Not seeing the forest for the trees

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Not seeing the forest for the trees

Postby DjVortex » Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:40 am

Some of the most common arguments for the existence of God, when a believer is questioned, are that things like miracles (such as miracle healings) and supernatural things (such as fulfilled prophecies etc) exist.

IMO most skeptics fall into a trap when answering these arguments: They will start discrediting the miracle and supernatural claims. (That is, they will start arguing how miracle healings never stand up to scientific scrutiny, how they can be explained by completely natural means, and so on.)

What is the trap? The trap is that by discussing the existence of miracles and supernatural things, they are implicitly acknowledging the validity of the argument itself: In other words, they are implicitly agreeing that if miracles and supernatural things exist, it must be evidence for the existence of God. Now it only becomes a question of proving or disproving whether miracles and supernatural things exist (and if the skeptic fails to do so convincingly enough, he will have "lost" the argument).

That's obviously not so, and skeptics should avoid falling into this trap!

The argument itself is completely invalid, and that's the first and most important thing that should always be stressed. Even if miracles and supernatural things would exist, that doesn't say anything at all about the existence of a god. The existence of the former does not tell us what causes them or where they are coming from. Arguing that they must come from a god is a complete fallacy. This cannot be stressed enough, and no discussion should proceed before this has been made completely clear to all participants.

The question of whether miracles and supernatural things exist is a completely separate and independent question, and can be examined as such. However, the connection to some god should be severed immediately right from the start, even before going into those details.
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Postby Lausten » Mon Jan 09, 2012 12:30 pm

I've tried to jump straight to, "and even if that was true, how does it prove the Christian God?"

What I've got is, "it is just a few easy steps from there", or "it's a sign, and there are other signs, and they relate to signs in the Bible, and the Bible is God's word." Just more evidence they aren't using anything like real thinking. Definitely need to get to a discussion about what evidence is and away from arguing about a particular miracle.
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Postby DjVortex » Mon Jan 09, 2012 1:56 pm

Lausten wrote:I've tried to jump straight to, "and even if that was true, how does it prove the Christian God?"


You don't even have to include the word "Christian" there. How is it evidence of any god whatsoever? (Answer: It isn't.)

What I've got is, "it is just a few easy steps from there", or "it's a sign, and there are other signs, and they relate to signs in the Bible, and the Bible is God's word." Just more evidence they aren't using anything like real thinking. Definitely need to get to a discussion about what evidence is and away from arguing about a particular miracle.


They are committing the "affirming the consequent" fallacy, without realizing it. It goes like this:

1) If the God of the Bible exists, then he performs miracles.
2) Miracles do happen.
3) Hence the God of the Bible exists.

Of course even if premises 1 and 2 were true (which isn't a given, but let's grant them), conclusion 3 does not necessarily follow (because the source of the miracles could be something else). That's a classical logical fallacy.
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miracles of the Bible

Postby dobbie » Mon Jan 09, 2012 6:57 pm

DJVortex wrote:
They are committing the "affirming the consequent" fallacy, without realizing it. It goes like this:

1) If the God of the Bible exists, then he performs miracles.
2) Miracles do happen.
3) Hence the God of the Bible exists.

I'd like to reword it a bit.
1) If the God of the Bible exists, then God the performed the biblical miracles. The way I see it, believing in the Bible God goes hand in hand with believing the Bible's reports of miracles. That is to believe in the Bible God is to believe the miracles in the Bible.

2) Miracles do happen. Well, even if they do happen, there's still no guarantee that the biblical ones did.

3) Hence the Bible God exist. Well, there may be no "hence" since the Bible miracles may not have taken place in reality?
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Re: miracles of the Bible

Postby DjVortex » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:41 am

dobbie wrote:3) Hence the Bible God exist. Well, there may be no "hence" since the Bible miracles may not have taken place in reality?


You are falling precisely in the trap that I was talking about in my original post: You are questioning the miracles themselves in order to discredit the conclusion.

No! Even if the miracles did happen, the conclusion would still be invalid. That's precisely the classical "affirming the consequent" fallacy (which goes "p->q, q, hence p", which is invalid logic). Even if the miracles did happen, that doesn't tell us the origin of those miracles. Claiming that they must have been performed by this God does not logically follow.

