Friday, November 30, 2012

The Religious A Priori



(1) Scineitifc reductionism loses phenomena by re-defining the nature of sense data and quailia.

(2)There are other ways of Knowing than scinetific induction

(3) Religious truth is apprehended phenomenoloigcally, thus religion is not a scientific issue and cannot be subjected to a materialist critque

(4) Religion is not derived from other disciplines or endeavors but is a approch to understanding in its own right

Therefore, religious belief is justified on its own terms and not according to the dictates or other disciplines

In my dealings with atheist in debate and dialogue I find that they are often very committed to an empiricist view point. Over and over again I hear the refrain "you can't show one single unequivocal demonstration of scientific data that proves a God exists." This is not a criticism. It's perfectly understandable; science has become the umpire of reality. It is to scientific demonstration that we appear for a large swath of questions concerning the nature of reality. The problem is that the reliance upon empiricism has led to forgetfulness about the basis of other types of questions. We have forgotten that essentially science is metaphysics, as such it is just one of many approach that can be derived from analytical reasoning, empiricism, rationalism, phenomonology and other approaches.

Problem with Empiricism

Is empirical evidence the best or only true form of knowledge? This is an apologetics question because it bears upon the arguments for the existence of God.

Is lack of empirical evidence, if there is a lack, a draw back for God arguments?
I deny that there is a lack, but it has to be put in the proper context. That will come in future threads, for this one I will bracket that answer and just assume there no really good empirical evidence (even though I think there is).

I will ague that empiricism is not true source of knowledge by itself and logic is more important.

True empirical evidence in a philosophical sense means exact first hand observation. In science it doesn't really mean that, it implies a more truncated process. Consider this, we drop two balls of different size from a tower. Do they fall the same rate or the bigger one falls faster? They are supposed to fall at the same rate, right? To say we have empirical proof, in the litteral sense of the term we would have to observe every single time two balls are dropped for asl ong as the tower exists. We would have to sit for thousnds of years and observe millions of drops and then we couldn't say it was truely empirical because we might have missed one.

That's impractical for science so we cheat with inductive reasoning. We make assumptions of probability. We say we observed this 40,000 times, that's a tight correlation, so we will assume there is a regularity in the universe that causes it to work this way every time. We make a statistical correlation. Like the surgeon general saying that smoking causes cancer. The tobacco companies were really right, they read their Hume, there was no observation fo cause and effect, because we never observe cause and effect. But the correlation was so tight we assume cause and effect.

The ultimate example is Hume's billiard balls. Hume says we do not see the cause of the ball being made to move, we only really see one ball stop and the other start. But this happens every time we watch, so we assume that the tight corrolation gives us causality.

The naturalistic metaphysician assumes that all of nature works this way. A tight correlation is as good as a cause. So when we observe only naturalistic causes we can assume there is nothing beyond naturalism. The problem is many phenomena can fall between the cracks. One might go one's whole life never seeing a miraculous event, but that doesn't mean someone else doesn't observe such things. All the atheist can say is "I have never seen this" but I can say "I have." Yet the atheist lives in a construct that is made up of his assumptions about naturslitic c/e and excluding anyting that challenges it. That is just like Kuhns paradigm shift. The challenges are absorbed into the paradigm untl there are so many the paradigm has to shit. This may never happen in naturalism.

So this constructed view of the world that is made out of assumption and probabilities misses a lot of experience that people do have that contradicts the paradigm of naturalism. The thing is, to make that construct they must use logic. After all what they are doing in making the correlation is merely inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning has to play off of deductive reasoning to even make sense.

Ultimately then, "empiricism" as construed by naturalist (inductive probabalistic assumtions building constructs to form a world view) is inadquate because it is merely a contsuct and rules out a prori much that contradicts.

The A priori

God is not given directly in sense data, God transcends the threshold of human understanding, and thus is not given amenable to empirical proof. As I have commented in previous essays (bloodspots) religion is not a scientific question. There are other methodologies that must be used to understand religion, since the topic is essentially inter-subjective (and science thrives upon objective data). We can study religious behavior through empirical means and we can compare all sorts of statistical realizations through comparisons of differing religious experiences, behaviors, and options. But we cannot produce a trace of God in the universe through "objective" scientific means. Here I use the term "trace" in the Derision sense, the "track," "footprint" the thing to follow to put us on the scent. As I have stated in previous essays, what we must do is find the "co-detemrinate," the thing that is left by God like footprints in the snow. The trace of God can be found in God's affects upon the human heart, and that shows up objectively, or inter-subjectvely in changed behavior, changed attitudes, life transformations. This is the basis of the mystical argument that I use, and in a sense it also have a bearing upon my religious instruct argument. But here I wish to present anther view of the trace of God. This could be seen as a co-detmiernate perhaps, more importantly, it frees religion from the structures of having to measure up to a scientific standard of proof: the religious a prori.

Definition of the a priori.

"This notion [Religious a priori] is used by philosophers of religion to express the view that the sense of the Divine is due to a special form of awareness which exists along side the cognitive, moral, and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them. The concept of religion as concerned with the awareness of and response to the divine is accordingly a simple notion which cannot be defined by reference other than itself." --David Pailin "Religious a pariori" Westminster Dictionary of Chrisian Theology (498)

The religious a priroi deals with the speicial nature of religion as non-derivative of any other discipline, and especially it's speicial reiigious faculty of understanding which transcends ordinary means of understanding. Since the enlightenment atheist have sought to explain away religion by placing it in relative and discardable terms. The major tactic for accomplishing this strategy was use of the sociological theory of structural functionalism. By this assumption religion was chalked up to some relative and passing social function, such as promoting loyalty to the tribe, or teaching morality for the sake of social cohesion. This way religion was explained naturalistically and it was also set in relative terms because these functions in society, while still viable (since religion is still around) could always pass away. But this viewpoint assumes that religion is derivative of some other discipline; it's primitive failed science, concocted to explain what thunder is for example. Religion is an emotional solace to get people through hard times and make sense of death and destruction (it's a ll sin, fallen world et). But the a priori does away with all that. The a priori says religion is its own thing, it is not failed primitive sincere, nor is it merely a crutch for surviving or making sense of the world (although it can be that) it is also its own discipline; the major impetus for religion is the sense of the numinous, not the need for explanations of the natural world. Anthropologists are coming more and more to discord that nineteenth century approach anyway.

Thomas A Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio

Cross currents

"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

The Skeptic might argue "if religion as this unique form of consciousness that sets it apart form other forms of understanding, why does it have to be taught?" Obviously religious belief is taught through culture, and there is a good reason for that, because religion is a cultural construct. But that does not diminish the reality of God. Culture teaches religion but God is known to people in the heart. This comes through a variety of ways; through direct experience, through miraculous signs, through intuitive sense, or through a sense of the numinous. The Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology ..defines Numinous as "the sense of awe in attracting and repelling people to the Holy." Of course the background assumption I make is, as I have said many times, that God is apprehended by us mystically--beyond word, thought, or image--we must encode that understanding by filtering it through our cultural constrcts, which creates religious differences, and religious problems.

The Culturally constructed nature of religion does not negate the a priori. "Even though the forms by Which religion is expressed are culturally conditioned, religion itself is sui generis .. essentially irreducible to and undeceivable from the non-religious." (Paladin). Nor can the a priori be reduced to some other form of endeavor. It cannot be summed up by the use of ethics or any other field, it cannot be reduced to explanation of the world or to other fields, or physiological counter causality. To propose such scientific analysis, except in terms of measuring or documenting effects upon behavior, would yield fruitless results. Such results might be taken as proof of no validity, but this would be a mistake. No scientific control can ever be established, because any study would only be studying the culturally constructed bits (by definition since language and social sciences are cultural constructs as well) so all the social sciences will wind up doing is merely reifying the phenomena and reducing the experience. In other words, This idea can never be studied in a social sciences sense, all that the social sciences can do is redefine the phenomena until they are no longer discussing the actual experiences of the religious believer, but merely the ideology of the social scientist (see my essay on Thomas S. Kuhn.

