• Heads You Win, Tails I Lose #1

    When thinking about subjects like the fine-tuning argument it becomes apparent that the theist loves to have their cake and eat it. They thrive off a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario.

    What I mean by this can be exemplified as follows:

    In the fine-tuning argument when a skeptic argues:

    The universe is more fine-tuned for death than life. The size of the universe is so unbelievably and unnecessarily massive that it appears that it is not designed for human life.

    Etc etc

    the theist retorts:

    The fine balance of these constants means that it is just about right for life. Anything more or less will not permit life. Aah, but size does not matter. Just because life might just exist in one corner of the universe does not necessarily mean that the universe is not designed with us in mind. The value of the diamond is not particularly size dependent.
    And so on.

    While on the surface these retorts may seem logically coherent, the scenario that they build up is problematic. The end result is this:

    If the universe had been much smaller, just right for human life on a human scale, then the universe would have been obviously designed for humans, so would claim the same theist. The universe is the direct opposite of that, but still this somehow shows that God obviously designed it, such as the design being based on other purposes, using the analogy of the Sistine Chapel (one marvels at the size and beauty of it but it doesn’t need to be that big; that the awe and wonder derives from its magnitude) and so on.

    If the universe had constants that were comfortably in the middle of a range of values that supported life, and if the universe wasn’t so incredibly unfriendly to life and downright deadly, then the theist would argue that voilà, the universe is designed for life.

    So both ends of the spectrum- a deadly universe and a life-friendly one (and everywhere in the middle) – the theist claims (or would claim) that this is evidence for a designer-creator god!

    Likewise, with regards to abiogenesis (the creation of life in the universe), the theist presently claims, in the absence of totally conclusive evidence, that God must have supernaturally done his stuff to create life. However, if we now found conclusive empirical proof that abiogenesis was naturalistic in mechanism, then the theist would simply switch from supernatural mechanism to saying something akin to “God obviously had to create the natural laws and mechanisms to bring about life” which is exactly what theistic evolutionists maintain.

    This isn’t just the case for the fine-tuning arguments, but also in biblical criticism where the ad hoc nature of the contrived defences of biblical authority and historicity mean that, with incredible historical issues and incongruities within the same text and with extrabibilical texts, the issues and respective defences still show that the bible is authoritative and true. However, if these issues didn’t exist, the theist would claim, still (and possibly more), that the bible were true and accurate.

    Heads you win, tails I lose.

    The ramifications of this approach are clear. There is no scenario that could exist which would prove, even probabilistically, that God did not exist or design the universe or whatever. No matter what scenario, the theist would contrive some explanation as to why that scenario supported the existence of God.

    For those too lazy to read, here is a video on the point I did some time ago:

    Now let us look at this idea in the context of the historical Jesus. I would like to draw people’s attention to an interesting list of historicity criteria for establishing historical credibility in claims about Jesus found in the New Testament (provided by Richard Carrier here).

    As mentioned above, the ramifications of this kind of epistemological approach (heads you win, tails I lose) are clear.

    I have been working my way through Richard Carrier’s “Proving History” and came across this list of historicity criteria used by biblical scholars to determine credibility of New Testament sources with regards to historical accuracy. The list makes for an intriguing example of the “heads you win, tails I lose” analogy set out above. The list below (p. 121-122), as Carrier himself states, is only a partial list, with the possibility that the criteria could be as numerous as three dozen.

    Dissimilarity – if dissimilar to Judaism or early church, it’s probably true
    Embarrassment – if it was embarrassing, it must be true
    Coherence – if it coheres with other confirmed data, it’s likely true
    Multiple Attestation – if attested in more than one source, it’s more likely true
    Explanatory Credibility – if its being true better explains later traditions, it’s true
    Contextual Plausibility – must be plausible in a Jewish or Greco-Roman context
    Historical Plausibility – must cohere with a plausible historical reconstruction
    Natural Probability – coheres with natural science (etc.)
    Oral Preservability – must be capable of surviving oral transmission
    Crucifixion – must explain (or make sense of) why Jesus was crucified
    Fabricatory Trend – mustn’t match trends in fabrication or embellishment
    Least Distinctiveness – the simpler version is the more historical
    Vividness of Narration – the more vivid, the more historical
    Textual Variance – the more invariable a tradition, the more historical
    Greek Context – credible, if context suggests parties speaking Greek
    Aramaic Context – credible, if context suggests parties speaking Aramaic
    Discourse Features – credible, if Jesus’ speeches cohere in a unique style
    Characteristic Jesus – credible, if it’s both distinctive and characteristic of Jesus

