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Miracles At Lourdes

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We can see from cases like the (false) believers at Lourdes and others that humans are really, really unreliable when they report miracles. Furthermore, the early Christians would have been highly …

We can see from cases like the (false) believers at Lourdes and others that humans are really, really unreliable when they report miracles. Furthermore, the early Christians would have been highly disposed to believe supernatural claims about Jesus, they were ignorant of a wide range of psychological facts about humans and their religiousness, and the Jesus story has been filtered through a long process with the goal of promoting belief. I argue that these layers of doubt undermine the output--the resurrection story we now have. And we should not believe it.

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  • W. Dewi Rees, The Hallucinations of Widowhood, Br Med J  1971;4:37-41 (2 October), doi:10.1136/bmj.4.5778.37 John J. Pilch, Appearances of the Risen Jesus in Cultural Context: Experiences of Alternate Reality, Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Vol. 28, No. 2, 52-60 (1998) A. Grimby, Bereavement among elderly people: grief reactions, post-bereavement hallucinations and quality of life. ActaPsychiatricaScandinavicaVolume 87 Issue 1, Pages 72 - 80
  • Greenberg, Daniel L. “President Bush’s False ‘Flashbulb’ Memory of 9/11/01” Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18: 363–370 (2004)Loftus, Elizabeth, "The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse," St. Martin's Griffin, (1994)Neisser, Ulric and Nicole Harsch, “Phantom Flashbulbs: False recollections of hearing the news about Challenger” in Eugene Winograd and UlricNeisser, eds.Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of “flashbulb” memories (Cambridge U Press, 1992), 9-31Ross, L., Lepper, M. R. and Hubbard, M. Perseverance in self-perception and social perception: Biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 1975, 880-892
  • Allah speaks to Mohammed. The angel Moroni tells Joseph Smith where two golden plates are buried. Scientology. Magical stories about Krishna and the origins of Hinduism. Buddha’s transformation into a perfectly enlightened being. The Inquisition’s analysis of demon possessions, black magic, witchcraft, and so on. Astrology. Ancient Greek beliefs in invisible, spiritual powers linked to the material world.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Miracles and Probability from Lourdes to Lazarus
      Debate 2: Matt McCormick and Russell DiSilvestro
    • 2. Can We Determine the Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony of Miracles?
      • Lourdes, France: 80,000 pilgrims a year for over a century= more than 8 million people.
      • 3. Suppose, charitably, that half experienced something they took to be supernatural.
      • 4. 66 miracles have been declared to be real by the official investigating body of the Catholic church.
      • 5. Provisional Miracle testimony reliability= .0000165
      • 6. That is, humans are really, really bad at reporting miracles. They have hundreds of thousands or even millions of false reports for every real one (or worse.)
      • 7. We’re miracle crazy.
    • It Gets Worse
      Question: Would the early followers of Jesus have been more or less reliable about reporting miraculous events than the people at Lourdes?
      Answer: Much less reliable.
      We have even more reasons to doubt the reliability of the original believers because of who they were and when they lived.
    • 8. Receptivity to Supernatural Claims
      • How disposed is a person, in general, to accept or reject claims about supernatural entities, forces, or events?
      • 9. First century Christians would have been much more disposed to believe a wide range of supernatural claims, including a lot of false ones that you wouldn’t accept.
      • 10. That is, their error rate with regard to supernatural claims would be high: they would conclude that miracles were more common than they really are, for example.
      • 11. If there were supernatural ideas circulating about that were false or unfounded, this person would be more likely to believe them and repeat them.
      • 12. Their ignorance, their culture, their dedication to Jesus, their lack of a scientific skepticism or method, their expectations, their history, and other factors would contribute to this supernatural gullibility.
    • Ignorance
      • If someone is largely ignorant of the important background information concerning a topic, then their lack of information reduces their reliability.
      • 13. So my ignorance about it should diminish the confidence you have about one of those claims being true, all other things being equal. 
      • 14. That’s why you shouldn’t believe me when I insist that the Detroit Lions will win the Superbowl.
      • 15. And that’s why you shouldn’t get your political views from Lindsay Lohan.
    • Religiousness and supernaturalism are inversely related to education:
      • We have good empirical evidence that as a person’s education level increases, their belief in survival of the soul, miracles, heaven, the resurrection, the virgin birth, hell, the devil, ghosts, astrology, and reincarnation drop off dramatically. (http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?pid=359)