The attempt of skeptics to apply counter causality, that is, to show that the a priori phenomena is the result of naturalistic forces and not miraculous or divine, not only misses the boat in its assumptions about the nature of the argument, but it also loses the phenomena by reduction to some other phenomena. It misses the boat because it assumes that the reason for the phenomena is the claim of miraculous origin, “I feel the presence of God because God is miraculously giving me this sense of his presence.” While some may say that, it need not be the believers argument. The real argument is simply that the co-determinates are signs of the trace of God in the universe, not because we cant understand them being produced naturalistically, but because they evoke the sense of numinous and draw us to God. The numinous implies something beyond the natural, but it need not be “a miracle.” The sense of the numinous is actually a natural thing, it is part of our apprehension of the world, but it points to the sublime, which in turn points to transcendence. In other words, the attribution of counter causality does not, in and of itself, destroy the argument, while it is the life transformation through the experience that is truly the argument, not the phenomena itself. Its the affects upon the believer of the sense of Gods presence and not the sense of Gods presence that truly indicates the trance of God.

Moreover, the attempts to reduce the causality to something less than the miraculous also lose the phenomena in reification.William James, The Verieties of Religious Experience (The Gilford Lectures):

"Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined."

This does not mean that the mere claim of religious experience of God consciousness is proof in and of itself, but it means that it must be taken on its own terms. It clearly answers the question about why God doesn't reveal himself to everyone; He has, or rather, He has made it clear to everyone that he exists, and He has provided everyone with a means of knowing Him. He doesn't get any more explicit because faith is a major requirement for belief. Faith is not an arbitrary requirement, but the rational and logical result of a world made up of moral choices. God reveals himself, but on his own terms. We must seek God on those terms, in the human heart and the basic sense of the numinous and in the nature of religious encounter. There are many aspects and versions of this sense, it is not standardized and can be describes in many ways:

Forms of the A priori.

Schleiermacher's "Feeling of Utter Dependence.

Frederick Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Disposers, and The Christian Faith, sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does vintner close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arugments).He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theorectical pre-cognative realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

Rudolph Otto's Sense of the Holy (1868-1937)

The sense of power in the numinous which people find when confronted by the sacred. The special sense of presence or of Holiness which is intuitive and observed in all religious experience around the world.

Paul Tillich's Object of Ultimate Concern.

We are going to die. We cannot avoid this. This is our ultimate concern and sooner or latter we have to confront it. When we do we realize a sense of transformation that gives us a special realization existentially that life is more than material.

see also My article on Toilet's notion of God as the Ground of Being.

Tillich's concept made into God argument.

As Robert R. Williams puts it:

There is a "co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical intersubjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognative and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned soley by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a corrolation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

The believer is justified in assuming that his/her experinces are experiences of a reality, that is to say, that God is real.

Freedom from the Need to prove.

Schleiermacher came up with his notion of the feeling when wrestling with Kantian Dualism. Kant had said that the world is divided into two aspects of relaity the numenous and the pheneomenal. The numenous is not experienced through sense data, and sense God is not experineced through sense data, God belongs only to the numenous. The problem is that this robbs us of an object of theological discourse. We can't talk about God because we can't experience God in sense data. Schleiermacher found a way to run an 'end round' and get around the sense data. Experience of God is given directly in the "feeling" apart form sense data.

This frees us form the need to prove the existence of God to others, because we know that God exists in a deep way that cannot be estreated by mere cultural constructs or reductionist data or deified phenomena. This restores the object of theological discourse. Once having regained its object, theological discourse can proceed to make the logical deduction that there must be a CO-determinate to the feeling, and that CO-determinate is God. In that sense Schleiermacher is saying "if I have affections about God must exist as an object of my affections"--not merely because anything there must be an object of all affections, but because of the logic of the co-determinate--there is a sense of radical contengency, there must be an object upon which we are radically contingent.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is God the ground of being or a big man in the sky? Am I trying to have it both ways?

.... Photobucket

...The other day on a message board atheists were trying to argue that miracles are disproved becuase they don't happen at a huge statistical rate. This is a crazy argument becuase if they did they wouldn't be miracles. Miracles are contextually religious (at least in the Judaeo-Christian sense) events that incites some presence of God in such a way that things happen which ordinarily could never happen if nature were left to her own devices. If Miracles happened all the time they wouldn't be miracles hey would be normality. Yet these atheists are convinced that God must heal on demand or he doesn't care about us. So God must act like an automatic force and heal every time someone needs it. They also draw this conclusion because they are trying to evoke the Bayes's theorem and its derivative slogan "ECREP" (extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof). In the original theorem "extraordinary" doesn't mean way-out happenings like Bigfoot and UFO's, it means standing out from the statistical norm. That's why the theorem is applied to accessment of probability for events we normally define as ordinary such as cancer diagnosis. In the world of statistical probably that is extraordinary. In the world of normal thinking it's not.
...My argument was that we can't attach numbers to God's doings and assign them probabilities because we have no way to know God's will in the case of each and every individual. We can't control when and where God decides to heal. So we can't assign a number to the probability of his doing it. Thus we must take it on a case by case basis and measure any particular healing claim on its own merits by comparing to the norm rather than making up an assumption that we think should fit God. So we can't ignore the fact that Charles Ann's lungs seemed to grow back in the night on the basis that God isn't growing back lungs every time we ask him to, but on the basis that lungs never grow back on their own we must assume they had help. The Lungs of Charles Ann were one of two modern miracles that put St. Theresse of Lisieux over the top as a saint. The case happened in 1923. My link the source is no longer good. I know the case is real and the x-ray proof is real becasue had an email form a member of the medical committee who says he has seen the x-rays. Here's the source:

Society for the Little Flower (Website) FAQ (visited 6/3/01)
St. Theresse of Lisieux

this link is no longer good
"Regarding St. Therese, in 1923 the Church approved of two spontaneous cures unexplained by medical treatment. Sister Louise of St. Germain was cured of the stomach ulcers she had between 1913 and 1916. The second cure involved Charles Anne, a 23 year old seminarian who was dying from advanced pulmonary tuberculosis. The night he thought he was dying, Charles prayed to Therese. Afterward, the examining doctor testified, "The destroyed and ravaged lungs had been replaced by new lungs, carrying out their normal functions and about to revive the entire organism. A slight emaciation persists, which will disappear within a few days under a regularly assimilated diet." These two miracles resulted in Therese becoming beatified."