    What is interesting about this list is the opposite ends of the spectrum that some of these criteria adopt. Embarrassment and coherence pretty much covers anything someone can say. I could say, “On Tuesday, Jim walked down the street naked” and this, given that Jim normally wears clothes, is likely true because of its embarrassing and unlikely nature. However, if I claimed, “On Tuesday, Jim walked down the street in jeans and a tee” then this would be coherent with expectations, and likely be true. Both claims, though opposites, have high credibility depending on which criteria one uses.

    What does this mean? Well, in the discipline of biblical exegesis, one can create a historicity criteria for anything which is mentioned. As such, for every sentence in the New Testament, one can contrive a criteria which shows credibility.

    Heads you win, tails I lose.

    What examples can you think of where theists employ this kind of reasoning?

    Category: Biblical ExegesisEpistemologyJesusPhilosophy of Religion

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • This is exactly why I accuse Christians of having an unfalsifiable faith quite often. I also refer to them as shape shifters and invincibly ignorant. I do not do this as a smear term but it is because no matter what the evidence is, they ALWAYS find a way to rationalize belief.

      It was once thought that once evolution was proven that would of necessity disprove religion, but the Christian just thinks god is even more ingenuous than we thought. Though in my mind it is a devastating blow against Christianity. They will ALWAYS find ways to shift around any data as often as they need to to accommodate any findings that seem to upset their beliefs. (Think young earth creationism to old earth creationism, gap theory to progressive creationism to theistic evolution, etc..)

      I find this very disturbing about Christians.

    • So both ends of the spectrum- a deadly universe and a life-friendly one (and everywhere in the middle) – the theist claims (or would claim) that this is evidence for a designer-creator god!

      But you aren’t describing both ends of the spectrum. The end of the spectrum that the fine-tuning argument is not compatible with is the end of the spectrum where no life exists in the universe. If the fine-tuning argument is correct (I’m personally agnostic on the issue) then the atheist range of the spectrum is far larger than the theist range of the spectrum.

      Likewise, with regards to abiogenesis (the creation of life in the universe), the theist presently claims, in the absence of totally conclusive evidence, that God must have supernaturally done his stuff to create life.

      This theist doesn’t hold that view. I believe God may or may not have supernaturally created the first life. Regardless, he sustains creation. It’s not as if natural mechanisms are outside his control.

      I have been working my way through Richard Carrier’s “Proving History” and came across this list of historicity criteria used by biblical scholars to determine credibility of New Testament sources with regards to historical accuracy. The list makes for an intriguing example of the “heads you win, tails I lose” analogy set out above.

      Who is winning and losing in this scenario? It’s not as if every scholar studying the historical Jesus is a Christian. Are we to believe that, say, a Jewish scholar who uses the criteria is causing Christianity to “win” and Judaism to “lose”? Or is he causing Judaism to “win” and Christianity to “lose”?

      Well, in the discipline of biblical exegesis, one can create a historicity criteria for anything which is mentioned. As such, for every sentence in the New Testament, one can contrive a criteria which shows credibility.

      And what criteria or methodology would you use when doing history (including but not limited to NT history)?

      • This theist doesn’t hold that view. 

        Of course, with 42,000 different denominations of Christianity it is hard to make any comment as to what Christians believe! And then, within those denominations…

        As for the spectrum, it depends how you define it. If we are talking about potential numbers for constants, given that numbers are potentially infinite, then so is the spectrum, mathematically.

        If you are talking life to no life, then it is digital and involves only two points. 

        If we are talking about ‘ease’ for life, and with the range of constants that allow life, then this is what I am talking about.

        Who is winning and losing in this scenario? It’s not as if every scholar studying the historical Jesus is a Christian. 

