to me that those many apologists are trying to shift the burden of proof.
You're right, I think. Debunked is the wrong word to use in this context. The Resurrection can't be "falsified" anymore than the Muhammad example. It can't be proven to not have happened - and that doesn't say much whether it did indeed occur.

But, as far as the record in the Biblical times, I think it can be shown that positing a Resurrection is the best explanation of many of the historical details. Among competing alternative explanations, resurrection figures as the most cogent explanation. The best theory making sense of the data.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #12

Post by Athetotheist »

Dimmesdale wrote: Fri Feb 05, 2021 6:33 pmBut, as far as the record in the Biblical times, I think it can be shown that positing a Resurrection is the best explanation of many of the historical details. Among competing alternative explanations, resurrection figures as the most cogent explanation. The best theory making sense of the data.
What details do you consider historical? Would you be willing to give the same credence to details in the stories of the many other dying-and-rising gods?

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #13

Post by Difflugia »

Dimmesdale wrote: Fri Feb 05, 2021 6:33 pmBut, as far as the record in the Biblical times, I think it can be shown that positing a Resurrection is the best explanation of many of the historical details. Among competing alternative explanations, resurrection figures as the most cogent explanation. The best theory making sense of the data.
I've seen that claimed, but I've never seen it shown.

At its core, the problem is that in order for a resurrection to be the "best explanation," the "historical details" without a resurrection would have to be as unlikely as a resurrection itself in order to effectively cancel out the gross improbability of a resurrection.

We have no verified instances of a resurrection. Zero. That means that statistically, the probability of a resurrection must be at most one in the number of opportunities we've had to verify a resurrection. I'd say that a reasonable lower bound on that number of opportunities is the number of people that have died while under modern medical supervision. Just doing some quick Googling and back-of-the-envelope calculations, the CDC puts the number of hospital inpatient deaths at more than 700,000 per year as of 2010, so let's say that since the year 2000, about fourteen million people have died in hospitals under circumstances where a resurrection could have been observed and verified. There have been zero verified resurrections, so our statistical upper bound on the probability of being resurrected is one in fourteen million. Since many, many more people have actually lived and died than that (about a hundred billion, according to Google), even unverified claims of resurrection would come nowhere near those odds, so I think one in fourteen million is justifiable as an absolute upper bound on the odds of a resurrection.

Your claim, then, is that the odds of the "historical details" coming to pass without a resurrection are worse than one in fourteen million. Do you think that "can be shown?"

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

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Post by Dimmesdale »

Athetotheist wrote: Fri Feb 05, 2021 9:23 pm
Dimmesdale wrote: Fri Feb 05, 2021 6:33 pmBut, as far as the record in the Biblical times, I think it can be shown that positing a Resurrection is the best explanation of many of the historical details. Among competing alternative explanations, resurrection figures as the most cogent explanation. The best theory making sense of the data.
What details do you consider historical? Would you be willing to give the same credence to details in the stories of the many other dying-and-rising gods?
I am actually not a Christian in the strict sense. Actually yes, I would give at least MORE credence to other stories. I do not see why we have to limit the supernatural to ONE dying and rising God. It is very possible in my mind that God has incarnated multiple times.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #15

Post by Dimmesdale »

Difflugia wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 8:16 am

We have no verified instances of a resurrection. Zero. That means that statistically, the probability of a resurrection must be at most one in the number of opportunities we've had to verify a resurrection.
I reject that logic completely.

It can be refuted perspectivally.

Assume, for instance, that prior to 6000 BC, resurrections were a matter of course. But then God instituted a decree, such that resurrections will now become exceedingly rare.

And so they are. Relative to our age.

This does not mean that in other ages, in other times, they did not exist, or were more common. It is all a matter of perspective.

I do not see at all why our measurement of probability should actually have an impact of determining the "probability" of objective fact. We are only parsing a small subset of reality. Why abstract it to the whole of reality?

Rarity does not equal improbability. Improbability is only our measurement of a fraction of reality. What we call "improbable" is only our experience of reality. It says absolutely nothing about reality objectively, except to a certain practical degree.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #16

Post by Difflugia »

Dimmesdale wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 6:23 pmI reject that logic completely.

It can be refuted perspectivally.

