From: Brian Holtz []
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2003 11:13 PM
To: Kyle Gerkin
Cc:; jason@*****
Subject: RE: On Rennie's and Gerkin's discussion
KG: what I'm claiming is that: miracles by definition can never be the best explanation for any historical report.
Perhaps you mean: for any historical event the only evidence for which are non-independent historical accounts.  Because again, historical accounts can be corroborated (or not) by demonstrably-independent accounts and by material evidence that is independent of all accounts.  (For example, if ancient Mayan hieroglyphs told the same story as the gospels, it would be very hard to maintain that the relevant Mayans were merely mistaken, delusional, or lying.)
JR: I may never have looked at apparent atrocities in the Bible, and attempted to understand them properly if not for skeptical questions in that direction.

BH: Christians not reading their Bibles is indeed one of the reasons why Christianity isn't dying more quickly.

KG: This comment was an unnecessary jab at Jason. Oh, it wasn't too bad, and may have an element of truth to it, but why antagonize? As secular humanists (presuming you are) we ought to take a more diplomatic approach, at least if we're interested in changing anyone's mind.

The mind-changing I'm interested in is that done by exposing each side's arguments to the best available counter-arguments. I'll put my record of civility up against Rennie's (or Turkel's!) any day, but I'll leave it others to change minds through conciliation or deference. :-)

Rennie's essay claims that history shows Christianity's arguments to be winning over the opposing arguments. I think the opposite is obviously the case, and I think a big reason why is the printing press and the associated spread of knowledge and Bibles. (I'm probably not the only atheist to whom the Bible Gateway feels comfortably like a skeptics' site.)

KG: In fact, that's what this whole "Scholarly Diplomacy" project is about.
Good luck on your project; civility is sorely needed among those you're ministering to. :-)
KG: I don't know your history with JPH, so I will tread lightly here.
Our history is that my unflinching civility toward him has been answered with increasing levels of incivility and immaturity.  This of course is not a complaint, as his behavior hurts only his cause, not mine.
KG: But, why insist on using his real name, when he clearly prefers a pseudonym?
If he changed all his references to me to use my name, I'd be willing to use his pseudonym in all my references to him. But in light of his practices, I see no need to cater to his naming whims.
KG: For any given recorded historical event, we cannot say with absolute certainty whether it actually occurred or not. After all, there are always four possibilities:
The person is telling the truth and such an event really happened.
The person is telling the truth but they were mistaken about the event they thought they witnessed.
The person is telling the truth but they were delusional and/or hallucinated the event.
The person is lying.

BH: This analysis fails to consider that historical accounts can be corroborated (or not) by demonstrably-independent accounts and by material evidence that is independent of all accounts.

KG: I don't see how I "failed to consider" those things. I did not mention them,

I didn't say you failed to consider them; I said the quoted analysis fails to consider them -- in that it indeed does not mention them.
KG: but that was simply because I was listing possible scenarios, not types of evidence. Of course I agree with you that supporting evidence of that nature is valid.
I'm not sure I understand your scenario/evidence distinction, but I'm glad we agree that corroboration is possible.
BH: Some historical facts are indeed tenuous, but others (e.g. that Columbia was destroyed on Feb 1 2003) are less subject to overthrow than have been some of even the most reproducible conclusions of the laboratory sciences.

KG: Again, I was speaking more specifically to historical reports in the distant past - prior to film, video and mass media. But your point is taken.
BH:  A supernatural explanation is just like any other explanation, except just that it posits that a fundamental physical description of the universe must make irreducible reference to some agency's volition.

KG: I would suggest that there is a key difference between a supernatural explanation and (many) natural explanations. That is, we know of instances where natural explanations were indeed the legitimate (i.e. lying). But I have yet to come across a supernatural explanation that was validated to my satisfaction.

Yes, this is an important difference between natural and supernatural explanations, and one I glossed over by saying "is just like any other explanation, except just .."
BH: But if parsimony and uniformitarianism conflict (e.g. as with the Big Bang, or if there were empirical corroboration of the Resurrection), then parsimony wins.

GK: Fair enough. But comparing the Big Bang to the rez is not quite on the level. After all, the beginning of the universe can only happen once, and thus uniformitarianism is inapplicable. But there is no particular reason why there couldn't be hundreds of resurrections for us to study.

"Big Bang" and "beginning of the universe" may have the same denotation, but they do not have precisely the same connotation. "Beginning of the universe" and "The Resurrection" both can only happen once, by definition.  Other resurrections, and Bangs of various kinds, can (at the level of metaphysical possibility) happen hundreds of times. Nevertheless, their respective proponents say that the relevant bang and resurrection happened only once.
JPH: By now it has become abundantly clear why I am pleased to embarking on the Scholarly Diplomacy series with Kyle in particular. [This is one guy who's not going to act like the whole Christian edifice is overturned because Chronicles says Solomon took 4000 baths...]

BH: Indeed: Gerkin's position of seemingly defining the supernatural out of existence is untenable, and makes an understandably tempting target.

GK: This is taken out of context and clearly not what Holding meant.

(The context is restored above.)  If I thought debating you caused Turkel pleasure for precisely the same reasons that he claims, then I of course would have no reason to comment here. :-)
BH: It is not impossible that data related to gospel miracles could constitute such evidence.

GK: I agree. And I do not rule such evidence. Indeed, I would be eager to examine it.