We can't make a measurement of probablity and ay "the odds are this wasn't God." We can't establish odds for what God is going to do. To illustrate this point I was speaking of God in terms of "if he wants to do this or that." So they began to say "you tell us we think of God as the big man in the sky, but you are saying God goes around healing people so that's attributing motivations of human thought o him so you have the big man in the sky.
...To complicate matters further, I spoke of God moving the center of activity in healing from Lourdes to other areas, they took this to mean God is running around the earth asking himself "who am I going to heal today." Like the don't have the imagination t think "O he's dumbing this down for everyone." We hear science types speaking very simplistically about scientific principles all the time and think noting of it. They have to take everything so literally that way it seems a lot stupider. Although perhaps that's my fault for speaking too simplistically. Another problem I find is that the are making the assumption that any sort of conscious will or volition is automatically anthropomorphism. I have reason to believe they were working under that assumption. The upshot of it all was they said I want it both ways, I want God to be both loving father and impersonal force. I never said anything to the effect that I want God to be impersonal. I don't believe that God is an impersonal force. I don't believe that calling God ground of being is making him out to be an impersonal force. There could be several sources of the problem there: (1) that they can't think in higher more abstract terms so it must be a stark choice between black or white, impersonal or personal; (2) They think so much about scinece and they have taught themselves to dis-value the personal; they fear the subjective, they hate free will and wish they were robots (I know this form their arguments about free will or the lack there of) they think the laws of physics are higher than God and I think the laws of phsyics function in their world view for the most part as a kind of counterfeit replacement for God. In their minds the impersonal is more God-like than the personal, although, when they think I'm advocating an impersonal view of God they say "that's not really Christian." So they want to stick Christianity what that they consider to be the "stupid answer." Mostly what they say is "ground of being is not a Christian idea." They are totally wrong about that.
...The notion of ground of being is not only totally compatible with Christianity but it is the basis of the original Christian philosophical view point. It's where Christianity was in it's understanding of God when it was doing the seven ecumenical councils and forging the notions that make up the modern understanding of the Trinity; that was actually the formation of Christianity in its modern sense. The concept of ground of being is not only embraces by Vatican II (1) but it's also embraced by the entire eastern Orthodox chruch.(2)
...The question is are there only two choices? Either dead impersonal force like magnetism or Big man in the sky? These seem to be the choices being forced upon  us by these atheists. That seems very short sighted. Tillich himself (the modern Apostle of Being itself in the Protestant world) told us that the league of God as Being self is metaphor. The point is using the metaphor to bridge to what is unknown, or what we can only know through direct personal experience. The idea is not that god is impersonal, it is the God is beyond human concepts of the personal. That seems to be a rather dull conclusion that based upon our one little planet our little experience here on this one dust mote we are going to decide that there just couldn't be any alternatives but those two. Why can't consciousness be on a our level than our own? When I have said that atheists are making God out to be the big man in sky it was not becuase the attribute to him will and volition but because they limit his will and volition to a comic book understanding of those aspects. They assume that he's like a big man, he get's mad, when he says he's a "jealous" God it's  a literal sense that he does have the personality hangup of jealousy. this is just an underrating of the divine to attribute to him human frailty. We can distinguish between the frailty and consciousness itself.
...It's true that Tillich disparaged the notion of "personal God" but I think that's because he understood that to mean the kind of mind that indluges in ego conflicts not just any notion of will and volition. After all he does say God is personal itself and that symbols an metaphor participates in the things it symbolizes. That would have to mean that God participates in the personal in order to the be the personal itself. The atheists argued that the basis of quality doesn't participate in the quality. The basis of color is not a color itself. For example water molecules are not wet. That's true but we are not talking about a physical basis such molecular structure we are talking about symbolic natures. Moreover, the basis of color is a process of vision not a thing such as "redness" or "colorness." The basis of reality is real, the basis of being is being itself not some kind of "being molecule" we are not talking about a physical process of nature that's amenable to scientific method. We are talking about an aspect reality that serves as a symbol in our linguistic process of using metaphor to bridge the experienced that is beyond our understanding. I am willing to bet that that guy got that argument form HRG who is always using the analogy of "Yellowness" to argue that becuase there is no such thing as yellowness then there is no such ting as "being." He's just arguing form analogy. "Yellowness" is a misconception about the color yellow before we understood how pigmentation works and people assumed it was an essence. To then assert that is the nature of the case with the concept of being is just the fallacy of arguing form analogy.
end notes

(1) Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, Thomas A. Carlson Trans. 1991 (original language publication 1982. xxii.

(2) See Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church  Penguin Books; Revised edition (June 1, 1993) this is actually a new edition of a book written in the late 50s or early 60s. my copy came from 1964. See page 65 for the discussion of God as Being itself). He says "God is on the order of being itself."

Ware explains the great schism and how the gulf between east and west continued to grow. He wants to explain the ways in which the east contributed to the gulf. He says that nothing was so radical as the scholastic “revolution” but he lists as the eastern counterpart the Hesychast controversy (pg2). 14th century Byzantium. This involved God’s nature and the method of prayer. To explain the controversy he goes back to history of eastern mystical theology, back to Clement of Alexandria (early third century) and Origen (mid 3d). The Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa and also Evagrius, a monk in the Egyptian desert (d399) developed the ideas of Clement and Origen. This entire tradition depended upon an apophatic approach, especially as developed by Clement and Gregory. God is beyond our understanding. We cannot speak accurately about God because we can’t understand God and we don’t know if our experiences of God are so very encompassing or just fragmentary. Therefore, the mystics of the Eastern Church use negative language of God rather than positive. That is to say they concern themselves with what God is not, rather than what God is. (63)

“The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that he is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility.” –Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 11, 163 (377A).

The Height of Negative theology is reached in the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. (unknown writer lived in Syria toward the end of the fifth century). Saint Maximus the Confessor (662) compassed a commentary on these writings and assured their place in the Eastern Church.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Medical Historians Agree Lourdes Cures are Unexplainable


In an article entitled “The Lourdes Medical Cures Revisited” Bernard Francis, Ester M. Sternberg and Elizabeth Fee provide something closer to a scientific appraisal.[1] They studied 411 patents cured in 1909-14 and thoroughly reviewed 25 cures acknowledged between 1927 and 1976. By “acknowledged” they mean cures that were officially declared “Miracles” by the church. “the Lourdes Phenomena extraordinary in many respects still awaits scientific explanation.”[2] They took the 411 cures from the era known as “the golden age or Lourdes.” This is the period from 1909-14 which was the time when the popularity was at its height, the medical committee was functioning smoothly with new rules, and crowds were pouring in. In the early days right after the visions began there were many claims of miracles that went unrecorded, or that were not help up to a scrutiny of criteria or that weren’t recorded in a systematic fashion. This state of affairs evolved through the late ninetieth century with the imposition of rules and the evolution of the medical board. Since the 70’s the official miracles have stopped and the crowds are way down and these is less of sense of miracles going on. This is largely because of the great proficiency of medical diagnosis and treatment as well as the strident nature of the rules. The situation vastly improved as a fine tuned medical miracle documenting machine evolved out of the end of the ninetieth century.
            Data on the early period is found in the archives of the sanctuary of Notre Dame of Lourdes (April 1868-June 1944). Those archives provide mainly unsubstantiated and anecdotal evidence. They also used Ruth Harris’s scholarly work Lourdes, Body and Spirit in the Secular Age. For the period 1885-1914 they also used Annales of Notre Dame de Lourdes vol 17-47, George Bertirins Historie Critique Des Evenments de Lourdes,  and a host of other materials.[3] The Authors set out to determine if Lourdes cures really were cures. Their working methodology for this task was to evaluate the nature of the disease and then to assess the nature of the diagnostic criteria and evidence used for deciding that cure had occurred. The criteria improved over the years as diagnostic ability improved. They studied 411 patents cured between 1911-1914 and thoroughly reviewed 25 cures between 1947 and present. Their conclusion “the Lourdes phenomena still extraordinary in many respects still awaits scientific explanation.”[4] The nature of the cures has changed over time. The medical committee was not in place in the beginning and it had different periods of improvement. Speaking of the “golden age” around 1914, Francis and his colleagues write, “led by talented position Boissarie, and his assistant Dr. Cox,  the medical Bureau is said to have improved its method and gained a reputation for excellence, but it faced a daunting task…150,000 pilgrims a year.”[5] Yet some of the cures of that era were deemed “remarkable.” Marie Lebranchu and Marie Lemarchand cured of Pulmonary Tuberculosis. That cure was attended by the famous atheist writer Emile Zola; Grabiel Gargam cured of post traumatic paraplegia in 1901 and several others.[6] Prior to the cure patents were described as being in decline or in an “alarming state of health.” After “patients confined to bed for years would stand and walk regain their weight resume their prior activity. 96 cured patients were evaluated again one year latter...they were found healthy and as far as we now the recoveries stood he test of time.”[7] Modern researchers reading the accounts of many female patents form this period can sense the neurotic nature of some symptoms. There were obvious cases hysteria. There are also cases of anatomical abnormalities. “Scores of visiting physicians witnessed the disappearance of macroscopic lesions, easy to identify such as external tumors, urine fibromass, and open wounds and suppurative fecal fistulae.”[8]
            The cures were said to be instantaneous is 59 percent of 382 cases for which they had adequate records; this is all within the gold age period.[9] During the golden age there were strange spontaneous healings in the town in such places as breakfast table, during a procession, in the hospital ward in town.[10] Apparently it was WWI that put the Kybosh on the golden age. The committee changed leadership many times and doctors were scarce due to the war.[11] 1947-2006 was marked by improved diagnostics, new young physicians more careful attitudes. The created an international committee designed to review the work of the Bureau.[12]  There are 25 patients cured and their cures analyzed form this period. The Francis article is extremely though with sound medical and scholarly caution. They take a critical view of the subject mater and the data. The data is very thorough. They use a huge number of sources. They tally the kinds of diagnosis and which diseases were the most cured and the most reported. TB was always the leading disease and GI tract problems were very common. The authors describe a development over time from an early phase of inadequate reporting and uncritical acceptance of cure, to a modern set up which is well regarded and scientific.[13] Those standards of excellence are now outdated, the rules have been upgraded. Modern controversy stems form the declining reports due to better diagnostics and the difficulty in finding someone who hasn’t sought medical cures. There is a controversy over relaxing the rules. Thus all of this leads Francis et al to speak of “cures” rather than Miracles.

