A few days ago I was talking to a blogger called Physics and Whiskey. He wrote two posts, one called The atheist’s crutch: Misusing probability and another called The atheist’s other crutch: Breaking the laws of physics. In these posts he makes two clear arguments. In the first he argues that to rebut certain parts of the Bible atheists use an outright wrong type of statistical analysis. The example Physics and Whiskey uses is the resurrection, and the argument he says atheists use is simplified to this: because a resurrection has never been confirmed, the probability of a resurrection is zero. He rebuts this by saying that everything that has happened has happened a first time, and before that had never happened. If we applied this type of analysis we would never be able to accept any claim of anything happening. The prior probability of something that has never happened before happening is not zero is it unknown (or “undefined”).
The second post is about the nature of miracles. Physics and Whiskey separates miracles from criticisms that they break the laws of physics. He argues that because the cause of any miracle is nonphysical (he doesn’t not explain what this means or give examples) it is not bound by the laws of physics. Therefore miracles do not break the laws of physics because they are not bound by them because they are not physical.
The example used to tie these together is an alien landing: what are the chances that an alien spaceship had landed on Earth? No spaceship landing on Earth has ever been confirmed, but it does not mean it is impossible (in fact, we have landed people on the moon and technology on Mars, Venus, Titan and in the gas giant, Jupiter. Voyager I has left the solar system!). So the probability is no zero it is unknown. And there is no way of knowing. There isn’t even anything stopping it from happening—as evidenced by the fact that we have landed in other places.
“There isn’t even anything stopping it”.
That’s important, because when you shift focus from alien landings to Jesus’ resurrection there is something stopping it from happening: physics. When things are dead they don’t come back to life, which is a law in biology that we are very confident of. We are even more confidence of entropy, and resurrection violates that too: once a body is dead is becomes an isolated system and an isolated system is the context where entropy happens. It violated entropy for a closed system to become more ordered, so it violates entropy for a dead system to become an alive system.*
*for those that think this claim would lay waste to abiogenesis you are wrong for two clear reasons: abiogenesis happened in an open system and the level of entropy was wildly different in the “primordial soup” than it is in a human body.
A little revision of statistics for you: the sum of the probabilities of all outcomes equals 1. This means that if there are only two options, and you know the probability of one then the probability of the other option is 1 takeaway whatever the probability you know is. If I have a weighted coin and we play ‘heads or tails’ with it, and the chances of getting heads is 0.7 then the chances of getting tails is 1 – 0.7 = 0.3.
0.7 + 0.3 = 1.
This means that if we can quantify the probability of entropy governing a physical body (like the corpse of Jesus Christ) we can equally quantify the probability of its violation. And, as our confidence in entropy has good reason to tend towards 1, the probability of Jesus’ resurrection tends towards 0. If you don’t like numbers, look at this this way: if we know entropy is true, we know the resurrection didn’t happen. And that is what we mean when we talk about extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence.
Given that the probability is exceedingly low, and the nature of the event would overturn our understanding of the universe, the evidence better be pretty good. Physics and Whiskey offers none. But he does ask us what we would accept as evidence. I feel that misunderstands the duties in this conversation: what is your evidence? As I said, no evidence is presented. Instead an unsupported conceptual loophole is offered:
It’s important to specify exactly what it means for such a claim to violate the laws of physics. A purported perpetual motion device constitutes a claim that physical objects can be arranged so as to function in a manner contrary to how they are observed to function. It requires belief that tens of thousands of rigorous experiments have all been fundamentally flawed.
That’s important because a miracle claim is completely different. A miracle claim may involve events which are not physically possible, but that’s the point; the appeal is not to physical causes. A miracle does not require that nature operate in a manner contrary to observations, because nature is not what’s doing the operation. Miracles do not challenge our observations about the world. Physical laws describe what we know about physical reality; by definition, a nonphysical cause cannot break physical laws because it is not described by them.
– Physics and Whiskey
The quote that gives away the issue here is this: “the appeal is not to physical causes”. Appealing to physical causes, when the physical world is well documented and evidenced, is not a fallacy. Physics and Whiskey is appealing to something; something nonphysical. This nonphysical world, unbound by the laws of physics, is not evidenced. Therefore an appeal to it is a fallacy. It’s a particular fallacy when what you are doing is begging the question on God. And let’s be sincere, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
If I am mistaken and he is not begging the question on God (by appealing to non-evidenced nonphysical causes to explain unsubstantiated miracles) then this is arguing ignorance: you can’t prove me wrong so my claim is reasonable. The truth is no has demonstrated a miracle to have ever happened, so the claim of the nonphysical is meant to explain… what, exactly?