Assume, for instance, that prior to 6000 BC, resurrections were a matter of course. But then God instituted a decree, such that resurrections will now become exceedingly rare.
That's not a refutation. You're just asserting that because "anything's possible," probability is meaningless. You can't hold that kind of view of evidence, though, while simultaneously claiming that resurrection is the "best explanation." If you're going to subscribe to the point of view that any made-up explanation, no matter how implausible, is as good as any other, then there is no "best." You've said in one post that you think that the resurrection can be "shown" to be the "best explanation," but now you're claiming that the most ad hoc speculation refutes statistical analysis. If every explanation is as valid as any other, how do you expect to "show" that a historical resurrection is the "best" one?
Dimmesdale wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 6:23 pmThis does not mean that in other ages, in other times, they did not exist, or were more common. It is all a matter of perspective.

I do not see at all why our measurement of probability should actually have an impact of determining the "probability" of objective fact. We are only parsing a small subset of reality. Why abstract it to the whole of reality?
That's literally what probability is. More data can improve the probability assessment, but you haven't offered any. Instead, you're just saying that data supporting your assertion exist somewhere we haven't looked.

That's the god of the gaps.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

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Post by Dimmesdale »

Difflugia wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 1:04 am
That's not a refutation. You're just asserting that because "anything's possible," probability is meaningless.
As far as I'm concerned it is a refutation. However, I must qualify: yes, "anything's possible" BUT only under the purview of God. I still believe in general laws. Laws are a "thing." God upholds laws in general. Such as that bodies generally die. That I uphold. But I also uphold that, in certain cases, God is liable and willing, and has the power, to overturn those laws. That does not amount to "anythings possible" in a broad, indiscriminate sense - "anything's possible" would annul law. I uphold the observable law while simultaneously taking into account that laws may be suspended in special cases. Just like you see the president commuting people's sentences or pardoning them.
Difflugia wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 1:04 amYou can't hold that kind of view of evidence, though, while simultaneously claiming that resurrection is the "best explanation." If you're going to subscribe to the point of view that any made-up explanation, no matter how implausible, is as good as any other, then there is no "best."

You've said in one post that you think that the resurrection can be "shown" to be the "best explanation," but now you're claiming that the most ad hoc speculation refutes statistical analysis. If every explanation is as valid as any other, how do you expect to "show" that a historical resurrection is the "best" one?
That is not what I'm upholding however. I believe that everything that is possible is possible taking God into account. I'm not saying any made-up explanation will do. I'm saying that we have to approach explanations with God and his workings in mind.

Regarding the resurrection of Jesus, there are, broadly, only two ways you can look at it: supernaturally or naturalistically. If you look at it naturalistically, you pen yourself into a box because, using only regular laws we abstract from other cases, we cannot make the case cogent that the apostles had a mass hallucination or foisted a conspiracy on the world, being willing to die for it, or some other explanation (that seems rather ad hoc, ironically enough) making sense of the data.

Now let us examine those two things from a naturalistic point of view. Mass hallucination? On a broad scale? Where is the evidence for that? I think you would be hard pressed as most hallucinations are individual in nature. It would seem you would need to import some "EXTRA" knowledge (well, maybe science hasn't YET DISCOVERED that mass hallucinations are possible). I would call that "science of the gaps."

A conspiracy also they would be willing to die for? That is very opposed to human nature. But, again, perhaps we have not found concrete record of all the motivations motivating people, even seemingly absurd ones on a mass scale.

This I would call "psychology of the gaps."

However, if we import supernaturalism into the equation, we do not need to rely on those particular gaps. You may call that a reliance on faith, but I would actually say you are doing the same with your so-called explanations. In both cases however, our explanations are supported by reasons. In your case by science and psychology, and in my case with a religious worldview. Not randomly. That is a strawman.

Dimmesdale wrote: Sat Feb 06, 2021 6:23 pmThis does not mean that in other ages, in other times, they did not exist, or were more common. It is all a matter of perspective.

I do not see at all why our measurement of probability should actually have an impact of determining the "probability" of objective fact. We are only parsing a small subset of reality. Why abstract it to the whole of reality?
That's literally what probability is. More data can improve the probability assessment, but you haven't offered any. Instead, you're just saying that data supporting your assertion exist somewhere we haven't looked.

That's the god of the gaps.
[/quote]

More data can improve the probability assessment in certain areas of data. However, while this is practical and works at times, you can never know the whole of reality using just statistics. Statistics do not exhaust reality, and never will. They are just useful in a very limited sense.

