So it appears Deacon Duncan has accused me of post hoc reasoning regarding an objection I made to his elaboration on my re-capitation example. I'd like to take a moment to discuss why I feel his complaints are based on an overly-charitable interpretation of my objection, and I'm curious to hear what you think. The linked post is part of a lengthy ongoing discussion, so a little backstory might be helpful.
For the past month or so at EvangelicalRealism, we've been discussing the amount of credibility we can reasonably assign to miracle stories. Now, everyone has different definitions of a miracle and different thresholds of skepticism through which they filter observed events. Phenomena like the Marian apparitions at Zeitoun are obviously sufficient to convince some people, yet others remain skeptical. So how might we define a miracle objectively, in a manner that anyone can apply to any observed event?
I entered the discussion attempting to establish a rigorous set of criteria one could apply to determine whether or not any event might be considered a miracle. That didn't work out very well, so in further attempts to determine the 'miracle switch' in everybody's brains, I introduced the re-capitated man as a hypothetical example, asking skeptics how they would parse such an event. That is, if we observed a man get decapitated, then an hour later we observe the man's head re-attach after which he goes into the bar for a drink, would we have grounds to say something "miraculous" had occurred?
To this end, commenter jim said, "…a head rolling itself over to the body, lining itself up at the sever point, then spontaneously welding itself back into place could only be naturalistically reconciled by some extreme apologetical hoop jumping."
The aforementioned scenario would certainly confront philosophical naturalism head-on, but in a strictly scientific context remains virtually useless, if nothing else mainly because of its anecdotal nature and ambiguity. One sample is rarely sufficient in science, and we have no discernible way of verifying who or what actually triggered the re-capitation. Simply put, there are too many confounders, so DD upped the ante with the introduction of a praying monk:
Let’s say that during the hour the victim was decapitated, some saffron-robed monk wanders by and begins to pray, “Oh great Buddha, have mercy on this poor soul and heal him of his decapitation by your divine grace.” The rest of the story remains the same: after an hour, the head reattaches and the man walks away unharmed. Would this be evidence that Buddha is really God? I think a lot of Buddhists would be fairly surprised if that were the case. But notice, the actual evidence of the miracle itself is no more specific than it ever was. The facts pertaining to the actual “recapitation” are exactly what they were before. (bold mine)
Now first let me be clear: I've already conceded the difficulties in saying anything conclusively without the praying monk. However, a re-capitation that occurred directly after a monk's prayerful request is certainly a piece of evidence we should examine in determining whether or not Buddha was God. But again, this single instance would not be any sort of conclusive proof we could establish as we do in science. With or without the praying monk, we simply do not have sufficient evidence or samples to reliably attribute the cause of this phenomena to Buddha. Even if we did, whether or not Buddha is really God is another matter entirely. The case is anecdotal, and we suffer from potentially irrecoverable confounders. So in that sense, I agree with DD.
However, where I disagree with DD is that the facts pertaining to the actual re-capitation are exactly the same with or without the monk. This is easily demonstrable as false.
Let's call the first re-capitation without the praying monk A, and the one with the praying monk B. In A, we had 1) observer and 2) victim, and the re-capitation occurred sans anything that could be reasonably considered a potential catalyst. In B, again we had both 1) observer and 2) victim, but also 3) a potential catalyst. Further, B occurred directly after an event that was not present in A, hence on two accounts we have more raw data to parse in B. Again, neither A nor B are proof that Buddha is really God, but clearly, the facts are different in A and B, right?
So I said,
The facts are not exactly the same as before. In the first hypothetical scenario, we had no Buddhist praying, hence no reasonable grounds to connect the incident to a Buddhist prayer. In the second example, we have stronger evidence – the event occurred after a Buddhist prayer – providing us with a verifiable connection that strengthens preliminary justification for the possibility that Buddha performed this particular miracle.
And here's what DD had to say, which finally brings us to the point of today's post:
Our friend cl has fallen into the fallacy known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc. “After this, therefore because of this” is an age-old tendency in human thinking that deceives a lot of people because it resembles scientific thinking in some respects. But it is still a fallacy nevertheless.
Let’s change the story again: this time, instead of a Buddhist monk praying, it’s a hippie eating a veggieburger. As soon as the hippie swallows the last bite of the burger, the head reattaches itself. Do we now have reasonable grounds for concluding that the act of eating a veggieburger has hitherto unsuspected miraculous powers? I really don’t think even cl would draw that conclusion. And yet it’s the same thing: we’re saying A happens, and then B happens, and therefore A must have caused B. In the first case, “A” is a Buddhist monk praying; in the second, it’s a hippie eating a veggieburger.
What tends to fool us is a malfunction of our psychological ability to recognize significance. When the Buddhist monk prays for the decapitation victim to be healed, we understand the meaning of what he is asking for. When the head “re-capitates,” we associate the meaning of the prayer with the description of the amazing event, and infer a cause and effect relationship that isn’t necessarily there.
Ahem. A few problems here:
1) (*This point has been recanted; see correction here) The veggieburger comparison is nowhere near the same as the praying monk comparison. The praying monk consciously attempts to influence the re-capitation, whereas the person eating the veggieburger does not. Some person eating a veggieburger is completely arbitrary (unless of course they pray over the veggieburger and ask for God to re-capitate the man or something of that nature, then we have grounds to consider the person eating their veggieburger a potential catalyst). So there is legitimate reason for further inquiry in the former, but not as much so the latter, and the two are clearly not categorically interchangeable. Anyone?
2) In the case of B, I say we have to go with Occam's razor and assume the minimum of a potential connection is more reasonable than the psychological self-trickery DD suggests. Again, remember I've conceded neither A nor B are conclusive proof that Buddha is really God, just nudged a bit further from the NULL position in that direction. However, if someone prays over a man and his head re-attaches and the guy walks into the bar for a drink, is it that much of a stretch to posit a potential causal relationship?
3) Let's move on to the main question of the post here: Did I commit post hoc reasoning? First, what does DD mean specifically by post hoc reasoning? He uses the term analogously to post hoc ergo propter hoc, or "after this, therefore because of this." Did I say that since the re-capitation occurred after the prayer, that it necessarily occurred because of the prayer? No.
Reread my original words cited above. I have not once said we can conclude such in either A or B. In A we just have some apparently random miraculous healing, and in B we have something that might possibly be legitimate and warrants further consideration. Let's return to my original words: "In the second example (B), we have stronger evidence – the event occurred after a Buddhist prayer – providing us with a verifiable connection that strengthens preliminary justification for the possibility that Buddha performed this particular miracle. (paren. added)"
So my position was not, "After this, therefore because of this." My position could be better summarized as, "After this, perhaps because of this?" Note the difference in punctuation as well. To this effect, I later stated that the monk's credibility increases to the degree he can repeat his abilities. And that's why I feel DD's charge of post hoc reasoning stems from an overly-charitable interpretation of my objection.
What do you think? If you don't mind I'd like to ask three separate questions of you: Are the facts of both A and B exactly the same? Is the veggieburger example the same as the praying monk example? Is it post hoc reasoning to assume a potential connection when a monk prays for a specific breach of natural law that occurs?