In other words, it doesn't really matter if the miracles did happen or not, it still doesn't prove the existence of a god. (The question of whether such miracles did happen is a different question entirely.)
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have I got it right?

Postby dobbie » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:51 pm

DJVoortex wrote:
Claiming that [the miracles in the Bible] must have been performed by this God does not logically follow.
Bible believers declare the one while always declaring the other; to believe in the God of the Bible is also to believe the miracles of the Bible. It's in the presupposition of the syllogism.

Thus the syllogism can have the following conclusion: The Bible God exists thanks to miracles. But that conclusion is a piece of guesswork or it’s even illogical as you say.

Or it can have this other following conclusion: It doesn’t automatically follow that the real God of the Bible performed the real miracles in the Bible. That conclusion is at least a logical challenge albeit in an almost overly strict logical sense. After all, it’s rather strange to postulate that the God of the Bible exists even if he never performed the miracles in the Bible. Then, he wouldn't be the God of the Bible.

Or have I got the whole thing wrong?




>>My earlier post: I'd like to reword it a bit.
1) If the God of the Bible exists, then God the performed the biblical miracles. The way I see it, believing in the Bible God goes hand in hand with believing the Bible's reports of miracles. That is to believe in the Bible God is to believe the miracles in the Bible.
2) Miracles do happen. Well, even if they do happen, there's still no guarantee that the biblical ones did.
3) Hence the Bible God exist. Well, there may be no "hence" since the Bible miracles may not have taken place in reality?
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Re: have I got it right?

Postby DjVortex » Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:46 pm

dobbie wrote:>>My earlier post: I'd like to reword it a bit.
1) If the God of the Bible exists, then God the performed the biblical miracles. The way I see it, believing in the Bible God goes hand in hand with believing the Bible's reports of miracles. That is to believe in the Bible God is to believe the miracles in the Bible.
2) Miracles do happen. Well, even if they do happen, there's still no guarantee that the biblical ones did.
3) Hence the Bible God exist. Well, there may be no "hence" since the Bible miracles may not have taken place in reality?


You are still falling into the trap. By trying to discredit the miracles themselves you are implicitly acknowledging the validity of the argument. Or in other words, you are implicitly acknowledging that the only possible explanation for the miracles is God, and thus the whole discussion is about whether the miracles happened or not.

The first premise ("If the God of the Bible exists, then God the performed the biblical miracles") can be granted, and the argument still doesn't work. Arguing that God exists because the miracles exist is precisely the "affirming the consequent" fallacy. The premise is "God -> miracles", not the other way around. If you establish "p -> q", then even if q is true, that doesn't make p necessarily true.

Or in other words: Even if the miracles happened, their source might have been something else entirely.
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same question

Postby dobbie » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:37 pm

byDjVortex:
By trying to discredit the miracles themselves you are implicitly acknowledging the validity of the argument
. Not at all; I say in the end that I don’t know whether the miracles of the Bible ever happened.

Or in other words, you are implicitly acknowledging that the only possible explanation for the miracles is God, and thus the whole discussion is about whether the miracles happened or not.
Not at all; I already said that your logic is sound though overly strict. That is I don’t see how anybody can claim the existence of the God of the Bible and yet deny that he performed all of the miracles of the Bible. What’s left over?

Arguing that God exists because the miracles exist is precisely the "affirming the consequent" fallacy.
I know that; and it’s what the Bible theists argue.

Or in other words: Even if the miracles happened, their source might have been something else entirely.
Then I come back to the same question: In that case, where does the God of the Bible fit in?
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Re: same question

Postby DjVortex » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:06 am

dobbie wrote:
Or in other words: Even if the miracles happened, their source might have been something else entirely.
Then I come back to the same question: In that case, where does the God of the Bible fit in?


Completely hypothetical, of course, but: Let's assume that the miracles described in the Bible really did happen pretty much as described (of course they didn't, but let's just grant it as a hypothetical situation). People back then didn't understand what caused them, so they invented this God explanation. Such oral traditions were then passed from generation to generation, and finally written down by several authors.