I would assert that your science/psychology, etc of the gaps is more egregious than what I'm doing. You don't even have an explanation that isn't "seeking" some information we do not have. I on the other hand am sure I have the omnipotent God.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

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Post by Difflugia »

Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amAs far as I'm concerned it is a refutation. However, I must qualify: yes, "anything's possible" BUT only under the purview of God. I still believe in general laws. Laws are a "thing." God upholds laws in general. Such as that bodies generally die. That I uphold. But I also uphold that, in certain cases, God is liable and willing, and has the power, to overturn those laws.
The statistical argument was neither assuming nor rejecting the influence of God. We have no verified instances of resurrection for any reason, natural or supernatural. If we were arguing over which resurrections were natural and which were supernatural, you'd have a point. We're not, though. The question is whether or not resurrections happen at all, ever.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amThat does not amount to "anythings possible" in a broad, indiscriminate sense - "anything's possible" would annul law.
And the annulment of law is exactly what you're asserting here. The law, as you put it, is that people don't come back from the dead. In the fourteen million opportunities to see a resurrection in a clinical setting over the last twenty years, there have been zero of them. There might be a reason that God resurrects people outside of those settings in either time or place, but there's no evidence (not even bad evidence) for that, either. You're saying that because you imagine that God exists and would have a really good reason to resurrect Jesus, that's most likely what happened. You can believe that and that is, in fact, the position of faith, but it doesn't show that it's the most likely, which is what you claimed can be done.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amI uphold the observable law while simultaneously taking into account that laws may be suspended in special cases. Just like you see the president commuting people's sentences or pardoning them.
This analogy makes my point not yours. We have verifiable examples of people being pardoned by the president. It's rare, but we can calculate the statistical probability that someone was pardoned. If someone says, "I was pardoned by the President," we can calculate the relative odds between an actual pardon and a lie or delusion.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amThat is not what I'm upholding however. I believe that everything that is possible is possible taking God into account. I'm not saying any made-up explanation will do. I'm saying that we have to approach explanations with God and his workings in mind.
Then in order to show that Jesus was resurrected as one of God's "workings," you'll also have to show that God does "workings" at all and that they include resurrections. Even if we handwave away the former (which apologists generally do and you have so far), you're still left with the uncomfortable fact that we have no verifiable examples of resurrections. As far as we can tell, even if God is totally, really, real and performs works in the temporal world, He doesn't perform resurrections.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amRegarding the resurrection of Jesus, there are, broadly, only two ways you can look at it: supernaturally or naturalistically. If you look at it naturalistically, you pen yourself into a box because, using only regular laws we abstract from other cases, we cannot make the case cogent that the apostles had a mass hallucination or foisted a conspiracy on the world, being willing to die for it, or some other explanation (that seems rather ad hoc, ironically enough) making sense of the data.
Things like mass hallucination or conspiracy or whatever only come into play if we dogmatically assume at least some parts of the story are true to start with. Remember, the datum we have to explain isn't that the apostles witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but that there's a story that the apostles witnessed the resurrected Jesus. An easy explanation to that is that the story is false. We have so many examples of stories that are historically false for one reason or another that it's a reasonable question about every story, which makes it the opposite of ad hoc. My earlier point is that even if it's unlikely (for whatever reason) that the story is false, I'd wager that it's less unlikely than a physical resurrection.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amNow let us examine those two things from a naturalistic point of view. Mass hallucination? On a broad scale? Where is the evidence for that? I think you would be hard pressed as most hallucinations are individual in nature. It would seem you would need to import some "EXTRA" knowledge (well, maybe science hasn't YET DISCOVERED that mass hallucinations are possible). I would call that "science of the gaps."
I haven't suggested that mass hallucination is a reasonable explanation, either.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amA conspiracy also they would be willing to die for? That is very opposed to human nature.
Does "9/11" ring a bell? Even if that were the only time people have ever been willing to die for a conspiracy, it's still one time compared to zero resurrections. There are other details that are applicable, too, like that both were cabals of religious zealots. Independent of anything else, "they died as part of a religious conspiracy" is massively more likely than a resurrection. That's way less likely than "salient parts of the story are wrong," but we're now up to two explanations that are more probable than "Jesus returned from the dead."
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amBut, again, perhaps we have not found concrete record of all the motivations motivating people, even seemingly absurd ones on a mass scale.

This I would call "psychology of the gaps."