The Critical assessment of the authors:

             If skeptics seek absolute scientific proof so strong that they can’t argue and if they seek to be completely won over such that they can no longer struggle with doubt, they are no going to find that kind of absolute proof in this article, and I suspect not at Lourdes or anywhere else. On the other hand there is more than enough here to totally do away with the knee jerk bigotry that says Lourdes miracles are nonsense, just laudable stupidity and a thing of derision to be classed with UFO abductions. That sort of view is totally disproved by the article. If one takes the article as evidence of supernatural reality its not without its problems. If one allows the article shed light on the question of supernatural effects, there’s more than enough evidence to see that one can reasonably place confidence in such notions.  In their critical assessment the authors find that the word “cure” is misunderstood. It is not taken as a euphemism for “miracle.” Nor does it imply absolute knowledge of a permanent state of removal of disease. They are improvements in the state of health. “By cross checking avaible data we arrived at a rough estimate of medical events acknowledged as ‘cures’ as 4,516, in the period 1858-1976.”[14] Now most of these cures occurred before WWII and were most of them were based upon what is described as “flimsy evidence.” There was an expectation of miracles and no follow up. For that reason the authors find that it is impossible to access the number of valid cures before 1947. that’s not to say that there aren’t cases that can’t be validated individually.  There has been a decline in the number of cures for the last one hundred years, and the authors list several factors as the reason for this: increasing efficiency of modern medicine (diagnostic equipment and better definitions for the nature of a condition), moreover Lambertini’s canons that had to be acknowledged to qualify a miracle have actually stood in the way of being able to declare many cases as miracles.
            The requirements for these canons are as follows: (a) must be sever, incurable, or difficult to treat, (b) not to be in a final stage (c) no curative treatment given (d) the cure must be instantaneous (d) cure must be complete without relapse. One can see this is so strict that’s one of the major reasons there are so few official miracles. There are examples from certain periods where Lambertini canons have just been violated, but in do doing they found remarkable cures. In their series of study of twenty five cured patients six were cured of terminally ill diseases, eight were cured in a matter of days or months, or some even years, this is a sharp departure. The canons “seem to have been rescinded” in 2006. They just made it too difficult to find anyone who fills the bill.” It was obvious they no longer applied to what was observed.”[15] That’s one thing that makes for the category I’ve spoken of before of the “remarkable case.” There are only 67 official miracles but 7000 remarkable cases. Those are based upon modern study of the committee not part of this study. Miracles are not for the Catholic Church on the same level as the sacraments or the creeds so belief in them is not obligatory.[16] A parallel is drawn by the author between their work and that of Jacquelyn Douffin. The Pathetical conditions are the same the proportion of tuberculosis neurological disorders and GI diseases were distributed in similar fashion and the manner of the cures were the same.
            The authors find that the history of Lourdes unfolds like the history of medicine itself. The diseases were diverse the accuracy of diagnosis and follow up badly done in the beginning and growing in sharpness and accuracy over time. That is no disproof of miracles. One of the findings of the authors is that “the Lourdes cures have been “beyond the natural course of nature, ” not “contrary to nature” or “breaking natural law.” To give an example they use the distinction between a case of pulmonary tuberculosis considered incurable, vs. growing back an amputated limb, which is contrary to nature, breaking the law of nature.[17] That’s a problematic statement as we will find in the next chapter. If physical laws are nothing more then descriptions of our observations about how the universe behaves than nothing we find can be contrary to that law because that’s what we find happening. On the other to make such a distinction between “the course” of nature, which is based upon our observations, and “laws” assumes form the outset the understanding of a higher law. For skeptic to make use of the distinction is acknowledge the need for a higher sense of order (“law”) as opposed to just they way we observe the universe.
            Mangiapan did the only retrospective study from 1947-76. “Thirteen patients out of twenty-five (tables 3 and 4) died nineteen to fifty-seven years after the cure and without relapse of the disease. For nine subjects living in 2008, the time elapsed since the cure was ten to fifty-four years.”[18] They find that four cases of multiple sclerosis had remissions of four year duration that is equivalent to assumed cure. Four cases of tb were actually cured. The speed of the curse is without known equivalent and makes for remarkable cases. Two were taken out of the study key requirements weren’t met. Of twenty-five they have misgivings about eight. The reasons for this are: (a) all the criteria were not met, (b) lack diagnostic evidence, (c) inadequate follow-up (d) possible influence of possible treatments (e) possible diagnostic error (f) possible diagnostic error (g) relapse (h) outcome in doubt.[19] This means that while eight can be doubted and two discarded seventeen are solidly documented cures. Further findings looking back over the entire history of the phenomena the researchers suggest that about 1/3 of the cases involve cures that were not spontaneous but required days or weeks. The researchers find that there are significant mental factors present and an atmosphere conducive to healing but they don’t make any conclusion about the influence of psychosomatic cures and they don’t try to make such an excuse to “explain” it all. It might also be worth pointing out even though they can’t be studied there’s an “underside” of Lourdes cures of people who are healed in connection prayers involving Lourdes or use of the water away form the shrine who never report in but send information so that a plaque can be put up. This number has been increasing was about ninety-four in 2008. While they cant’ really be claimed as cures they can’t be studied they suggest the possibly of healing outside the domain of Lourdes.[20]

The conclusion of the authors:

Their conclusion is basically: “We don’t really know if God is working miracles at Lourdes or not, the situation is not clear enough to affirm or deny such a cliam. “ Yet they make the frank admission that the way people see it will be determined by their view on religion and belief. While that may seem like a refutation to some, it’s all we need to undermine the closed realm of discourse on the subject. This will be seen in the next chapter.

…the least that can be stated is that the exposures to Lourdes and its representations (Lourdes water, mental images…) in a context of prayer have induced an exceptional usually instantaneous, symptomatic, and at best physical cures of widely different diseases. Although what follows is regarded by some as a hackneyed concept, any and all scholars of Lourdes have come to agree with one of two equally acceptable—but seemingly conflicting and irreconcilable—points of view on the core issue, are the Lourdes cures a matter of  divine intervention or not? Faith is set against science…uncanny and wired, the cures are currently beyond our ken but still impressive, incredibly effective and awaiting scientific explanation. Creating a theoretical explanatory framework could be within reach of neurophysiologists in the next decade…We reached the same conclusion as Carrel some 80 to one hundred years ago “instead of being a simple place of miracles of interest only to the pious Lourdes presents a considerable scientific interest….although uncommon the miraculous cures are evidence of somatic and mental processes we do not know.”[21]

While the findings of Francis et al do not provide conclusive proof of miracles do not allow us state that miracles are scientifically proved, the also reject and disprove the mocking assertions of skeptics that Lourdes miracles are just laughable nonsense to be dismissed with UFO abductions and Bigfoot.
            There are those who will argue that unless the causes are all uniform and proven and pile up a huge number they can’t be miracles because surely if there was a loving God working miracles he would have to succeed every time and have to work them every time he’s asked. We can’t subject God’s will to numbers. We can’t assume we control the process or that God is obligated to heal every time. That’s we should take it case by case and not attaches numbers. Lourdes does represent “extraordinary proof” in the sense that this concept if meaningful in connection with Bayes’s theorem. That concept does not refer to bizarre way out things such as UFO abductions but to whatever stands out form the statistical norm; seventeen out of twenty-five is not bad.