What else could have caused them, then? The most naturalistic explanation is that aliens using Sufficiently Advanced Technology (the one that's indistinguishable from magic) caused the "miracles" (which in this case weren't miracles at all because they were completely naturalistic phenomena achieved by technology). Of course there's no evidence for this either, but it's probably even more plausible of a hypothesis than a supernatural God.

(Of course the more likely explanation is that people simply misinterpreted and exaggerated what they saw, and stories tend to get changed and exaggerated as they are retold. And the even more likely explanation is that no such miracles ever happened, and the stories are just pure inventions. However, that's not the point here.)
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whether the Bible God is real

Postby dobbie » Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:08 pm

DJVortex wrote:
Let's assume that the miracles described in the Bible really did happen pretty much as described (of course they didn't, but let's just grant it as a hypothetical situation). People back then didn't understand what caused them, so they invented this God explanation.

I’m in complete agreement with the logic of your scenario (always have been). Except for one little thing, and it may be one of those semantics things. The way I see it, “the God of the Bibleâ€
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Re: whether the Bible God is real

Postby DjVortex » Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:08 am

dobbie wrote:I understood that we’re supposed to take for granted that the supernatural God of the Bible is real, according to your scenario. Have I got something upsidedown?


My original point is that many theists argue for the existence of God by claiming that the existence of miracles prove the existence of God (or at least are evidence for it). What I wanted to stress is that even if we granted the premise that the miracles do happen, that would still not be any proof of the existence of any god, and that discussing the veracity of the miracles themselves is missing the most important flaw in the whole argument.

So my hypothetical was: Let's grant that the miracles of the Bible did happen as described. Do they prove the existence of God? No.
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Re: Not seeing the forest for the trees

Postby DjVortex » Sat May 12, 2012 6:48 am

DjVortex wrote:Some of the most common arguments for the existence of God, when a believer is questioned, are that things like miracles (such as miracle healings) and supernatural things (such as fulfilled prophecies etc) exist.


The theists' opening statement of the debate held on April 14, 2012 at Collin College in Frisco, Texas (which is linked in the newest AE blog post) has a really marvelous example of exactly that.

"Presumptive atheism presumes that none of the thousands of miracles or revelational claims are worthy of belief, yet only one need be right to vindicate theism."

The idea that the existence of miracles proves theism is so deeply ingrained that the debater doesn't even feel the need to argue why that conclusion would be correct. It's taken for granted.
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Re: Not seeing the forest for the trees

Postby dobbie » Sat May 12, 2012 6:27 pm

DiVoxtex wrote: The idea that the existence of miracles proves theism is so deeply ingrained that the debater doesn't even feel the need to argue why that conclusion would be correct. It's taken for granted


I agree. Well, mostly agree. If somebody were to ask me what it takes to persuade me that Christianity is true, it would say that I could appreciate Christianity better if it made sense. And by the same token, if Christians made better sense. I wouldn't look for past or present miracles.
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Re: Not seeing the forest for the trees

Postby Cephus » Sun May 13, 2012 7:37 pm

DjVortex wrote:
DjVortex wrote:Some of the most common arguments for the existence of God, when a believer is questioned, are that things like miracles (such as miracle healings) and supernatural things (such as fulfilled prophecies etc) exist.


The theists' opening statement of the debate held on April 14, 2012 at Collin College in Frisco, Texas (which is linked in the newest AE blog post) has a really marvelous example of exactly that.

"Presumptive atheism presumes that none of the thousands of miracles or revelational claims are worthy of belief, yet only one need be right to vindicate theism."

The idea that the existence of miracles proves theism is so deeply ingrained that the debater doesn't even feel the need to argue why that conclusion would be correct. It's taken for granted.


The problem is, they cannot demonstrate any of the miracles and they entirely reject the revelational claims of all other religions while demanding their own are valid. Sure, come up with a way to prove anything they claim is factually true and I'll be the first one in line to believe it. Until they can do that though, they're still whistling Dixie off-key.
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Re: Not seeing the forest for the trees

Postby DjVortex » Mon May 14, 2012 6:43 am

Cephus wrote:The problem is, they cannot demonstrate any of the miracles


No, that's not the major problem. How many times do I have to repeat that? Rather than repeating myself over and over, I'll just refer to my original post that I started this thread with.
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