        Actually, those using those criteria are almost exclusively Christian. The criteria have been developed by NT Jesus scholars to validate the historicity of Jesus. It smacks to me or presupposition. Assume the validity first, and then assemble criteria to codify such validation.

        •  

          As for the spectrum, it depends how you define it. If we are talking about potential numbers for constants, given that numbers are potentially infinite, then so is the spectrum, mathematically.

          If you are talking life to no life, then it is digital and involves only two points.

          If we are talking about ‘ease’ for life, and with the range of constants that allow life, then this is what I am talking about.

          Mathematically I think the number of potential universes is huge. I take the FTA to be saying that, on chance, the number of potential universes that support life is far smaller than the number of potential universes that do not support life. A universe with no life would mean the FTA “loses”.

          Actually, those using those criteria are almost exclusively Christian. The criteria have been developed by NT Jesus scholars to validate the historicity of Jesus.

          It would not surprise me if the majority of historical Jesus scholars are Christians in some form or another (i.e., many may not be orthodox). But atheist/agnostic Bart Ehrman has used (some of) the criteria and so has the liberal Jesus Seminar. Neither of these two is rubber stamping everything in the Gospels.

          • Mathematically I think the number of potential universes is huge. I take the FTA to be saying that, on chance, the number of potential universes that support life is far smaller than the number of potential universes that do not support life.

            Intuitively, I would agree, though empirically this is (at the moment) impossible to work out. We can perhaps more easily work out what happens when you change one variable. But when you start messing around with multiple variables and constants, it gets very difficult.

            Of course, multiverse theory (which is now seen as “orthodox” by many cosmologists) confuses matters.

            as for proportion of NT scholars who are Christian – this is a huge issue, since Craig utilises the “75% of NT scholars believe in the empty tomb 4 facts”. this is nonsense for many reasons. Firstly, almost 100% of Islamic scholars believe… it doesn’t make the Qu’ran true. I~ got in to a debate about this and sent off a simple questionnaire some years back to all the biblical studies course providers in the uk to ask what percentage of their students and faculty were Christians and what were or went on to be published. I didn’t get all that many repsonses, but of those I DID get, 100% were Christian.

            I would suggest reading Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies who deals with just this. It is also something that James Crossley, a rare secular scholar in the UK whom I have conversed with by email has issue with.

    • pboyfloyd

      Me:- How could anyone convince themselves that they’re good, that they must be good,
      because they’re Godly, that Godliness is good despite witch and heretic burning,
      hanging and generally killing off over the centuries.
      Christian:- “If “God does exist and created all things for his pleasure as stated in the
      Bible Then it would be up to the creator to say what is good and or evil, Right.

      Now to him, this is a good point, and he has just changed perspective a tad there. While I’m saying that the Godly aren’t necessarily good, he’s saying that anything God would do or say is necessarily good.

      This is a version of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’, because the Christian is stepping back from my accusation, that no matter how Godly witch/heretic-hunting Christians were, they weren’t good.

      But, it seems to me, all Christians are prone to being shadow-warriors. You claim that such-and-such is a typical Christian stance, and your argument is refuted with, “Why I’m a Christian and I believe no such thing! You, sir, are giving me the vapors with your accusations! Why, if dueling were only legal these days I’d slap you with my glove!”

      If you generalize, they’ll specify and if you specify, they’ll generalize.

      No translation of the Bible, or version of the Bible is perfect so, although the Scriptures are, The Word of God, a typical version of the Bible isn’t. Having your cake and eating it. Heads I win, every verse I quote is the Word of God. Tails you lose, every verse you quote is from an imperfect translation/version.

    • A quote from a friend of mine ‘Nearenough” on Amazon which I thought was interesting:

      “My position is the misuse or overuse of the term “God” which assumes
      there is a single creator with omnimax powers that supposedly answers
      the question, “where did everything come from?”

      We don’t know, period.

      Humans
      live in a world dominated by humans, who live, work, create things, and
      come up with theories, opinions, and facts. Our thinking about origins
      is set in this humanoid milieu; it says there is another
      man/woman/humanoid. albeit very powerful who in analogy to us did the
      creating of all things. Practically all those who consider this question
      (the explanandum) start out with (and usually continue with) an image
      of a sky-man as the “God” explanans.