[1] Bernard Francis et al, “The Lourdes Medical Cures Re-visited,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (10.1093/jhmas/jrs041) 2012 pdf downloaded SMU page 1-28  all the page numbers given are from pdf
Bernard Francis is former professor Emeritus of medicine, Unversite Claude Bernard Lyon. Elisabeth Sternberg taught at National Institute of Mental Health and The National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Elisabeth Fee was at National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] ibid, abstract.
[5] Ibid, pdf page 8
[6] ibid
[7] ibid 9
[8] ibid 10
[9] ibid, 12
[10] ibid
[11] ibid
[12] ibid, 13
[13] ibid 21
[14] ibid 19
[15] ibid 20
[16] ibid they sight Catechism of the Catholic Chruch part 3 section 1 chapter 3 article 2, grace 2003.The Catholic believer may reject all ecclesiastical miracles as pious fables and he may reject modern miracles as imagination.
[17] Ibid 21
[18i] ibid 23 Mangiapan  was president of the medical bureau
[19] ibid 24
[20] ibid, 25-27
[21] ibid 27

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More contra ECREP


 I think I must have discovered some kind of atheist liturgy or something. They are acting like I murdered someone. It's  a major sin to say ECREE is not true. They are acting like Bayes's theorem is ECREE literally and verbatim. I said only that I don't accept ECREE and they literally said "Metacrock rejects the proven mathematical fact of probability."  They read the word "mathematical probability" and they think it says "ECREE." On my boards atheist opponent (but a friend) Quantum Troll actually takes me side on this one. He's a scientist. He's a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at a major university in Europe. We works with biologists.

e: Bayes' Theorem

Postby QuantumTroll on Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:08 am
I'm going to start by taking Metacrock's side here, for once. As a working numerical scientist, I feel like I have a bit of weight to throw around on this subject, too ;)

I think Metacrock is right in that the claim "ECREE" with regards to the existence of God has little or nothing to do with Bayes' Theorem. The reason for this is actually clear when you look at the examples in this thread, cocaine use and cancer. If you give a random US citizen a cocaine test, the low incidence of cocaine use means that you'll get a lot of false positives. Cocaine use is an extraordinary claim, and you need a very accurate test (or several tests) in order to convincingly show cocaine use. If you go to a crackhouse, you'll probably be able to tell pretty reliably who is high at the moment without any drug test. Similarly, any particular cancer diagnosis is a rare and extraordinary claim, and the tests have limited power. But if one test is positive, you're in a cancer crackhouse, and more testing will be much more reliable. Bottom line: You need to know the prior odds of an outcome to know the reliability of a test.

We don't know the prior odds of the existence of God. We cannot apply Bayes' Theorem on this question, because we don't have any data about the existence of God, period. I think this is the heart of Metacrock's point, and in this he is correct.

A caveat: I think the existence of God is an extraordinary claim, and my intuition says that such claims require extra convincing evidence. I agree with ECREE with regards to the existence of God, but will not use Bayes' Theorem as support for this opinion.

Finally, there's the whole miracles issue, too. Here, we do know the prior odds of spontaneous recovery from various illnesses, or we can at least calculate a reliable estimate. Therefore, when someone prays and is healed, we can apply Bayes' Theorem and we do have a mathematical basis for ECREE in this context. Every argument for miracles (at Lourdes or elsewhere) that I've seen has failed to address this fundamental problem. Can Metacrock dig up a counterexample?



In other words, belief in God is far from extraordinary, so the basis for comparison that we need to label a claim “extraordinary” has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. We can’t just label all religious thinking “extraordinary claims.” Clearly belief in God is not extraordinary, as I demonstrate in the previous blog piece (but this hardly requires demonstration). The “extraordinary” is a problematic term in science. Thomas S. Kuhn argued that scientific paradigms turn over when there are too many anomalies to explain them all through the orthodox paradigm. The “normal” business of science, according to Kuhn, is that of absorbing anomalies into the paradigm. “Anomalies” are not necessarily extraordinary, but both concepts deal with departures from the expected. The atheists tend to think of this Saganian imperative in terms of dazzling wonderment. In other words, extraordinary claims are those that they find extremely hard to believe; big amazing claims that require big amazing proof. Examples I’ve seen the average atheist on message boards give would include things like God arranging the stars to spell out messages confirming the truth of Christianity, parting the red sea and so forth. These ideas are much more grandiose than Kuhn’s anomalies. Richard Dawkins seeks to argue that God is improbable on the basis of uniqueness. There is no other evidence for any sort of thing like God anywhere in our field of experience as a species. Thus God has to be improbable because we have nothing else to compare God to. Again we are dealing with the concept of the out of the ordinary. We are dealing with ideas of the unique, that which stands out. This is a good indication that scientific thinking seeks an orthodoxy that requires mutually accepted cultural constructs to from a basis of consensus. Of course scientific thinkers will stand staunchly upon the empirical “totally proven” aspects of their views. But what is really happening in science and in party lines that branch off of certain people’s monopolizing of science is that it’s a struggle of orthodoxy against revolutionaries, and the struggle revolves around accepted worldviews, which take on an aura of the sacred. Belief in God comes ready packaged in its own aura of the sacred. The battle between scientifically based skeptical empiricism vs. religious belief is a battle of religions in a sense. It’s a party line seeking to secure itself against heretics. Atheists do not have facts that prove their views; they merely have worldviews that collide with the worldviews of religious people.

Nor can the worldview remain constant by claiming “extraordinary evidence.” As has been demonstrated, there is no basis for comparison since belief in God is not a scientific question. There is no basis upon which to define “extraordinary evidence” since the term is measured by proximity to orthodoxy. In other words, what is really going to determine the extraordinary nature of a claim for a skeptic is its relation to the paradigm under which the skeptic has formed his worldview. That means that extraordinary evidence must be that evidence which, despite it’s status as an anomaly under the skeptic’s paradigm, and thus its tendency to be explained away by the paradigm, (“absorbed” to put it in Kuhn’s parlance). In other words, the atheist demand for extraordinary evidence is impossibility and cannot ever be met because it is a logical contradiction; it is evidence that does something no skeptic can ever admit evidence can do, it would convince the skeptic that his paradigm is wrong and that he must adopt a new paradigm. But the point of being a skeptic is to defend the paradigm one already works under. The skeptic is asking he impossible to begin with since changing the paradigm doesn’t result from dazzling evidence or wonderment evoking evidence, but from constant anomalies, which become so bothersome they cannot be absorbed into the accepted paradigm any longer. But particular anomalies are not going to be seen as “extraordinary” or they would not have its status as “anomaly” in the first place. Such evidence would have to supersede the normal paths that human thought uses to compile worldviews. In short, the Saganian imperative is wrong. It not only contradicts the way scientific theories come to be accepted in the world of science, but also the way the human mind works in constructing an understanding of the way the world works. Of course we have to be aware that Kuhn’s sense of the term “paradigm” and the sense in which I use it here are not the same. He’s talking about the major paradigm, or model, that guides an entire discipline: such as the concept of naturalistic cause and effect. I am talking about the type of case one might make to advance a God argument. Yet the extraordinary claims dictum would seem to violate the Kuhnian sense paradigm shift. If we think of empirical evidence for religious belief as anomalies (such as the effects of religious experience as long term and positive upon the believer) the data from experience studies might be thought of as an anomaly. Certainly any sort of claim to miracles would be anomalous.

Moreover, the dictum about extraordinary evidence is also circular reasoning. That is not necessarily true, but the application that I have seen most often is circular. The skeptic says, “this is not good evidence, it isn’t extraordinary enough.” But the believer says, “Ok here’s more.” That doesn’t apply because we know from past experience this isn’t extraordinary, its too much like the other evidence, it wasn’t extraordinary either. Therefore this evidence is not extraordinary. For example say we are arguing about miracles. The Lourdes miracles have 65 examples where the official miracle finding machine of the church says, “this is an official church miracle.” The skeptic says “only 65? That’s not extraordinary, these are just anomalies. They are just remission. Then the believer points out that there are also 4000 remarkable cases, which can’t be explained but they just missed being tagged as “official” because they lack some perfunctory piece of evidence, but there is enough evidence to say they are “remarkable.” They do say of these cases that they are “remarkable.” One would think that “extraordinary” would be the same or similar to “remarkable.” But the skeptics just say they are not extraordinary they are just like the other 65, the other 65 have been dismissed for not being enough of them therefore the 4000 should be dismissed because the original 65 aren’t extraordinary so they shouldn’t be accepted and the 4000 shouldn’t be either because they are no more amazing than the 65. All that’s really going on is the 65 are being dismissed because there aren’t enough of them, but when more are shown they are dismissed for not being amazing enough. I can’t document that exact exchange, although I have been through it many times on message boards. Lest one think this is just an anomaly of the denizens of message boards, there is an example of major scientists acting this way.