However, if we import supernaturalism into the equation, we do not need to rely on those particular gaps. You may call that a reliance on faith, but I would actually say you are doing the same with your so-called explanations. In both cases however, our explanations are supported by reasons. In your case by science and psychology, and in my case with a religious worldview. Not randomly. That is a strawman.
"Randomly" is your straw man, not mine. You said that you could "show" that a resurrection is the best explanation for the "historical facts." If you modify "show" to mean "show within a religious worldview," then you can claim that your position is supportable. Only those that are already religious have any reason to accept it, but it will at least then be accurate.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amMore data can improve the probability assessment in certain areas of data. However, while this is practical and works at times, you can never know the whole of reality using just statistics. Statistics do not exhaust reality, and never will. They are just useful in a very limited sense.
The "limited sense" is the sense of limited information, which is exactly what we have here. Again, you're just implying that because we don't know all of the details that any outcome is just as likely as any other.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:52 amI would assert that your science/psychology, etc of the gaps is more egregious than what I'm doing. You don't even have an explanation that isn't "seeking" some information we do not have. I on the other hand am sure I have the omnipotent God.
Hence Harris' quote that delusion and religion result in the same kinds of answers.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #19

Post by Dimmesdale »

Difflugia wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:49 pm
The statistical argument was neither assuming nor rejecting the influence of God. We have no verified instances of resurrection for any reason, natural or supernatural. If we were arguing over which resurrections were natural and which were supernatural, you'd have a point. We're not, though. The question is whether or not resurrections happen at all, ever.
And I re-assert that the use of statistics is worthless/moot in answering that question.

Let me see if I can reconstruct what you were saying earlier. That for a resurrection to have a "chance" of happening, it would have to be measured against the backdrop of all those documented cases (14 million). So, 1 in 14 million. That is like saying that in order for a theory to be correct, it would have to compete statistically with all the theories that came before it. So if the theory is that the sun is a ball of burning gas, the chances of it being true would be in one in, say, 30,000 (one of which says the sun is only a really hot copper ball).

I don't see why each and every case should not be treated DIFFERENTLY and on its own TERMS. I just don't see your logic.

Also, the question is not whether DEATHS occur. There is a difference between RESURRECTIONS and DEATHS. You have something on deaths, zero on resurrections. Resurrections cannot be statistically assessed either way because they don't even enter the conversation, from what we have experienced in the hospital example (of the official record at least).
Difflugia wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:49 pmDoes "9/11" ring a bell?
They thought what they were dying for was real. Apples and oranges.

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Re: Sam Harris Quote

Post #20

Post by Difflugia »

Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 7:55 pmAnd I re-assert that the use of statistics is worthless/moot in answering that question.

Let me see if I can reconstruct what you were saying earlier. That for a resurrection to have a "chance" of happening, it would have to be measured against the backdrop of all those documented cases (14 million). So, 1 in 14 million. That is like saying that in order for a theory to be correct, it would have to compete statistically with all the theories that came before it. So if the theory is that the sun is a ball of burning gas, the chances of it being true would be in one in, say, 30,000 (one of which says the sun is only a really hot copper ball).
In the absence of any other evidence, yes. Fortunately, we have lots of evidence that the sun is a ball of burning gas.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 7:55 pmI don't see why each and every case should not be treated DIFFERENTLY and on its own TERMS. I just don't see your logic.
If by "its own terms" you mean the evidence for it, then I agree.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 7:55 pmAlso, the question is not whether DEATHS occur. There is a difference between RESURRECTIONS and DEATHS. You have something on deaths, zero on resurrections. Resurrections cannot be statistically assessed either way because they don't even enter the conversation, from what we have experienced in the hospital example (of the official record at least).
I don't know what distinction you're making here. Are you saying that doctors wouldn't know a resurrection if they saw one? Or that they saw some but didn't report them? If you have a different way of estimating the number of resurrections in the last twenty, hundred, or two thousand years, please explain your method. Otherwise, you're just saying that evidence is worthless if there's even a tiny bit of doubt. That's the god of the gaps.
Dimmesdale wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 7:55 pm
Difflugia wrote: Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:49 pmDoes "9/11" ring a bell?
They thought what they were dying for was real. Apples and oranges.
Only if you're arguing that the "conspiracy" is over something that the perpetrators acknowledged was meaningless. I have no doubt (well, little doubt, anyway) that the writers of the Gospels and, if they were real and not just characters in a story, the Apostles thought that they were involved in something supernaturally important. That doesn't require that they thought themselves witnesses to Jesus' resurrection or believed any other specific thing. The evidence that you have is that religious zealots who might have existed, might have died for their religion. That's what the 9/11 guys probably were.

All of the stories together being legends, religous fiction, or cynical fakes is more likely than a resurrection because there are many historical examples of many confirmed legends, works of religious fiction, and cynical fakes, but no confirmed resurrections. Your argument so far has amounted to an insistence that the resurrection still might have happened and if it did, we aren't justified in saying that it was improbable.

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