So I just saw on Fox News Donohue of the Catholic League talking about the subject of their news release. He was pretty hot about it. The offending statement- as taken from the news release- is this:
“But I think it is much more likely that there could be space ships from outer space, than what a lot of things people believe. People still believe, you know, excuse me I know I may inject religion into every show but UFO’s are a lot more likely than a space god flew down bodily and you know who was the Son of God and you know had sex with a Palestinian woman, and um…”
If anyone can find the original source, I’d appreciate it. For now, I will assume that this is accurate and in context.
I have a problem with this and it isn’t with Maher. Maher is only saying the things that Maher says. Donohue interprets this as Christian bashing, and insofar as it is true that no one like Maher would say things like this about Islam (for fear of his life), it is also true that this is actually a standard argument that has emerged from the skeptical community. Rather than be offended by it, we should respond to it.
I’ve got a guy on my forum who thinks he’s a logic ninja who makes basically the same argument. He’ll grant every miracle in the Bible (by ‘Bible’ he only means the New Testament and by New Testament he only means the Gospels) but he argues that as long as any naturalistic theory can be conceived of, it is more likely than a supernatural explanation. Similarly, the same man has just cited Cavin, the proponent of the “Jesus had a twin and it was the twin that the disciples witnessed” theory. Cavin’s argument is cut from the same cloth: any naturalistic theory, no matter how absurd, is more likely and more reasonable than a supernaturalistic account.
The argument surfaces too in Dawkins’s Delusion where Dawkins argues on the old line that any sufficiently technologically advanced society would appear to be magical (read: supernatural) to a sufficiently less advanced society. In this line of thinking (like the thinking of our superhero, Rational Boy, cited in the above paragraph), if a putative super sophisticated alien could reproduce what Jesus did, there is no way to distinguish between such an entity and a supernatural one, so one is never in principle justified in inferring a supernatural explanation.
That’s the family of argumentation and I don’t find it offensive in the least. I think it is ridiculous and ignorant and question begging, but that is a different matter. Donahue’s approach makes it sound as though we need to be afraid of arguments like the one Maher advanced. Far from it.
In this case, pointing out the latent assumption that “any naturalistic explanation is to be preferred” is enough to expose the argument for what it is. On what grounds can it be advanced that philosophical naturalism should be the default interpretation? Because the atheist insists that it should be? Nonsense. My approach would be that we ought to be inferring to the best explanations, being open minded about what is possible and what might be actual. If the evidence leads to the conclusion that Jesus really is God, that’s the way it goes. If evidence surfaces that Jesus is an imposter alien (other than it merely being a logically conceivable possibility), I reckon we’ll consider it then.
By showing Maher, Dawkins, Cavin, and Logic Ninja’s arguments to be based on a set of philosophical assumptions that they use to interpret the evidence rather than actually being derived from the evidence itself, you help expose what is going on. Then, intelligent and thoughtful people can decide for themselves. Honestly, then, I welcome comments like Maher’s and wish we heard more of them. If more people knew what atheists really believed, there would be less atheists, and less commentators on TV spouting ‘offensive’ and ‘bigoted’ ‘anti-Christian’ remarks.