Louis Frank, Iowa Physicist discusses a theory that oceans on earth were started by very small comments, house sized comments, which over long periods of time deposit enough water from ice that they make up huge bodies of water. Frank had evidence from satellite images that the rate of bombardment by such mini-comets is about 20 per minute. Astronomers responded by basically saying “if these existed we would have seen them.” In the 1980s Clayne Yeates decided to prove Frank wrong by demonstrating the results of telescopic search. Yeates was told the editors of journals that the standard requirement for proof was two images photographed form telescope. He had the two images in the paper already. When he pointed this out to the editor of Geophysical Research Letters he was told that he had to obtain three. So the evidence isn’t strong enough because it’s a new claim that doesn’t fall in line with accepted belief, but when more evidence is provided it isn’t good enough, why? The editor doesn’t say this but it appears that the new evidence is dismissed on the basis that the old evidence wasn’t good so this isn’t either, even though more evidence was the requirement. This is perfectly in line with what Kuhn says happens; the old paradigm is challenged and thus is defended by the orthodox who maintain a party line and work to repair damage to the old paradigm. As long as the dictum about extraordinary evidence is waved about, as a standard, the bar will always be moved no matter how well the believer meets the requirements.

Marcello Truzzi has a proposal to replace the dictum; it makes a lot more sense.

Truzzi proposal:

In addition to recognizing and working through the issues I have raised above, we need scaled terms to deal with levels of evidence for the best of the extraordinary claims put forth by protoscientists. Scientists might well distinguish between extraordinary claims that are: suggestive, meaning interesting and worthy of attention but generally of low priority; compelling, meaning the evidence is strongly supportive and argues for assigning a higher scientific priority for greater investigation; and convincing, meaning most reasonable scientists examining the evidence would agree at least a preponderance of evidence supports the claim. Using such graded language might help us turn from our present debates, with room only for winners and losers, into dialogues between peers, all of whom should want to see science judiciously progress. We can all be winners.

The upshot of all of this is religious belief is normative for human behavior. It is not merely "normal" but "normative" meaning it sets the standard. Belief is basic to human psyche, to our understanding of the good, of meaning in life, the ultimate limits of reality, the grounding of nature and being itself, there is no way belief in God can be thought of as an extraordinary claim! We might think of it as extraordinary in the sense of being unique, like no other claim, but in that case it makes no sense to subject it to the regular canons of science as though God's presence is given in daily empirical data. Obviously the more intelligent evidential standard is that the evidence has to be fit for the claim. Fit, not dazzling, not impossible, not amazing, no beyond our ability to produce, but it has to fit the case. It has to be rational, and able to stand a prima facie burden, and it has to fit the proof attempted. The difference is that the atheist standard is Ultima facie, “all things considered” rather than “on the face of it.” The ashiest absolute proof, and that absolute proof must be furnished by just one standard, scientific empiricism. The Prima facie standard makes much more sense than does absolute proof, (1) because there cannot be absolute scientific data of questions beyond the empirical realm; (2) belief is an individual question of a personal existential nature; belief deals not merely facts about things in the universe, but about one’s place in the universe. For this reason it has to be subjective, it has to be primate, personal, by its nature it is not provable in the absolute scientific sense. There’s no use pretending that the absolute scientific umpire is the only form of knowledge. I will take this up in a latter chapter. The point here is that Prima Facie case fits the subject matter in a much more rational way. All we can ask of a world view is rational warrant anyway. World views take in too much to be demonstrated entirely from empirical data.

source on Truzzi

Marcelo Truzzi “on some unfair practices toward claims of the Paranormal.” This article was published in slightly edited form in:Edward Binkowski, editor, Oxymoron: Annual Thematic Anthology of the Arts and Sciences, Vol.2: The Fringe, New York: Oxymoron Media, Inc., 1998. It is also found on the website Skeptical Investigations: visited 7/7/08

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do Extraordinary Claims Argument (ECREE) ?

Carl Sagan

Atheists are fond of dismissing Atheist Watch (My "other" blog) as my own private hate fest. But the truth is I've been using it to construct a theory of atheist psychology. The major conclusion I've reached so far is that there is a calculated ideology that someone constructed (not to sound so mysterious--by "someone" I don't mean atheists "men in black" just the normal evolution of argument and the contributors to the same). One of the standard leavers of that ideological/propagandist approaches used in their movement is development of a standard for proof which enables them to constantly raise the bar so no amount of evidence or reasoning can ever count against their position. It's a rhetorical device not a rule of logic!

Carl Sagan made this statement popular in its current form, it was originally used by Hume, Laplace and other early theorists, but atheists have sense taken it as a major slogan for their decision-making paradigm.

Marcelo Truzzi tells us:

In his famous 1748 essay Of Miracles, the great skeptic David Hume asserted that "A wise man...proportions his belief to the evidence,"and he said of testimony for extraordinary claims that "the evidence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more unusual." A similar statement was made by Laplace, and many other later writers. I turned it into the now popular phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" (which Carl Sagan popularized into what is almost the war cry of some scoffers).

This slogan allows them to raise the bar for any Christian claim, while lowering it for their own purposes. Ed J. Gracely explains the basic logic of the bromide.

First, it is important to understand that the strength of a conclusion is a function both of the quality of the evidence provided in its support and the a priori probability of the claim being supported. Thus there can never be a single standard of "acceptable evidence" that will suffice to render every claim equally plausible. Suppose, for example, that a reasonably reliable source tells me (a) that President Clinton has vetoed legislation that places restrictions on trade with China and (b) that Newt Gingrich has switched to the Democratic party. Most people would be much more confident of the truth of the first report than of the second, even though the source is identical. The difference lies in the a priori plausibility of the claims.

A more precise formulation requires us to cast the a priori probability of a claim into the form of "odds" in its favor. A proposition with 90% probability of being true has 90 chances of being true for every 10 of being false. Thus the odds are 90 to 10, which reduces to 9 to 1. A proposition with 20% probability of being true has 20 chances of being true for 80 of being false. The odds (in its favor) are 20 to 80 or 0.25 to 1. It is more natural to translate the latter case into odds of 4 to 1 against the proposition, but the calculations require us to work with odds "in favor of" a proposition, even if they are fractional. Pieces of evidence alter the odds in favor of a proposition by a multiplicative factor in proportion to the quality of the evidence.

While it is clear that not all evidence weighs the same, some evidence is better than other evidence, nothing in this explanation indicates why evidence must be stronger for “extraordinary claims” than for “normal claims.” Assuming we can even indicate what “extraordinary evidence” is, what makes it more proven than “ordinary” evidence? The statement above merely indicates that probability is higher for a proposition backed by more direct evidence, nothing more. The rationale says that the least likely proposition is less probable, then the assertion that the evidence must be more “extraordinary” (whatever that means) rather than just accurate or valid or to the point is not demonstrated. Most assumptions about what makes evidence “extraordinary” or “ordinary,” or a proposition likely or unlikely is going to be largely a matter of prejudice. Consider the following statement, also by Gracely:

The principle is clear; the difficulty lies in the application. How likely, for example, is it that homeopathy or therapeutic touch really work? Proponents argue that we need to open our minds to new possibilities and grant these systems a fairly high a priori probability (say, 50-50 odds). Then, even modest-quality evidence would make the claims quite probably true. Skeptics argue that these systems violate known laws of physics and their validity should therefore be considered remotely improbable.

