Two Examples of the Guilt by Association Fallacy

The first comes from Mark Shea (trying to defend Cardinal Pell), who tries to associate a literal understanding of Scripture with Atheistic and Fundamentalist advocates (and them with each other).  The second comes from my dear friend Steve Hays (trying to respond to something I wrote) who tries to associate a particular argument with naturalism in the form of the non-overlapping magesteria of Stephen Jay Gould and philsophical naturalism with the example of Bart Ehrman. Ultimately, both posts serve a similar rhetorical purpose.  “You say X, but that sounds just like the bad guys.”

The exceptionally bright reader has already noticed that this post does the same thing, by associating Steve Hays with Mark Shea (or vice versa, if you are in a mirror universe where Mark Shea is a good guy).  Of course, I’m employing that device while calling attention to it, for the deliberate purpose of making the point that this sort of rhetoric is really a fallacious appeal.

As for Steve’s points, Steve states:

I’m not clear on what TFan means by this. On the face of it, it bears a startling similarity to methodological naturalism or Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria. Unbelievers frequently tell us that “by definition,” supernatural events can’t be historically or scientifically confirmed.

It’s surprising that Steve does not know what I mean by what I wrote (in this earlier post).  I mean just what I said.  I didn’t say that by definition supernatural events cannot be historically or scientifically confirmed.  I said that “The shroud could be the artifact of a supernatural process, and there is no way that this hypothesis could be completely ruled out, because it is not as though supernatural activity would leave any tell-tale marks.”

Steve then states:

Moreover, it’s common for Christian philosophers to infer supernatural causes from natural effects. Consider the many versions of the cosmological and teleological arguments. Or the argument from religious experience. Or intelligent design theory. Or the argument from miracles. Or the argument from prophecy.

Is it TFan’s position that we can never infer supernatural agency from experience? What about answers to prayer? Can we never infer that God answered our prayer?

It seems that Steve’s questions are mostly about positions I haven’t taken.  For example, my post does not take a position regarding whether we can ever infer supernatural agency from experience – my post does not deal with answers to prayers, or whether we can infer that God answered our prayer (whether by supernatural or natural agency).

Likewise, my post does not deal with the cosmological or telelogical arguments or the argument from religious experience, or intelligent design theory, or the argument from miracles or the argument from prophecy.

In fact, my post doesn’t address those things at all.  I may have opinions about all those things, but I don’t express my opinion about them in the post.

In short, there is little relationship between Steve’s comments and what I actually wrote.  This is explained by Steve’s point that he did not understand what I meant.  Nevertheless, it does not lead to me providing much by way of rebuttal, except to say that no – I don’t agree with Bart Ehrman, even though I would agree with some of his criticisms (the good, valid ones – even rascals can make good criticisms sometimes) of Craig’s evidentialism.

But to clarify, since I should do my best to help my good friend Steve understand what I wrote, methodological naturalism has limits as to what it can establish.  Methodological naturalism, also referred to as science, can only provide or eliminate natural explanations of phenomena.  Methodological naturalism can (and did) prove that Jesus was dead, and it can (and did) prove that Jesus was alive at a later time.   It cannot explain the resurrection itself – the way Jesus got alive, because the resurrection was supernatural.  Thus, methodological naturalism could (and does) provide premises that lead one to infer a supernatural resurrection.

If the Shroud had existed in the 1st century (which it definitely didn’t), if it had been used to cover Jesus’ body (which it definitely wasn’t), and if the resurrection had produced the image (which we can be sure it did not) it would have been hypothetically possible for an observer to use methodological naturalism to examine an ordinary shroud beforehand and a shroud with an image on it afterwards.  These premises might lead to an inference that the resurrection produced the image.  But methodological naturalism cannot explain how such an image was produced, if it was not produced naturally.

Likewise, methodological naturalism could have demonstrated that the linen of the shroud was very ancient linen (in fact, it demonstrated that it was medieval linen), but it could not have demonstrated that the image on the shroud was supernaturally produced.  Such would simply have been an inference that people might draw.

All that scientific investigation of the shroud can do is tell us what the shroud is, and how it became what it is through natural processes, if it came to be through natural processes.   Much like science could only determine that the risen Jesus was first really dead and then really alive and well, not that he was supernaturally resurrected.

What’s missing from Shroud advocates is a credible inferential argument from historical or scientific evidence.  The death and resurrection of Christ has multiple contemporary eyewitnesses.  There was scientific examination of the body after death (spear to the side) and after resurrection (demonstration of food consumption).  The shroud doesn’t have any eyewitnesses.  No one can testify who made it or when it was made.


One Response to “Two Examples of the Guilt by Association Fallacy”

  1. Craig French Says:

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