questions on and reflections about debate with Comfort
My post is centered around a few issue which arose from the debate which the RRS had with Comfort and Cameron. Before starting, I'd like to initially point out that I didn't watch every second of the debate, so I apologize if I misrepresent the RRS. With that said, I did watch nearly all of the debate which the RRS took part in. (I skipped nearly all of Comfort and Cameron's arguments and points out of sheer embarassment, and I'm a theist! Those guys simply aren't debaters.) I have four points or issues to discuss: agnostic or atheist?; defining 'science' and its relevance to the current issue; the cosmological argument; Josephus on Jesus.
To begin, I think that Sapien is mistaken when he claims that the non-belief in the existenc of God entails atheism. Now, he seesm to hint at this in the debate by conflating the two concepts, which caused me to think that this is his view. Yet I'm know sure of it after having read his discussion of it here. Agnosticism, as traditional held, claims that one does not hold a belief in God. Atheism, on the other hand, has been traditionally viewed as the beleif that God doesn't exist. Although Sapien insists that the two are same, he is mistaken on this account. For any propostion, P, one can take any of three positions towards it: belief that P; belief that not-P; witholding of belief that P or that not-P. Regarding the proposition 'God exists', the first corresponds to theism, the second atheism, and the third agnosticism. This is a basic fact about propositinal attitudes which, I believe, one can find in any introductory textbook on epistemology (i.e., the theory of knowledge). Now, I could give a clear and decisive counterexample to any claim that not believing 'God exists' is equivalent to believing that God doesn't exist, but I'll do so only if someone needs it to understand this fact about propositional attitudes. (I'm really tired right now.) The importance of this is that being an atheist is a much stronger claim than being an agnostic, and there is more of a burden on the atheist. The atheist needs to present arguments that God doesn't exist, rather than simply purporting that there is no evidence that God does exist. This will only get one to agnosticism.
Secondly, I'm curious about the RRS's view and usage of 'science' in regards to this debate. The female (sorry, I forgot her name) seems to argue that science only deals with repeatable instances. It's that which we can observe and see if it's true (contrasted with God' s universe creating factory). My first question relates to the pertinence of defining science is a debate about God's existence. I have a feeling that the RRS is adhering to some version of scientism, that is, that science is are only means of acquiring truth. One reason a suspect this or something similar is that, besides for the debate, the RRS page asks for theists to give their "scientific" reasons for God's existence. If I'm right about this persepctive, it should be noted that such a posiiton is self-refuting. Why? Because it sets up truth conditions which it cannot itself meet. A propostion isn't scientifically testable. One can't put it in a testube and see if it comes out a certain way. To the point, either the RRS adheres to scientism which is self-refuting, or it's demanding the standards of scientism for a theist, which it can't itself hold. Now, to her definition itself. Science clearly isn't simply about observable entities that can be seen again and again. I'll cite two examples that counter such a claim: black holes and the big bang theory. Neither of these would meet such a criteria, yet both are scientific.
Thirdly, Sapien seems to misunderstand the cosmological argument for the existence of God, at least the cosmological version of it. The argument, formally stated, is as follows:
1) Everything which begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
2)The universe began to exist.
3)Therefore, the universe has a cause for it existence.
I know of no one who makes the claim that everything must have a cause for its existence, and this is certainly not what this argument is saying. (It may be, however, that Comfort misstated the argument.)
Fourthly, I'd like to briefly mention points related to the position that Jesus didn't exist, particularly Sapient's claim that Josephus never mentions Jesus. The claim that Josephus never mentions Jesus is simply not true; he does so in two different spots. Sapien makes the claim that these are forgeries. Well, this maybe true depending on what he means. If he's claiming that there is reference to Jesus that is a forgery, then he's right. If he's claiming that every refernce to Jesus withing Josephus' writing, then he is mistaken. Of the two texts referring to Jesus, one has later Christian interpolations, but two points can be made about this. First, the interpolations are only a minor portion of the text. Second, there is another reference to Jesus. Granted, the one with the interpolation is the main text, but it still isn't completely forged. Moreover, the onus is on someone like Sapien to argue for this radical claim, for nearly all scholars hold this position. Here's a quote from one of the foremost New Testment scholars of the last several decades, Raymond Brown, in the first volume of his "The Death of the Messiah":
"Even if few scholars today would argue that Josephus wrote the whole passage as quoted, most would contend that Josephus wrote a basic text to which Christians made additions. In vocabulary and style large parts of it are plausibly from the hand of Josephus . . . . Although some statments in the Testimonium are fulsome and fit a Christian pen, other statements would scarcely have originated (in the 2d cent. or later) with those who believed that Jesus was the Son of God, e.g., 'a wise man' seems an understatement. . . Moreover, we have no evidence of Christians in the 1st cent. referring to themselves as a tribe or clan. The Testimonium is found in all mss. of Ant. and was cited in full in the early 4th cent. by Eusebius. . . It may have been known in some form in the early 3d cent. by Origen, who discussed the fact that Josephus mentioned Jesus without believing that he was Messiah. . . . The partial interpolation or gloss theory finds support also among Jewish scholars."
Sorry for the length, but I simply wanted to point out the mistakeness of Sapien's view on this issue. He's the one in minority on this position, and it seems to speak of a lack of sincere desire to acquire truth. They seem to be simply interested finding and arguing agaisnt theism, particularly Christianity, at all cost.
With all that stated, I'd like to briefly point out what seems to me to be a philosophical error that hides withing some of the RRS's reasoning. The error relates to the field of epistemology and is this: one needn't be able to argue, show, or "prove" that a propostion is true for one to justifiably believe it or know it. This seems to be the view of some of the RRS squad and it's a mistake, and one which can be found in just about any introductory textbook on epistemology. Why, you may ask? Well, simply put, if that's the requirement for knowledge, then no one can know anything. Why? Because one would have to show, give reasons for, "prove" any belief to be true before it would be justified, but this would have to be applied to reason given, and so on, and so on. We'd have an infinite regress on our hands.
Well, this is all I have to say. I hope for some interesting and fruitful discussion from members of the RRS or anyone for that matter.