      • 16. Gallup Polls have consistently found similar results. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/109108/Belief-God-Far-Lower-Western-US.aspx)
      • 17. Religiousness, superstition, and supernaturalism are positively correlated with ignorance. When people have more education, they are less likely to believe.
    • We can make the same sort of projection back across time:
      • Consider the difference between your education level, or the general level of knowledge that the average American with a K-12 education has and the level of ignorance of a simple fisherman or a beggar living in the first century in Palestine.
      • 18. Almost all of the information that you take for granted, the technology, and the methods for acquiring information were unavailable to them.
      • 19. A tiny fraction of the population would have been literate.
      • 20. Their mathematical abilities would have been worse than today’s average 3rd grader.
      • 21. They did not know that the Earth moves, or what the Sun was.
      • 22. They did not know what electricity, hydrogen are.
      • 23. They did not know what caused disease, or pregnancy, or death.
      • 24. If religiousness, superstition, and supernaturalism rise as education goes down, then they must have been rampant among the people who had contact with Jesus (if he was real at all.)
    • Worries about the Alleged Witnesses:
      Lourdes Problem-out of millions of visitors claiming miracles, the Catholic church has recognized 67 authentic ones.
      Lesson: humans are exceedingly unreliable at reporting miracles. .000033 (!)
      Bereavement hallucinations-robust auditory and/or visual hallucinations of recently deceased loved ones happen in over 80% of widowers.
      Asch Effect —30-75% of subjects give an obviously wrong answer when in the company of others who give it.
      Supernatural Belief Threshold -the world would have been filled with mysterious, spiritually charged, magical, and inexplicable events for uneducated, illiterate peasants in the first century. They would have been strongly inclined to accept a wide range supernatural claims .
      The Gorilla Problem—eye witnesses are really, really bad. Prof. Daniel Simmons, U of Illinois, selective attention and change blindness http://viscog.beckman.illinois.edu/flashmovie/15.php
    • 25. Worries about the Repeaters:
      Organic Memory- humans revise, edit, fabricate memories, and then conceal the changes to themselves.
      Confirmation Bias- the tendency to note events that favor a favored belief while neglecting counter evidence.
      Source Amnesia- we recall claims, but forget the sources or whether they are true.
    • 26. Author Problems
      The Mark Bottle Neck- Matthew and Luke copied from Mark. Possibly independent lines of information dwindle 2 or 3.
      Inconsistent/contradictory stories- one angel, two angels, Jesus, no Jesus, empty, Mary by herself, with others, tells disciples, doesn’t tell disciples, runs away, stays. . .
      Mark’s New Ending- Mark ends at 16:8 in oldest versions. 16:9-20 (Resurrected Jesus returns) is added 100-150 years later.
    • 27. Copier Problems
      Ideological and Evangelical revisions, harmonizations-we know of thousands of additions, subtractions, and edits driven by ideological convictions, and the goal of “correcting” the various works to get them to align. How many more have we not detected?
      Copy errors-the Carpenter Problem- there is a single mention of Jesus being a carpenter in the Gospels, suppose that had said “tax collector,” or “magician”?
      Counter evidence problem-To be justified, we need to know that alternative explanations were investigated. No such evidence would have survived through centuries of filtering and copying, even if it was there.
      We can’t take materials that have been carefully groomed for centuries for the specific purpose of propagating the resurrection story, and then when we fail to find evidence in them that something else happened, proclaim the resurrection to be validated.
    • 28. Canonization Problems
      Thousands of early Christian documents, many of them with very different accounts of Jesus and Christian doctrine were deliberately sifted and culled to create a single, unified (sort of) narrative.
      To look back and marvel at the coherence or unity of the Bible, or to cite them as evidence in favor of the resurrection story commits the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy—the Jesus Sharpshooters.
      Counter Evidence Problem-if there was information that would have disproven R, it would not have survive the centuries of deliberate culling.
    • 29. An Amplification of Doubts
      Oldest surv. copies
      Gospels written
      Canon created
      R?
      Salem Witch Trial Problem
      Jesus Sharpshooter Problem
      Counter Evidence Problem
      Canonizers
      Ideological Revisions
      Copy Errors
      Counter Evidence Problem
      Harmonizations
      Copiers
      Authors
      Mark Bottle Neck
      Contradictions
      There are too many doubts between me and the alleged event for me to conclude that it happened.
      Organic Memory
      Confirmation Bias
      Source Amnesia
      SBT
      Repeaters
      1. Lourdes Prob.
      2. Bereavement Hallucinations
      Asch Effect
      SBT
      Gorilla Problem
      Alleged eyewitnesses
    • 30. Conclusion
      The historical evidence is too poor for me to conclude reasonably that the resurrection of Jesus happened.