Who decides how likely it is that homeopathy is valid or invalid medicine? One would need a statical average for cure rates to compare with controlled group using orthodox practices to see this. He admits that “modest quality” evidence would be proof if it is granted a high probability. Without the proper studies why not so grant? What if one has found such treatments effective already in one’s own life? This is nothing more than prejudice to judge something improbable on the basis of guesswork and matters of taste. No that does not mean that believe those forms of healing. Why shouldn’t a standard of evidence adequate for proof of the issue under consideration, be the issue? I have so far been unable to find an atheist who can tell me what extraordinary God evidence is. I’ve seen attempts on message boards, where they argue absurdities like “why can’t God make all the stars spell out the phrase “burn pain is the worst pain, Jesus is Lord, convert now.” Or God could appear at the UN and hold a press conference. I have yet to see an atheist give me a valid option for “extraordinary evidence.” More importantly, we are talking about God, not about finding Bigfoot. God is off scale for empirical investigation. How can the basis of reality be studied as though just another “thing” in creation? What could be used as a basis of comparison? How could one ever establish a base line comparison to determine probability of God? Dawkins tries it but he merely assumes God would be on a par with any other physical object. What basis is used to establish the probability of something that is said to be beyond our understanding?

Gracely argues:

An alternative I have heard suggested is to drop the extraordinary proof argument and instead to hold paranormal and alternative medicine claims strictly to the ordinary requirements of replicability and good research. This approach sounds sensible but it has a serious flaw. Skeptics are not willing to accept the plausibility of most paranormal claims unless the evidence is extremely strong. We risk being perceived (correctly) as disingenuous if we call for solid quality research, then revert to the extraordinary claims argument should it in fact appear.(Ibid)

Correction, most skeptics are never willing to grant anything to para normal claims regardless of the evidence, this is obvious to anyone who has ever argued with atheists on message boards. I have 200 studies with replicablity, double blind, proved comparison methods, published in scholarly journals, peer reviewed and indexed, and the atheists on CARM treat them like comic books. The only reason they nit pick to death (ploys such as once attacking the bibliography becuase it had a source they didn't like rather than looking at the studies themselves) is becasue the studies contradict their world view.

This standard (normal scientific protocols) is the one I have been proposing for years. The term he doesn’t use, the proper term for “ordinary” level of proof would be a “prima facie case.” He may have a point if we are talking about acupuncture or UFOs but the flaw he sees in it is attitudinal, not logical or methodological. The attitude of skeptics is out of line anyway. Atheists are not willing to accept any level of evidence. The experience studies are fine studies, they are scientific and a huge body of work backs them up. For all practical purposes, they are “extraordinary evidence.” Let us not forget there is no set standard any skeptic can offer to define that term. Skeptics are quick to brush aside the experience studies as “subjective” without reading the studies or thinking about the arguments. They never define what “extraordinary” evidence would be. Gracely observes that skeptical attitudes are similar even in other areas:

In some areas of paranormal investigation, such as extrasensory perception (ESP), the research is already often better done than much orthodox scientific research, with controls and double-checks most scientists would regard as overkill. Skeptics mostly still feel that the intrinsic implausibility is so great that nothing short of airtight and well-repeated research would be sufficient to support ESP. Little or none of the existing research rises to that level, so we remain skeptical. (Some recent work has been of high quality, see Ray Hyman's article, "The Evidence for Psychic Functioning: Claims vs. Reality", in the March/April 1996 Skeptical Inquirer, pp 24-26.) Had skeptics said some 40 years ago that all we wanted was reasonable quality replicated research, we might now be having to eat our words.

Skeptics are never satisfied. I have seen this problem over and over again. When their demands for evidence are met, they just raise the bar again and again. The tyranny of “extraordinary evidence” so long as one never defines it, allows for this sort of abuse all the time. More importantly, why should God be subjected to the same standards of proof as empirical objects? Here the skeptic is just in the position of arguing “God is improbable because I don’t believe in him.” Truzzi documents the “catch 22” designed into the extraordinary proof standard:

But it is important to remember that the proponent of the paranormal has an uphill battle from the start. The chips are stacked against him, so his assault is not so threatening to the fabric of science as scoffers often characterize it. In a sense, conservative science has "the law" on its side.

In law, we find three varieties in the weight of burden of proof:

1. proof by preponderance of evidence,

2. clear and convincing proof, and, in criminal law,

3. proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In conventional science, we usually use (1), but when dealing with extraordinary claims, critics often seem to demand (3) since they demand all alternative explanations must be eliminated before the maverick claim is acceptable. This demand sometimes becomes unreasonable and may even make the scoffer's position unfalsifiable. Since the anomaly proponent is already saddled with a presumption of "guilt," it would seem to me that (2), clear and convincing proof, might be the best standard, though proponents may reasonably wonder why standard (1) should always be denied them.(Ibid)

The poly just described is SOP for atheists on message boards. Since every alternative, however unlikely, must be exhausted first, they will put a 0.2% probability claim over a 50-50 claim any time just because the alternatives must be exhausted and that means nothing ever has to be granted to belief. In this way all other forms of knowledge bu the pseudo science of the atheist ideology is rejected, thus the ideology of the atheist and its propaganda protocols become like a template.This serves to reinforce the ideology because all anyone need do is compare the God argument to the template, or course it wont fit, it is then judged "unscientific" (becasue the template has come to replace real scientific procedure in the mind of the atheist) and thus all belief is always wrong!

But we must also keep in mind that God is not “paranormal.” Truzzi and Gracely are speaking in general of any sort of “paranormal” claim, including the claims of alternative medicine. God is not paranormal, but is status quo, normative for human belief. Nor is God a scientific question. It is absurd to expect us to limit evidence to only the scientific when the question about belief is epistemological. More on this aspect of belief and it is import for evidential standards below. But this does raise a further question about the extraordinary evidential standard:

In addition to defining the term “extraordinary evidence” there is also a need to define the term “extraordinary claim.” Why is God an extraordinary claim? Here the atheist is truly in the position of arguing “God is improbable because I don’t believe in him.” Atheists make up 3% of the world’s population at best. The overwhelming majorities of people alive today, or who have ever lived, believe in some form of God. Our brains are hard wired to have thoughts of God. Our physical and mental health work better when we believe in God (as will be seen in latter chapters). Obviously we are fit for belief, why would belief be extraordinary? Why should we allow the minor little 3% minority to define what is normative for humanity? Belief in God is far more than just the average belief; it is normative as a standard of human understanding. It forms the basis of our psyches, it forms the basis of our legal system; it is the chief metaphor regulating meaning and morality. Belief in God illustrates all the aspects of a prima facie case. This is at least so for RE. Marcelo Truzzi makes the same point:

The central problem however lies in the fact that "extraordinary" must be relative to some things "ordinary." and as our theories change, what was once extraordinary may become ordinary (best seen in now accepted quantum effects that earlier were viewed as "impossible"). Many now extraordinary claims may become more acceptable not when they are replicated but when theoretical contexts change to make them more welcome.(Ibid)

Of course what he's actually talking about is Thomas Kuhn's paradigm shift. Trussi doesn't say it but what he described is basically that, the way anomalies are absorbed into the paradigm and dismissed as unimportant until there are too many and they are too problematic, the paradigm shifts under it's own weight and the new paradigm is taken in; the anomalies under the old become the "facts" under the new. Kuhn says that a paradigm is defended just like a political regime. When it first starts to show signs of are its followers do damage control just like the Nixon White house under Watergate or the Reagan White house under Iran/contra gate, or Bush under the lies about WMD. In a sense a paradigm in scinece is propped up by an ideology that is driven by that paradigm. In quasi scientific mimicry of atheism which flatters itself as scientific, the paradigm of "physicalism" is surrounded by the ideology of atheists that protects it. ECREE is just a propaganda device that enables the ideology to knock off any counter claims.