      Theological literature
      attempting to back up this point almost always employs anthropomorphic
      terminology to describe “God.” The Bible (the main book in question
      here) is riddled with such descriptions: we were created in the image of
      God, God looks down, God listens to prayer, Jacob wrestles with God,
      God comes down as an incarnation (Jesus), God is righteous, rules,
      judges, is compassionate and merciful (Koran) and rewards and punishes.

      All
      this is impossible. Humans evolved out of simian ancestors several
      million years ago. This fact of evolution is backed up by tons of
      evidence. There could not have been any humanoid power that created (and
      now sustains) the universe. Endless searching has revealed no such man.
      Revelation almost always is couched in humanoid terms (as are his acts
      just listed). No evidence of heaven, hell or the afterlife exists. The
      persistent absence of evidence despite continual searching is evidence
      of absence.

      Theists are embarrassed by listing God as a sky man
      which betrays their realization that God as man is a juvenile and
      simplistic assertion. They try to escape by assigning God a spirit
      character. Spirits are intangible, invisible and imaginary constructs to
      which arbitrary attributes can be added or taken away. God is love is
      one such attribute, but is contradicted by other descriptions of the God
      as a punisher of certain people who rebel against his existence and
      actions, or who have discarded acknowledgement of his existence.
      Numerous contradictions exist between various theological claims which
      alone suggest they all can’t be true, and that the invisible power has
      never been examined, thus requiring invented characteristic to be
      applied to him.
      The New Testament says Jesus is God. The Koran says
      (explicitly) Jesus is not God. Jews do not have faith in Jesus nor do
      they think he is or was God. Some 3000 Gods have been proposed (see
      godchecker.com) which strongly suggests that none of them can be
      legitimate.

      Christians cannot agree even among themselves the
      proper characterization or demands of God, hence hundreds of disparate
      denominations with different rites, rituals and “holy” books (the
      Protestant Bible, the Catholic Bible, the Book of Mormon, Mary Baker
      Eddy’s writings…). Muslims violently disagree on its origins, and are
      divided into hostile groups (Shi’ites v Sunnis) not to mention other
      sects (Wahabbis, Sufi mystics….) some willing to kill the others in
      suicide bombings.

      Whatever happened to Zeus? The Japanese creator God Amaterasu-ōmikami? How do Shiva and Vishnu fit in? Aten? Loki?

      Conclusion:
      The universe having emerged from an unexplained Big Bang of
      unparalleled energy (certainly managed by no humanoid god-man) is
      self-organizing. Our forms of life originated in our particular
      environment long after our world condensed and arose out of spontaneous
      purposeless self-assembly. Continued evolution gives rise to innumerable
      varieties of life, no supervisor needed.

      The positing of a God
      (with no evidence) merely pushes the question of origins one step
      further back and does not answer the question proposed.

      That settled, now I have to get back to my ham sandwich.”

      http://www.amazon.com/review/RNOYP3LF33ZYY/ref=cm_cd_pg_next?ie=UTF8&asin=0802863833&cdForum=FxERRP0RTV3FYO&cdPage=21&cdThread=Tx1KZ3O1JIF5KJ8&store=books#wasThisHelpful

      • I have been involved with nearenough on amazon before, I think. Nice quote, btw.

    • You are not arguing against fine tuning of our universe, right?
      One interesting bit. Universe is huge but mostly empty space. If we could put all the stars from all the galaxies next to each other they would fit in roughly one billion light year cube.

       Atom is also mostly empty space. Now if you would take all the matter from the one billion light year cube and put all the nuclei and electrons next to each other, all  would fit inside the area of  our solar system.
      (It would feel somewhat crowded like I’m living back in Europe)

      Do you know what it takes to make a universe, Tippling Philosopher?

      • The main point is, no matter what makes the universe up, what is a more likely explanation – a perfect God, or something else?

        Given the preponderance of black holes and other entities of death, and given the eventual and inevitable death of the universe, it seems that the all-loving God hypothesis is the least likely.

    • Point taken, we all wonder what is really going on. Some
      scientists consider universe a simulation, like a very good holodeck.  I don’t
       know how serious they are about it.

      Death of the universe? We’ll be OK, there seems to be the
      restaurant at the end of the universe.