Skeptics have argued that religious experience is not regular or consistent because such experiences are all different. Not only do you have so many different religions, but also even from mystic to mystic things differ. Over the years as one develops a disciplined life of prayer, one does encounter growing diversity and newness, but a certain sense of the familiar as well. Experiences become regular and consistent in that the presence of God is usually found in prayer, the sense of the presence is always the of the same quality (although varying intensity) and the sense of God can become familiar enough that it is always recognized as the same, This sense of the familiar is communicable and can be recognized form one believer to another. The mystical and devotional literature presents a kind of ordered sameness. One can read accounts as different form one experiencer to another as those between St. Augustine and A.W. Tozer and still find passages that seem to be talking about the same things. This is amplified times millions of believers in the history of the church who have experienced the same things. Even though there is diversification and difference there is still sameness. This is not even confined to mystics. The same can be said of conversion accounts that the same aspects keep popping up. Once can recognize the work of God from one person to another, form one time to the next, from one culture to all cultures. But, the skeptic will ask, what about the vast array of different religions? These differences are due to cultural constructs. One experiences God beyond words, and when one tries to speak of such experiences one must encode them in a symbolic universe, that is to say, in culture. These differences in symbolic universes over time have spelled out the differences in the many religions. But there is a cretin unity even between all the differences in religion. The data presented long term effects of religious experience (see articles on RE in this blog) represents typologies, which can be used to compare "peak experience" with that of other phenomena. The Peak experiencers can be grouped together into a collection of those who have experiences X. They are not isolated assortments of differing phenomena. These studies do represent differing cultures and times. Thus, religious experience has a consistency to it even between cultures.

Archetypal symbology universal.

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. Abraham H. Maslow

Appendix I. An Example of B-Analysis

"...Jungian archetypes which can be recovered in several ways. I have managed to get it in good introspects simply by asking them directly to free associate to a particular symbol. The psychoanalytic literature, of course, has many such reports. Practically every deep case history will report such symbolic, archaic ways of viewing the woman, both in her good aspects and her bad aspects. (Both the Jungians and the Kleinians recognize the great and good mother and the witch mother as basic archetypes.) Another way of getting at this is in terms of the artificial dream that is suggested under hypnosis. It can also probably be investigated by spontaneous drawings, as the art therapists have pointed out. Still another possibility is the George Klein technique of two cards very rapidly succeeding each other so that symbolism can be studied. Any person who has been psychoanalyzed can fairly easily fall into such symbolic or metaphorical thinking in his dreams or free associations or fantasies or reveries.

Archetypal Symbology linked to Peak experience.

The link from Archetypes to religious experience is supplied by Maslow as well, in a quotation already sited in Religious Experience Arguments. He argues that the ability to relate "B knowledge" to "C knowledge" where the female (Or the male) is balanced in the perception of the other between goddess and whore, and the proper ego relation is sorted out, is the managing of the sacred and profane. He points out that anyone can learn to see in this manner and that it is indicative of primitive people in their religious experiences as they explained the world through the sense of the numinous.

d) Anyone can have peck experience --universal to humanity

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences

Abraham H. Maslow

Appendix D. What is the Validity of Knowledge Gained in Peak-Experiences?

"To summarize, the major changes in the status of the problem of the validity of B-knowledge, or illumination-knowledge, are: (A) shifting it away from the question of the reality of angels, etc., i.e., naturalizing the question; (B) affirming experientially valid knowledge, the intrinsic validity of the enlarging of consciousness, i.e., of a wider range of experiencing; (C) realizing that the knowledge revealed was there all the time, ready to be perceived, if only the perceiver were "up to it," ready for it. This is a change in perspicuity, in the efficiency of the perceiver, in his spectacles, so to speak, not a change in the nature of reality or the invention of a new piece of reality which wasn't there before. The word "psychedelic" (consciousness-expanding) may be used here. Finally, (D) this kind of knowledge can be achieved in other ways; we need not rely solely on peak-experiences or peak-producing drugs for its attainment. There are more sober and laborious—and perhaps, therefore, better in some ways in the long run—avenues to achieving transcendent knowledge (B-knowledge). That is, I think we shall handle the problem better if we stress ontology and epistemology rather than the triggers and the stimuli."

2) Why Does God seem Hidden to SO many people?

a) God is not strictly speaking "invisable."

According to Hartshorne, "[o]nly God can be so universally important that no subject can ever wholly fail or ever have failed to be aware of him (in however dim or unreflective fashion)." Now the issue of why God doesn't hold a "press conference" has do do with the fact that God does not communicate by violating normal causal principles. In process terms, the "communication" of God must be understood as the prehension of God by human beings. A "prehension" is the response of an occasion to the entire past world (both the contiguous past and the remote past.) As God is in every occasion's past actual world, every occasion must "prehend" or take account of God.

It should be noted that "prehension" is a generic mode of perception that does not necessarily entail consciousness or sensory experience. In previous postings I explained that there a two modes of pure perception --"perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy." If God is present to us, then it is in the presensory perceptual mode of causal efficacy as opposed to the sensory and conscious perceptual mode of presentational immediacy. That is why God is "invisible", i.e. invisible to sense perception. The foundation for experience of God lies in the nonsesnory nonconscious mode of prehension. So now, there is the further question: Why is there variability in our experience of God?. Or, why are some of us atheists, pantheists, theists, etc.? Every prehension has an initial datum derived from God, yet there are a multiplicity of ways in which this datum is prehended from diverse perspectives.

I agreed with Hume that sense perception tells us nothing about efficient causation (or final causation for that matter). Hume was actually presupposing causal efficacy in his attempt to deny it (i.e., in his relating of sense impressions to awareness). Causation could be described as an element of experience, but as Whitehead explains, this experience is not sensory experience. From Hume's own analysis Whitehead derives at least two forms of nonsensory perception: the perception of our own body and the nonsensory perception of one's past.

b). Atheists basically deny the validity of religious experience because they assume that all perception is sense perception.

Or, they deny sense perception to theists when they actually presuppose it themselves (Hume is a case in point).

c) All people experience the reality of God or the "Holy" all the time.

But this is at an unconscious level. However, in some people, this direct prehension of the "Holy" rises to the level of conscious experience. We generally call theses people "mystics". Now, the reason why a few people are conscious of God is not the result of God violating causal principle; some people are just able to conform to God's initial datum in greater degree than other people can. I don't think that God chooses to make himself consciously known to some and not to others. That would make God an elitist. Now, the question as to why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist does not have to do with me experiencing some exceptional religious or mystical experience. Rather, I believe that these extraordinary experiences of the great religious leaders are genuine and that they do conform to the ultimate nature of things. It's not necessarily a "blind leap" of faith, as my religious beliefs are accepted, in part, on the basis of whether or not they illuminate my experience of reality.

The upshot of all of this is religious belief is normative for human behavior. It is not merely "normal" but "normative" meaning it sets the standard. Belief is basic to human psyche, to our understanding of the good, of meaning in life, the ultiamte limits of reality, the grounding of nature and being itself, there is no way belie in God can be thought of as an extraordinary claim! We might think of it as extraordinary in the the sense of being unique, like no other claim, but in that case it makes no sense to subject it to the regular canons of science as though God's presence is given in daily empirical data. Obviously the more intelligent evidential standard is that the evidence has to be fit for the claim. Fit, not dazzling, not impossible, not amazing, no beyond our ability to produce, but it has to fit the case. It has to be rational, and able to stand a prima facie burden, and it has to fit the proof attempted.

Thus the atheist ploy has achieved a standard where all other forms of evidence save scientific data, why they blithely refer to as "facts," can be used to bolster certain shallow claims of "proof" for a straw man world view that is quasi scientific and supposedly an alternative to religious belief while denigrating all other forms of knowledge (including scinece that doesn't agree with them) save the selective list of "facts" deemed pertinent to their case. The effect being that civilization take one more hit as all forms of thinking and knowledge are eliminated save this one, a quasi-scientific approach to knowledge which is ideological in both tone and function.

Part 2 of the argument "more contra ECREP"


Marcelo Truzzi “on some unfair practices toward claims of the Paranormal.” This article was published in slightly edited form in:Edward Binkowski, editor, Oxymoron: Annual Thematic Anthology of the Arts and Sciences, Vol.2: The Fringe, New York: Oxymoron Media, Inc., 1998. It is also found on the website Skeptical Investigations: visited 7/7/08

on line version of Truzzi article

Ed J. Gracely ”Why Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof. This article first appeared in the December 1998 issue of Phactum, the newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT). Dr. Gracely is Associate Professor of Community and Preventive Medicine at the MCP*Hahnemann School of Medicine in Philadelphia. This article was posted on July 24, 2003. It is now found on:Quackwatch

  see Abraham Maslow Religious Values and peak Experience,

see my religoius experience arguemnt